The War On Nature, and The Battle for Bears Ears

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The War On Nature

Think of it this way: conservation of resources versus extraction of resources is not a political topic. It’s a war.

That’s right, a full-blown war.

One side either doesn’t believe that unchecked human consumption is leading to climate change, massive species die-offs, the irrevocable destruction of important ecosystem, and the inherent sanctity of nonhuman entities and spaces (even if they do not benefit humans directly)… or, they just don’t care.

The other side sees unchecked consumption as problematic on numerous levels, and even though their own level of consumption is often hypocritical, they aim to reduce humankind’s use of and reliance upon harmful fossil fuels, and extractive industries.

In this analogy, the humans debating the subject are kind of like the politicians, who never actually fight wars, but make decisions about who will or won’t die over tea and crumpets. The soldiers getting blown to smithereens on the ground, meanwhile, are forests, ecosystems, biomes, etc. And the battlefield, of course, is not this nation or that: it is Earth, itself.

What is at stake here is the future of that dubious appellation which we have invented to describe the nonhuman world: Nature. But in a much deeper, more metaphorical sense, it is a war on human nature. For to define human nature, we first have to define human: and there is an enormous ideological gap between those who think humans and nature stand quite separate and apart from one another, and those who think humans and nature are inexorably intertwined.

The Battle for Bears Ears

The battle in this war that is the most hotly debated, and publicized at present is the Battle for Bears Ears. It’s an important battle, no doubt, but it’s one of many. Grand Staircase, Standing Rock, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Eldred Valley in British Columbia, and (someday soon) Cochamo in Southern Chile are others. The equatorial rainforests of the world which are under constant pressure to produce beef, palm oil, and timber form an entire theater. As do the world’s oceans.

The Battle for Bears Ears is so hot right now for two reasons.

1.) Because of the Bears Ears region’s ties to the descendants of an ancestral way of life (aka, members of the Inter-Tribal Coalition) the stakes are higher. It’s not just trees getting plowed over here, it’s humans. And it’s not just humans, it’s a certain kind of human nature. Whether accurate or not, “indigenousness” has come to represent a type of human nature that has largely been eradicated over the past 2500 years or so – one which prioritizes moderation, and interconnection with and respect for the natural world. This isn’t just any battlefield. This is a battlefield surrounded by “Indian Reservations”, the last outposts of a way of life that saw humans and nature not as pitted against one another, but inextricably intertwined with one another… a way of life that even most liberal environmentalists only ever taste a hint of on the weekend via outdoor recreation, before returning to that other way of life (the human obsession with comfort, distraction, and consumption) that has all but taken over the world.

2. Secondly, this battle is the first one in which a new warfare is being practiced by one of the competing armies – let’s just call them Conservers. Traditionally, the Conservers have fought this war with emotions. The other army (the Extractors) has fought, meanwhile, with cold hard cash. Maybe it’s because the Conservers never had any cash. Or maybe it’s because the Extractors never had any emotions. What’s more likely is that neither team knew (or cared to know) how to use the other team’s weaponry. But the Conservers recently came to realize that “The outdoor recreation industry is a powerful force in the overall U.S. economy, with consumers spending $887 billion annually on outdoor recreation and creating 7.6 million American jobs.” 887 billion dollars is more than twice the amount Americans spend on gas and fuels, and more than twice as many Americans (480,000) are employed by fishing and hunting industries than they are by oil and gas extraction (180,000). You can find that quote, those numbers, and many other interesting factotums here.

With Bears Ears, the Conservers are employing all kinds of familiar tactics: fund raising, grassroots rallying and protesting, politician calling and emailing, sending stuffed animals and keychains to financial donors, and law suits. But a tiny offshoot of the Conservers (let’s call them Rogue One) are testing the waters for simply purchasing the future they want to see.

With this kickstarter to purchase an education center for Bears Ears, Rogue One seems to me to be taking a play from the Extractors playbook. The Extractors are all about less government. Government’s broken, government is corrupt. Forget government, let capitalism do its thing. The very reason Bears Ears is a battle is precisely BECAUSE the Extractors wanted to remove government oversight and protection for the purpose of letting private companies extract resources from the land. Less government, less red tape, more capitalism, more money talks.

In response, Rogue One is saying “ok, two can play at that.” Instead of waiting for painfully slow and often ineffectual bureaucratic processes to create an Education Center for Bears Ears, Rogue One decided to employ a technique the Extractors have been practicing for years: the Just Fucking Buy It method.

Crowdfunding a Gazillionaire

Of course, this isn’t exactly new. Rich people have been employing the “Just Fucking Buy It” technique as far back as John D Rockefeller at least, and probably a lot further than that. Of course, Tompkins Conservation has been doing their Rockefeller best to buy every square inch of land possible in Argentine and Chilean Patagonia—another large battlefield in the War on Nature.

But this is a little different, because Rogue One isn’t just finding the right Gazillionaire. (Also, because—hopefully—none of the member of THIS Rogue One die in this war).

They’re making one. Through crowdfunding.

There are only so many Chouinards and Tompkinses in this world, and they only have so much money, and time. They can’t possibly play the “Just Fucking Buy It” card for every battle in the war. They are far too finite, too limited.

Admittedly, 185k (the stretch goal for Rogue One’s kickstarter) isn’t exactly a gazillion dollars. Not even if you add TNF’s 100k to it. But still, it’s a start. What Rogue One is effectively doing is proving that you don’t need to wait around for an angel donor, or the constipated machinations of congress, to support your cause. You can crowdfund it. The hard part is getting the attention (and the heartstrings) of a gazillion people.

The good news for the Conservers, though, is that all those outdoor companies who make up an (apparently) enormous part of the American economy love love love good advertising, and good branding. The more people share around Rogue One’s Kickstarter, the more people donate to it (2500+ and counting), the more companies like Patagonia and The North Face will try to get a slice of that pie.

If you were surprised by The North Face’s huge kick down on this one – you weren’t the only one. That sort of move traditionally feels way more like Patagonia’s domain. The North Face is “Never Stop Exploring”, while Patagonia is “…use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Which kind of makes TNF sound like the Varsity Quarterback that will go on to become a CEO, and Patagonia is the potsmoking hippy that will go on to spearhead an NGO. And if you look at the earnings for each company, they also follow that trend. But according to an excellent article Marisa Meltzer wrote for The Guardian, “”Patagonia is smaller, but growing more rapidly…” She also notes that “lately The North Face has been focusing more and more on a younger, casual customer whose main interest in hiking is the part where they get to drink beer around a campfire… They value one thing above all else. It’s this whole idea of these genuine experiential moments that you share with your friends.”

Or, as I’ve heard marketers for one company call it: “Fun with the natives.”

So I ask you, what says “fun with the natives” more than throwing in a few bucks to #standwithbearsears?

The Future of This War

Compared to President Assclown illegally stealing 85% of Bears Ears National Monument (and 50% of Grand Staircase), raising money to fund the creation of an Education Center is small potatoes. But the precedent this sets could be huge.

“Why don’t they just use the funds to buy the land?” I’ve been asked by friends that felt the money could be better spent.

Well, for starters, the land isn’t for sale. The land lost to Trump’s declaration (pending litigation, of course) won’t go to the states to do as they please with, it will revert back to its previous designation: BLM, or otherwise. The risk to the Conservers here is that if that comes to pass, much of that land (which would be protected from extractive industries as a national monument) is open again to leases for gas, coal, timber, cattle, and uranium.

And so the question should really be “why not use the funds to buy those leases?”

And to that question, there is a disheartening answer: because it doesn’t work.

Back in 2016 conservationist, writer and political activist Terry Tempest Williams attempted to do precisely that when she and husband Brooke tried to buy oil and gas leases to 1120 acres north of Arches National Park. And, good Blue Teamers, what do you think happened? “The Interior Department decided to refund the Williamses and withhold the leases, citing Tempest Williams’ published remarks vowing to keep the leased hydrocarbons in the ground.”

Terry Tempest Williams’ failed lease attempts also led to some fishy changes in her teaching contract with University of Utah which ultimately led to her resignation from that institution. And if that’s not bad enough, others have been jailed for similar behavior.

Think of Rogue One’s mission as a test bombing. The Conservers didn’t drop it on the Extractors’ capitol city – but they have proven (with the kickstarter’s success) that the outdoor industry and its participants are ready to start fast-tracking their offensives in these battles by crowdfunding money instead of going through the painfully slow, corrupt, and unproductive channels of any of our broken branches of government.

Even with the unsettling precedent set by the Williams’ failed lease in southeastern Utah, the dollar remains an incredibly powerful political tool. It is perpetually used to buy votes in elections, to buy the candidates themselves, and to buy votes in congress, all of which – for the Conservers – will be the next piece of strategy to tinker with. Just imagine an environmentalist Tammany Hall! It’s only a matter of time until the Conservers fund a candidate that has feel good hippy dippy earthy vibes that their supporters can all rally behind. Think less Al Gore, and more Yvon Chouinard.

And while Yvon is probably nearly impossible to buy, who knows – they say everyone has a price.

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