Ponder two simple suffixes: –er, –ist. The former comprises the angler, climber, skier, hiker while the latter includes the activist, environmentalist, conservationist. These are certainly not mutually exclusive states of being and on the contrary, the –ers evolve into –ists: angler-conservationist, climber-environmentalist, to name a few press monikers. Without the –ers, we have no –ists. Hardcore conservationists know that without participants in a sport, there’s no pool of advocates. No steelhead anglers, no steelhead-stream lobbyists.
But there are those who see the outdoors purely as refuge and recreation, a sanctum sanctorum outside of work and home and devoid of politics. They have a connection to the land, but also maintain a certain detachment from it, albeit unconsciously.
To be sure, -ers post plenty of eye candy on the Internet to motivate more people to do: bushwhack to a blue squiggle on the topo, drop the slot for a powder stash, rappel down the wrong couloir. It’s harder to make conservation cool. Nobody goes into a public comment hearing with a helmet cam. C-SPAN debates don’t go viral. A DEIS (Draft of Environmental Impact Statement) won’t fetch many likes on your Facebook page.
People with more spare cash than spare time write checks rather than letters. I’m not dissing donors. I’m just saying they somehow find the time to fish, ski or climb. Rich Simms, president of Wild Steelhead Coalition, suggests other ways people can make a difference.
“Learn how to become a single voice and take the time to understand the issues. Write a letter. Attend a meeting. You gotta get out of the mode of expecting someone else will do it,” said Simms.
It’s great to support companies that support the environment, but let’s face it: The politicians and judges and bureaucrats who decide on whether or not Pebble Mine goes through, thus destroying the biggest native sockeye run on Earth, don’t give a shit that you’re wearing a Patagonia puffy.
Yvon Chouinard probably doesn’t either. The Patagonia chief would be happier if you took some real action. Trust me. Name another apparel CEO who coughs up for a full-page ad in The New York Times with the bold-faced imperative “Don’t Buy this Jacket.” (Incidentally, if you Google ‘climber environmentalist’ guess whose name pops up first? You’re right, Rick Santorum.)
We live in the age of mouse-click activism, where in a few seconds your index finger can save Bristol Bay salmon, Idaho’s Gray Wolves and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Believe that and I’ll sell you a bridge. There are myriad issues—certainly too many for one person to address, so force yourself to be myopic. Pick one, maybe two, and do something that really takes effort. Don that organic cotton tee, jump in your Prius and do something rad for the planet.