Afterword: Righteous Work
No one who is working for the health of wild nature, and therefore the health of humanity, should question whether they are on the right path. Win or lose, what could be better than dedicating one’s life to trying to stop the advance of the biodiversity crisis, and then reverse it? It is righteous work, in simple terms.
There are both practical and ethical reasons for taking up a position along the long front of environmentalism. The practical part is simply the many benefits for reversing the ecological crisis that flow to us as individuals, and to society as a whole. Natural beauty, productive and healthy agriculture, clean water and air, healthy forests, abundant fish in the oceans, and more. Without these things humanity will suffer.
From an ethical position, it is a matter of simply accepting that we are bound to share the planet with other creatures. This is essentially a “religious” point of view. In practice it means that through the diffuse labyrinths of human economic activity, our moral stance dictates that we must not diminish the ecosphere in richness and diversity, quality or function. Although we know we will make honest mistakes, we need to acculturate society to this fundamental principle. It is no different than the simple mandate that says “We do not kill another human being,” to say that we do not “kill” biodiversity or stifle the unfolding of evolution itself.
It is a hard reality to understand that the present global extinction crisis stems directly from human overdevelopment and overshoot. Yet until we understand that, and until we “get religion,” civilization is destined for the dustbin of history.
Land conservation is at the top of the many strategies we must employ to help put the world back in balance, and national parks are the gold standard of conservation in these days of severe ecological crisis. In almost all countries, national parks represent the best-protected landscapes under that particular society’s national laws. Although the statutes vary, the regulations vary, the funding and management standards by national governments vary – overall, national parks are the strongest and most broadly supported type of conservation designation.
Now with nearly a century and a half since the first parks were created, the world has seen an impressive growth in national park systems. We see that citizens in country after country around the world value their national parks and, in many instances, are actively working to expand their park systems.
Although national parks are not a panacea to reverse the ecological crisis, they are a crucial and proven conservation strategy that needs to be continued and expanded. The benefits are many and great. In simple terms, national parks and other strictly protected natural areas can be the anchors in large-scale, interconnected systems of conservation lands, which are frequently referred to as “wildlands networks” or “wildways.” Protecting such systems is the central task of conservation. Only in sufficiently large, protected landscapes may evolutionary processes continue to unfold normally, sustaining the full diversity of life and the essence of wildness. This is the life spirit that gives birth to evolution itself. Wildness is the breath and heartbeat of Nature herself. When one understands this, it becomes a lot easier to devise strategies and adjust habits and behaviors that will lead to biological sustainability, which is the foundation of any true “sustainability.”
Land and marine conservation, ecological restoration and rewilding, activism, and the reform of agriculture are the cornerstones of a strategy to help get the world back in balance, the climate stabilized, and a future in which we share the planet with all the other creatures, the results of 4 billion years of evolution. Upon reflection it seems so simple, but in practice we have a great challenge ahead of us. The question is: Are you ready to do your part? Everyone is capable of taking up their position across that long front, to use their energy, political influence, financial or other resources, and talents of all kinds to be part of a global movement for ecological and cultural health. All will be useful. There is important and meaningful work to be done. To change everything, everyone is needed.
Adapted from Douglas Tompkins’s essay in Protecting the Wild: Parks and Wilderness, The Foundation for Conservation. Tompkins, a noted conservationist, outdoorsman, philanthropist, and businessman, died of hypothermia following a kayak accident in Patagonia on December 8, 2015.