Conservation groups can be counterproductive

Over time — and particularly in the last several years — I have become increasingly distrustful of political and social movements.

Over time — and particularly in the last several years — I have become increasingly distrustful of political and social movements.

With age my intellectual and activist interests have broadened considerable and I see most movements as being narrow, self-serving, ineffective, even counterproductive.

I have been most interested in issues surrounding community well-being, small-scale economic development and wilderness preservation.

However, what I have to say here also applies to other targeted social movements including, women’s rights, alternative energy, AIDS prevention, etc.

While I still applaud many of the goals of conservation organizations, I fear their narrow field of vision has, in many instances, brought about just the opposite effect.

This is particularly true here in the Yukon.

In the late 1990s, Yukon Conservation Society and Yukon Chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society so entrenched their thinking — and therefore their membership — on defeating any resource development on wilderness lands that they pulled their support from the only political party willing to take a strong environmental stand: the NDP.

This opened the door for the Liberals who were woefully unprepared to offer any reasonable alternatives to a sluggish Yukon economy. And that, of course, allowed the Yukon Party its kick at the can.

What we are now left with is a short-sighted, short-term resource economy, one ill prepared and poorly positioned to sustain us in the long term.

We have no long-term vision for protecting Yukon’s wilderness; we have no real energy alternatives on a scale large enough to do us much good in the long run.

And we have hordes of well-meaning, highly educated wilderness advocates wandering about without any practical direction.

As I see it, environmental advocacy groups have taken on an attitude usually reserved for large corporations. Their cause and the means by which they intend to achieve it are elevated above all else.

In claiming to have a lock on “good” environmental thinking, these groups quickly try to convince themselves — and then their audience — that their appraisal of and their solutions for an impending environmental disaster are the only ones serving the “public good.”

As environmental groups continue to divide the activist pie by focusing on the singular effects of river pollution, wilderness denigration, water scarcity, over fishing, fossil fuels, clear cutting, and on-the-cheap mineral extraction.

All of these certainly have consequences for the overall health of the planet, the real causes that have led to a dying planet go virtually unchecked.

And of course the real causes that have led us to the brink of disaster are our collective and complex failure to exercise our individual responsibilities to reduce consumption and to live more simply.

Inadvertently, advocacy groups have contributed to this state of affairs by offering us the false hope of single-minded causes.

If only we could rid the Yukon of its reliance on logging or mining. If only we could enhance our ability to attract greater and greater numbers of adventure tourists.

If only we could strengthen our labour unions, learn our native languages, build a university, bicycle to work, buy wind generators, build low-cost housing, then all would be right with the world.

All of these goals are worthy no matter how lofty or far-fetched. But we must not lose sight of the fact that no single cause will achieve what is now necessary in order to pull us from the brink.

What is necessary is to admit first of all that it is not ‘other’ people who are bringing us down. It is not the logger, miner, whaler, ‘SUVer’ who are doing us in. It is ‘us’ — you and me.

It is us who have lost our interest in producing our own food, entertaining our own children, building our own shelter, finding our own sense of wonder right here in our own backyard.

It is us who have allowed ourselves to become so specialized in thought and in livelihood that we can no longer grasp what it means to care for ourselves fully, creatively, expeditiously and efficiently.

We have become irresponsible and, therefore unresponsive unto ourselves.

Because we have become so estranged from our own self worth, we now insist that others produce what we eat, design and manufacture what we wear, and define for us what is in the best interest of the public good.

Many of us make too much money and therefore have become all too content with supporting costly solutions that almost inevitably lead to more costly problems.

Advocacy groups have given us — not by design, but rather by default — the wrong outlet for addressing our concerns for the health of our ourselves, our communities, and ultimately our planet.

They have made it too tempting for us to feel like we have done our part by simply signing on, subscribing to, and rallying for environmental causes.

They have diverted us from the necessary, important and life-giving work of gardening, building, repairing, tanning, sewing, preparing, sharpening, canning, and saving.

Even more significantly, single-minded advocacy groups have led us to believe, incorrectly, that nature is the supreme good and that it is necessary to exclude man and woman from the garden, when it is absolutely critical that we begin to embrace — wisely — its cultivation.

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