David Schmidtz’s article “When Preservationism Doesn’t Preserve” is an exploration of the practical concerns in that murky area where grand and wide ethics meets the dirt. Majora Carter, a Brooklyn environmental and social activist, has expressed that mainstream environmentalists concerns and stereotypes are far removed from the norms and concerns of people in her South Bronx neighborhood. This sentiment of a disconnect between environmentalism and social concerns has been echoed by other writers in our readings such as Guha and Bookchin.
The environmentalist debate in the United States has been characterized as being between two opposing viewpoints, typified by either Muir (Preservationism) or Pinchot (Wise Use). It might be easy for today’s environmentalists to characterize Muir as the good-guy and Pinchot as the bad-guy. However, Pinchot was progressive for his time in that the conservation movement set out to utilize natural spaces as resources, as places for enjoyment, as habitat, and that this is a very difficult mandate. This is seen today in the U.S. Forest Service as it tries to balance the needs of Spotted Owl, Big Timber, hiking enthusiasts, and residents along wild areas from risk of forest fire. Some of the examples in Schmidtz’s article seems like Wise-Use application, two key differences is that there is local decision making and a reverence for the ecosystem, two aspects missing in many applications of Wise-Use practices.
Arne Naess, in his article “The Third World, Wilderness, and Deep Ecology”, expresses that Deep Ecologists have done a poor job in articulating their views to the general populace and powers that be. Schmidtz’s article, while it doesn’t explicitly come out and identify itself as a Deep Ecologist viewpoint, is entirely consistent with the claims that Deep Ecology is struggling to make. Faced with the great and widespread power that today’s multinational corporations have, as well as the impact modern technology allows a single individual to make upon his environment, it is little wonder that there is wide movements, out of love and respect, to cordon off areas from all human activity. Yet as Schmidtz and others argue that while we must love and respect the rest of life on Earth, we also have to respect human life as well. It is a misunderstanding and unfair criticism by some, such as Murray Bookchin, that Deep Ecologists do not care for humans. Deep Ecology holds that the quality of human life is congruent to the stability and diversity of the rest of life on Earth, that it is not an ‘either/or’, but an ‘and’ posture we must take.
Schmidtz’s article doesn’t give argument so much as he outlines examples of how local peoples can develop a relationship with the wildlife around them that benefits not only the wildlife populations and habitat, but also the human population living there as well. He stresses that solutions to environmental problems are not pre-packaged fix all answers, but must be done by those who are intimately connected with the diversity of factors involved. The interactions are grassroots based, are democratic, communal, and sustainable. If a man deems himself more a man by providing for himself and, to some extent, controlling his own life, cannot the same be said of communities? It is, as Schmidtz points out, a mistake when communities are dictated in how they live their lives by outside influences, whether it is by greedy corporations or saintly environmentalists.
A central tenet of Deep Ecology is that the environmental problems faced today are primarily problems of a philosophical nature; a great changing of paradigms is needed on a global level. Yet just how does one accomplish this daunting task of changing world paradigms? Schmidtz’s article is filled with illustrations that, while they may have initially been practical solutions to pressing problems, never the less shows the seeds of changing views. If we approach our problems, whether they be environmental, religious, resources, etc… from our own platitudes we are like captains of competing ships with an ocean of difference. Removing ourselves from our own isolation of beliefs and getting down in the dirt, to becoming practical in our decisions, guided by principles, we would be amazed at the common ground we have with those we thought opposed us and the solutions we could find.
As I read this article I could not help but think of my activities for protection of Old-Growth forest. It has often been the case that I, coming from a timber-employed family in Arkansas, have acted as liaison between ‘tree hugger latte sipping hippy’ and ‘blue collar God-fearing redneck timber worker’ and trying to show both sides that both want the same things; cool forests, sustainable industry, healthy communities, autonomy, rich habitat, clean water, and more. Schmidtz’s article gives many examples of bridging gaps and looking for allies where a traditional environmentalist would not look. What would our own forests in Oregon look like if we looked to bring in local communities in managing the forests around them and instead of bribing them with timber profits from ill-planned sales, instead tied their incentives to the health of the forests?