Thursday, December 6, 2012

My environmentalism briefly defined

I like to think of myself as an environmentalist, but I don't think "real" environmentalists would agree with my self-characterization. I think my enthusiasm for strict open-space/preservation-oriented/non-invasive species environmentalism is tempered by my belief that nature, and our environment, is a hell of a lot more resilient than we give it credit for. I also think nature is meant to be enjoyed by man. Not in the Biblical sense [in the manner that man should feel free to rape and pillage the Earth for all of its worth], but in the sense that environmental protection should be pursued as a means to enhance human happiness, well-being and enjoyment. This means to me, in practice, that something like Lake Ronkonkoma should not be set aside as a natural relic to be divorced from human entertainment and enjoyment, but as an asset to be developed in a way that ensures human access - whether that means the establishment of bike and running trails around the border or if it means the building of a nearby pavilion and restaurant to serve as a congregation point for family meals and concerts. Don't get me wrong. If we bought up all of the surrounding lands around Lake Ronkonkoma and returned them to nature, it would make a wonderful nature preserve. But it would make a wonderful nature preserve at a massive taxpayer expense and that preserve would be enjoyed by me and about 300 other hiking enthusiasts on Long Island. I mean, thank you and all, but there are other options that more effectively maximize environmental preservation with social use.

As I mentioned previously, I believe nature is exceptionally more resilient than we give it credit for. (It's why, for instance, it is safe again to swim in Lake Ronkonkoma after decades of massive pollution). Some of my attitudes here are clearly shaped by my farming background. Farming, in many senses, is a daily battle waged by man using wit, engineering ingenuity, brute physical force, and chemical sorcery to bend nature to our whims (yes, we need all of those things!). And yet, despite these man-made advantages, nature will ultimately triumph. When one of us decides to stops farming, it does not take nature too long to reclaim the territory it had lost. What we discover is that nature finds a way - whether it's native and invasive weeds battling my tomato crop or it's squirrels and raccoons adapting to increased residential development and urbanization.

That's why I found this article today pretty cool. It talks about how birds took one of mankind's most cancerous, toxic creations (cigarettes!), and found an evolutionary, life-affirming use for them. That's pretty awesome and it's an interesting data point in my "nature finds a way" file.


  1. Yeah, when it comes to global warming, I'm not the slightest bit worried about the harm to the planet. It'll be just fine. Animal migratory patterns will change and some species will rise while others fall. It's the billions who live right at sea level (or in otherwise climate sensitive areas) that I'm concerned about. So I don't want the focus to be less selfishly focused on humanity, I just want it less short-sightedly focused on humanity.

  2. I am the same way about global warming, though I'm also a bit of a defeatist on that score. I think the effect on human lives will be grotesque. We won't go extinct or anything, but the loss of human lives around a shorelines (particularly in third world countries) will be catastrophic. However, my previously-mentioned defeatism is based on my belief that the human-caused damage is irreversible at this point. A warmed globe seems inevitable. Yes nature will adjust, but it might mean, sadly, that we never see polar bears anymore (though I've read they are interbreeding with grizzly bears these days - NATURE!) and, more distressingly, we may kill all the coral reefs. Having been to the Great Barrier Reef myself, that is massive loss. Will the reefs rebuild in different climates? Yes, I believe they will. But not for a long, long, long time.