If you’ve ever heard me speak on the subject, you know I have some thoughts on Earth Day, the most prevalent of which is the need to perhaps change its name to “Human Race Day,” because the Earth will carry on without us, no matter what. That is, until the sun explodes.
In point of fact, is it not humanity that is at stake when the issues collectively lauded by supporters of Earth Day are discussed? There is simply no credible refutation to the facts indicating that our existence, while tenuous at best, is enjoying a comfortability that will not last in its current measure. We are undeniably on a collision course with the consequences of our decisions and actions. What remains to be seen is whether this will be understood on a level large enough to do something about it and if what can and might be done will make a large enough difference to minimize those consequences.
The idea behind environmental stewardship is not new in the least. Farmers and ranchers for hundreds of years have applied the principles of stewardship of the land with a sensible ethic no matter what their ideology or political persuasion.
The battleground for the sustainability of our environment is now in the boardrooms of corporations and halls of legislation laden with the lobbyists whom those corporations pay to aid in maximizing their profits at all costs.
It’s a quantifiable conundrum.
But for now, let’s dial this to a more localized aspect of the issue and consider the actions of a few companies out there taking proactive and progressive measures to influence the debate.
It is getting to be that time of year when my inbox is filled with information about the upcoming bi-annual Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City. I have been attending the show as a working member of the media now for the last five years. As it happens, it may be the last year I attend in my state, however.
This is because if all goes as it is being reported, this will be the last year the event will take place in Salt Lake City. After Gov. Gary Herbert and several other prominent leaders in Utah took aim at the newly appointed Bears Ears National Monument, seeking to reduce it significantly if not undo it all together, the outdoor industry collectively voiced their opinion on the matter by making the move to take their business elsewhere.
And at the outset, this seems reasonable. The predominantly conservative state espouses what would seem to be ethical values. They guise stewardship of land and states’ rights to manage it as their motives when in actuality their interests are more monetary in nature. And make no mistake of it, their language is money, and the extractive industries have them convinced the future profits the outdoor industry brings to the state are expendable.
Big mistake, Herbert.
While I understand the impetus behind the outdoor industry’s pullout, and for a time even agreed with it on merit alone, some simmering time has me thinking perhaps it was not the best move.
One of the reasons for this may be my own personal aversion to ultimatums. They naturally invoke a resistance even to something otherwise seeming plausible or even negotiable. The industry put Utah on the spot, albeit with some similar history in years past, like when Peter Metcalf of Black Diamond negotiated a possible pullout that was averted.
But what did Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia and others really think Utah would do?
I cannot tell you how many times I have gotten the answer to that question lobbed directly at me. They say, “If you don’t like it, why don’t your leave?”
In the case of the Outdoor Retailer Show, it was not even necessary to pose the question, because the threat was already on the table. All Utah did was say, “Well, bye.” (And perhaps, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, you tree-hugging libtards.”)
My response to their ultimatum to either like it or leave has always been to say I’d rather stick around and change it for the better. They hate that answer. And I cannot help but wonder if perhaps the sizable economic force the outdoor industry is in the state would be one to be reckoned with if it had a mind to be. I know former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt would think so. He said as much when he spoke at the Marriot in Salt Lake City during the 2014 winter show.
The outdoor industry, on a per capita basis, competes with the extractive industries here if not outright outearns them. And if economics is the impetus behind decisions, this should be a no-brainer. Why anyone would choose the destructive long-term effects of extractive work over the less impactful and sustainable ones of outdoor recreation is questionable. And the answers may well lie in the ideologies of those making such decisions over the ethics.
But to my point about deciding to pull out altogether, I liken it to a bottle-rocket tactic: big launch, big boom, then nothing. Forgotten. The industry made its point but now has somewhat ceded its economic influence here.
Perhaps this should be a part of future discussions about the approach to environmentalism and sustainability. For now, happy Earth Day (or Human Race Day).
See you out there.
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