Anthropocene Boosters: The Attack On Parks And Wilderness


Anthropocene boosters who criticize parks and wilderness as “colonialism, ‘imperialism,” and other pejorative terms that threaten conservation goals. Photo George Wuerthner 

A growing debate has serious consequences for our collective relationship to Nature. Beginning perhaps twenty years ago, a number of academics in disciplines such as history, anthropology, and geography, began to question whether there was any tangible wilderness or wild lands left on Earth.

These academics and others, have argued that humans have so completely modified the Earth we should give up on the notion that there is any place wild and instead recognize that we have already domesticated, in one fashion or another, the entire planet for human benefit.

A new version of the Anthropocene boosters is within the social justice movement that has overtaken many politically progressive groups, including university departments and most conservation organizations. In all these variations, the main theme is human-centric, rather than bio-centric.

These individuals and groups are identified under an umbrella of different labels, including “Neo Greens”, “Pragmatic Environmentalists,” “New Conservationists,” “Green Postmodernism,” and “Neo-environmentalists,” but the most inclusive label to date is “Neo Progressive,” so that is the term I will use in this essay.

The basic premise of their argument is that humans have lived everywhere except Antarctica and that it is absurd to suggest that Nature exists independent of human influences. That wilderness was, just like everything else on Earth, a human cultural construct—that does not exist outside of the human mind (1). With typical human hubris, Anthropocene Boosters suggest we need a new name for our geological age that recognizes human achievement instead of the outmoded Holocene.

Not only do these critics argue that humans now influence Nature to the point there is no such thing as an independent “Nature”, but we have a right and obligation to manage the Earth as if it were a giant garden waiting for human exploitation (2). Of course, there are many others, from politicians to religious leaders to industry leaders, who hold the same perspective, but what is different about most Anthropocene Boosters is that they suggest they are promoting ideas that ultimately will serve humans and nature better.

From this beginning, numerous other critiques of wilderness and wildness have added to the chorus. Eventually, these ideas found a responsive home in some of the largest corporate conservation organizations like The Nature Conservancy as well as some think tanks like the Breakthrough Institute (3), Long Now Foundation (4), The Reason Foundation (5), and others.

The Anthropocene Boosters make a number of assertions.

  1.  Pristine Wilderness never existed, or if it did, is now gone. Making wilderness protection the primary goal of conservation is a failed strategy.
    2.  The idea that Nature is fragile is an exaggeration. Nature is resilient.
    3.    Conservation must serve human needs and aspirations and do so by promoting growth and development.
    4.    Managing for “ecosystem services”, not biodiversity protection, should be the primary goal of conservation.
    5.    Conservation efforts should be focused on human-modified or “working landscapes” not creating new strictly protected areas like national parks, wilderness reserves and the like. Wildlands protection is passé.
    6.    Corporations are key to conservation efforts, so conservationists should partner with corporate interests rather than criticize capitalism or industry.
    7.    In order to garner support for these positions, conservation strategies like creation of national parks and other reserves are attacked as “elitism” or “cultural imperialism” or “colonialism.” (6)

Many holding these viewpoints seem to relish the idea that humans are finally “masters of the Earth”. They celebrate technology and the “path of progress” and believe it will lead to a new promised land where Nature is increasingly bent to human desires, while human poverty is alleviated.

For instance, Stewart Brand, of Whole Earth Catalog fame, embraces the idea of altering evolution with genetic modifications of species by “tweaking” gene pools. (7) Geographer Ernie Ellis is optimistic. He says: “Most of all, we must not see the Anthropocene as a crisis, but as the beginning of a new geological epoch ripe with human-directed opportunity” ([i]).

These trends and philosophical ideas are alarming to some of us who work in conservation. The implications of these goals and observations imply no limits upon consumption that destroys the planet’s ecosystems and contributes to a massive Sixth Extinction of species. Whether intentional or not, these ideas justify our current rapacious approach celebrating economic and development growth.

These ideas represent the techno-optimism of a glorious future where biotech, geoengineering, and nuclear power, among other “solutions” to current environmental problems, save us from ourselves.

Many Anthropocene Boosters believe the expansion of economic opportunities is the only way to bring much of the world’s population out of poverty. This is a happy coincidence for global industry and developers because they now have otherwise liberal progressive voices leading the charge for greater domestication of the Earth. But whether the ultimate goals are humane or not, these proposals appear to dismiss any need for limits on human population growth, consumption, and manipulating the planet.

Many of those advocating the Anthropocene Booster worldview either implicitly or explicitly see the Earth as a giant garden that we must “steward” (original root from “keeper of the sty” or caretaker of domestic livestock). In other words, we must domesticate the planet to serve human ends.

But the idea of commodifying Nature for economic and population growth is morally bankrupt. It seeks only to legitimize human manipulations and exploitation and ultimately is a threat to even human survival.

My book, Keeping the Wild—Against the Domestication of the Earth, explains why this is so. It advocates a smaller human footprint where wild Nature thrives and humans manage ourselves rather than attempt to manage the planet.

However, let us take these assertions one by one.

The Arctic Wildlife Refuge is not “pristine” meaning an absence of humans, but is still “self willed” meaning limited human manipulation. Photo George Wuerthner

Pristine wilderness

First is the Anthropocene Booster’s assertion that “pristine” wilderness never existed, and even if it did, wilderness is now gone. Boosters never define what exactly they mean by wilderness, but their use of “pristine” suggests that they define a wilderness as a place that no human has ever touched or trod (8).

That sense of total human absence is not how wilderness advocates define a wild place. Instead, wilderness has much more to do with the degree of human influence. Because humans have lived in all landscapes except Antarctica, it does not mean the human influence is uniformly distributed.

Wilderness is viewed as places largely influenced by natural forces rather than dominated by human manipulation and presence. Downtown Los Angeles is undoubtedly a human-influenced landscape, but a place like Alaska’s Arctic Wildlife Refuge is certainly not significantly manipulated or controlled by humans. Though humans have indeed hunted, camped, and otherwise occupied small portions of the refuge for centuries, the degree of human presence and modification is small. The Alaska Refuge lands are, most wilderness advocates would argue, self-willed.  By such a definition, many parts of the world are to one degree or another, largely “self-willed”.

Proponents of the Anthropocene often have a ready rejoinder that wild nature is a myth: “We create parks that are no less human constructions than Disneyland” (10). But such a response seeks to ignore there is a real Nature out there that exists irrespective of whether we wish to acknowledge it as independent of humans as hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfire prove.

Nature, if given enough time, can often mend the ecological destruction from human exploitation, but such development ultimately leads to cumulative impacts that can ultimately overwhelm the natural resilence of natural ecosystems. Photo George Wuerthner 

Nature is resilient

Some Anthropocene advocates cite the loss of the passenger pigeon, once so abundant that its flocks darkened the sky, whose demise, according to some, had “no catastrophic or even measurable effects.”

Such a cavalier attitude towards the demise of species and the normalizing of species declines undermines the efforts of many conservation organizations to preclude these human-caused extinctions.

Many biologists disagree with this perspective. They believe we are on the verge of a Sixth Mass Extinction. There have been other extinctions, but this is a preventable mass extinction. We know it is occurring, and the cause of this extinction spiral is human domination of the Earth and its resources (11).

There is something callous and morally bankrupt in asserting that it is OK for humans to drive species to extinction knowingly.  There seems to be no expression of loss or grief that we are now pushing many species toward extinction. Humans have survived the Black Plague, the Holocaust, and many other losses over the centuries, but one doesn’t celebrate these losses.

Conservation must serve human needs

Another pillar of the Anthropocene Boosters platform is that conservation’s main purpose must be to enhance and provide for human needs and desires. Of course, one consequence of conservation is that protected landscapes nearly always provide for human needs—contributing clean water, biodiversity conservation (if you think that is important), and moderation of climate change, to name a few.

However, the main rationale for conservation should be much broader and inclusive. Despite the fact that most conservation efforts do have human utilitarian value, the ultimate measurement of value ought to be how well conservation serves the needs of the other species we share the planet with.

The problem with Anthropocene Boosters’ promotion of growth and development is that most species losses are due to habitat losses. Without reining in population and development, plants and animals face a grim future with less and less habitat, not to mention changes in their habitat, making survival difficult if not impossible.

Even when species do not go extinct, the diminishment of their ecological effects can also lead to biological impoverishment, for instance, when top predators or pollinators are eliminated from ecosystems.

Conservation should focus on “working landscapes,” not the creation of more parks and wilderness

The timber industry invented the term “working landscapes” to put a positive spin on their rapacious operations. Americans, in particular, look favorably upon the “work ethic,” and industry coined the phrase to capitalize on that affirmative cultural perspective. Working landscapes are typically lands exploited for economic development, including logging, livestock grazing, and farming.

While almost no conservationists would deny that there is vast room for improvement in these exploited landscapes, the general scientific consensus is that parks, wilderness reserves and other lands where human exploitation is restricted provide greater protection of ecosystems and biodiversity.

For this reason, many scientists, including such eminent biologists as now deceased Harvard biologist, E.O. Wilson, call for protecting of half of the Earth’s terrestrial landscapes as parks and other reserves.

Conservationists should stop criticizing corporations.

Some Anthropocene Boosters believe conservationists should stop criticizing corporations and work with them to implement more environmentally friendly programs and operations.

Almost no conservationist would argue that corporate entities should not adopt less destructive practices. However, it is overdevelopment that is the ultimate threat to all life, including our own. Implementing so-called “sustainable” practices may slow the degradation of the Earth’s ecosystems and species decline, but most such proposals only create “lesser unsustainable” operations.

At a fundamental level, the promise of endless growth on a finite planet is a dead-end street, and it is important for conservationists to harp upon that message continuously. To halt criticisms of corporations invites greenwashing and precludes any effective analysis of the ultimate development and growth problems.

Critics of parks and other reserves assert that protected landscapes are a form of cultural imperialism, apparently ignoring that resource extraction and development is a form of imperialism on the planet and its non-human members. Photo George Wuerthner 

National parks and reserves are a form of cultural imperialism

Many Anthropocene Boosters, particularly those in the humanities and social justice movement, go beyond merely criticizing environmental and conservation strategies to validate their particular view of the world. They seek to delegitimize parks and other wild lands protection efforts by branding them with pejorative terms like “cultural imperialisms,” “colonialism,” and other words that vilify protected lands.

Parks and protected areas began with Yellowstone National Park in 1872 (or arguably Yosemite, a state park earlier). The general Anthropocene Boosters theme is that this model has been “exported” and emulated worldwide and that Western nations are forcing parks upon the poor at the expense of their economic future.

Notwithstanding that nearly all cultures have some concept of sacred lands or places that are off limits to normal exploitation, denigrating the idea of parks and wildlands reserves as “Imperialism” because it originated in the United States is crass. It is no different from criticizing democracy as Greek imperialism because many countries now aspire to adopt democratic institutions. Western countries also “export” other ideas, like human rights, racial equality and other values, and few question whether these ideas represent “imperialism.”

Of course, one of the reasons protected areas are so widely adopted is because they are better at protecting ecosystems and wildlife than other less protective methods.

But it is also true that strictly protected areas have not stemmed the loss of species and habitat, though in many cases, they have slowed these losses. When parks and other reserves fail to safeguard the lands they are set aside to protect, it is typically due to a host of recognized issues that conservation biologists frequently cite, including small size, lack of connecting corridors, lack of enforcement, and underfunding.

To criticize parks for this is analogous to arguing we should eliminate public schools because underfunding, lack of adequate staffing, and other well-publicized problems often result in less-than-desirable educational outcomes. Just as the problem is not with the basic premise of public education, nor are the well-publicized difficulties for parks a reason to jettison them as a foundation for conservation strategies.

Another criticism is that strictly protected parks and other reserves harm local economic and sometimes subsistence activities. In reality, that is what parks and other reserves are designed to do. We create strictly protected areas because on-going resource exploitation harms wildlife and ecosystems or we would not need parks or other reserves in the first place.

While park creation may occasionally disrupt local use of resources, we regularly condone or at least accept the disruption and losses associated with much more damaging developments. The Three Gorges Dam in China displaced millions of people. Similar development around the world has displaced and impinged upon indigenous peoples everywhere. Indeed, in the absence of protected areas, many landscapes are ravaged by logging, ranching, oil and gas, mining and other resource developers, often to the ultimate detriment of local peoples and of course, the ecosystems they depend upon. In the interest of fairness, however, people severely impacted should be compensated somehow.

Nevertheless, it should also be recognized that the benefits of parks and other wildlands reserves are nearly always perpetual, while logging the forest, killing off wildlife, and other alternatives are usually less permanent sources of economic viability.

What you can do

The threat to wildlands from Anthropocene boosters is real. The best antidote to their critiques is education and context. Wherever one reads critiques of parks and wildlands, write a response addressing their misinformation, hopefully using the information in this article and the books I’ve helped publish, including Keeping the Wild and Protecting the Wild. Both have essays that challenge and/or refute all the fundamental assumptions commonly asserted by Anthropocene boosters.

The real answer is more personal involvement with Nature. So, encourage Anthropocene boosters to spend a little time in a wild place. I find it difficult to believe that anyone who has spent serious time in a wild place would doubt that wilderness and wildness aren’t real and not just a human cultural construction. A few weeks in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, or even Yellowstone’s backcountry, might cure naysayers of their myopic perspective.


The Wild does have economic and other benefits for human well-being. However, the ultimate rationale for “Keeping the Wild” is the realization there are intangible and intrinsic value to protecting Nature. Keeping the Wild is about self-restraint and self-discipline. By setting aside parks and other reserves, we, as a society and a species, are making a statement that we recognize that we have a moral obligation to protect other lifeforms. And while we may have the capability to influence the planet and its biosphere, we lack the wisdom to do so in a manner that does not harm.

(1) Cronon, William The Trouble with Wilderness in Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature (1995)
(2) Marris, Emma (2011). Rambunctious Garden. Bloomsbury NY.
(3) Breakthrough Institute
(4) The Long Now Foundation
(5) Ronald Bailey 2011 The Myth of Pristine Nature.
(6) Peter Kareiva, Michelle Marvier and Robert Lalasz  Conservation in the Anthropocene.
(7) Steward (Brand 2015) Rethinking Extinction.

(8) Ernie Ellis (2011). “The Planet of No Return.” Breakthrough Journal, 2(Fall).
(9) Interview with Emma Marris.
(10) Peter Kareiva, Robert Lalasz and Michelle Marvier 201 Conservation in the Anthropocene. Breakthrough Journal, No. 2(Fall): 29-37.
(11) Stewart Brand (2015) Rethinking Extinction.
(12) Brian Miller, Michael Soulé, and John Terborgh, The “New Conservation’s” Surrender to Development.




  1. Richard Halsey Avatar

    George, this is a brilliant piece of work. The following paragraph especially caught my eye:

    Notwithstanding that nearly all cultures have some concept of sacred lands or places that are off limits to normal exploitation, denigrating the idea of parks and wildlands reserves as “Imperialism” because it originated in the United States is crass. It is no different from criticizing democracy as Greek imperialism because many countries now aspire to adopt democratic institutions. Western countries also “export” other ideas, like human rights, racial equality and other values, and few question whether these ideas represent “imperialism.”

    Your point by point analysis does an excellent job revealing the fallacy of each position the Neo Progressives hold about Wilderness.

    Thank you.

  2. Maggie Frazier Avatar
    Maggie Frazier

    “And while we may have the capability to influence the planet and its biosphere, we lack the wisdom to do so in a manner that does not harm.”
    And that one sentence says it all!

    1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      “These academics and others, have argued that humans have so completely modified the Earth we should give up on the notion that there is any place wild and instead recognize that we have already domesticated, in one fashion or another, the entire planet for human benefit.”

      Well, we have. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to reverse this. Habitats and ecosystems CAN be restored, it just takes the will and the work to do it. Sure, some things can’t be fixed, such as human-caused extinctions and radioactive pollution that will last until the sun makes the Earth so hot that it will no longer support life, but those are extremes. The problem is that the people pushing this BS don’t WANT to protect and restore wilderness. They’re human supremacists (aka anthropocentric) who self-centeredly think that the Earth is here just for their own species, which is why they push this immoral idea.

      As to people prioritizing justice for some humans over concerns for the Earth and the rest of the life here, that’s long been a problem with leftists. I’ve argued with these people for decades about this, nothing new here. The issue is whether you’re ecocentric, biocentric, or homocentric. Left v. right is irrelevant in this context. Leftists can be just as human supremacist as anyone; being on the left doesn’t at all mean that you support the natural environment.

      “The basic premise of their argument is that humans have lived everywhere except Antarctica and that it is absurd to suggest that Nature exists independent of human influences.”

      This idea could not be more idiotic, totally detached from reality. The simple fact is that humans have only been around for 200,000 years, so EVERY ecosystem and habitat existed without us for the vast majority of its existence. Sure, human DESTRUCTION — not mere “influence,” unfortunately — has touched every place on terrestrial Earth and many if not most of the oceans, but that doesn’t mean that humans are needed anywhere for ecological services or that our unnatural destruction is a natural part of life. Quite the contrary, it couldn’t be more clear that we’re not so needed, and that EVERYTHING we do to the physical/natural world is harmful. The best thing that humans can do regarding the natural environment is to LEAVE IT ALONE, after we restore as much as possible that we’ve killed and destroyed.

      I’m not going to continue to read these immoral human supremacist ideas; I don’t know how George does it without having a stroke. These people are as disgusting as anyone. I can at least understand someone stuck in an Earth-destroying job who’s just trying to make a living and who has no education or other way to earn a living. These human supremacists are like proud Nazis, and they either should or actually do know better. This is basically an excerpt from a book that George co-authored called Keeping the Wild. I suggest reading the book if you’re interested in more details on this subject.

    2. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      Sorry Maggie, this was supposed to be a comment on George’s post, not a response to you. This comment system leaves a lot to be desired, unfortunately.

    3. Jeff Hoffman Avatar

      As to your comment, click on the following link for an explanation of why humans have no business doing any of that:

  3. Selina Sweet Avatar
    Selina Sweet

    An avid backpacker throughout the West and canoeist into the Boundary Waters of Minn and Canada and camper and hiker into Wyoming, Montana, California, the Four Corners, New Mexico,Utah,the Shenandoah and Maine’s Acadia, I can attest to the realities of the “wilderness” existing today. Any person rationalizing the insignificance of dwelling in a place –without plumbing, streets and traffic lights, electricity, man-made structures etc. —but with Nature’s kind of silence, roamings of grizzlies, black bear, wolves, coyotes, beaver, wildcats, bison, elk, deer, the scents of earth and trees exuding their fragrances free of vehicle and industrial exhaust, and the earfulls of coyotes singing in the inked black night cut with crystal starlight – has got to have their sense and senses restored. Not only are their instincts buried but their “feel” for oneness with Nature has been corrupted. These people’s distortions of consciousness has been wreaked by the daily and nightly soaks in the capitalistic, profit driven, soulless, money-power-and-control, monetize everything, and disintegrate any group with anorganizing principle antithetical to all the foregoing.Please. See Patrick Lawrence’s “The Undiscovered Country” (in David Bollier’s “Create a Schumacher Action Lab; Reconstitute The World” (in

    1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
      Maggie Frazier

      Seems to me that not only their “instincts” are buried – Likely they never had any! Could it be that these humans who have no concept of Wild have never had the privilege of BEING near any wild place?
      Seems the theory of humans domination still lives on in their ivory towers!

    2. Chris Zinda Avatar
      Chris Zinda

      Yet, only the BWCAW has official carrying capacities and enviros see industrial wreckreation as a virtue. Even GW and Wilderness Watch do not support carrying capacities and quotas – beholden to an industry of leisure.

    3. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      I agree, but unfortunately this started well before capitalism. Agriculture & civilization are the physical roots of the problems. Civilized humans destroyed forests in the Middle East thousands of years B.C., and those areas are now deserts, to list just one example.

  4. Jerry Thiessen Avatar
    Jerry Thiessen

    Well said. But, its hard to argue that the advent of the anthropocene is not real. Eight billion plus humans on the planet with no letup in sight effecting every acre on God’s green earth by man caused climate change, and rearranging species composition of plants and animals worldwide is irrefutable evidence. All of this is man caused and brought about in just a few hundred years. Can any of us imagine the earth and its natural conditions 500 years hence? Scary!
    We need to push hard for education to draw attention to the high values directly associated with protecting and nurturing what remains of our wildest and most untrameled places left on earth. But, the trajectory toward ever increasing dominance and disruption by humans is not reassuring.

  5. Mneylo Avatar

    As said previously this a brilliant piece.

  6. Bill Cunningham Avatar
    Bill Cunningham

    If in fact we’re entering a new Anthropocene epoch we should use that very argument against the boosters by asserting that yes this is all the more reason for protecting wilderness. Given the appalling loss of biodiversity from human activities (climate change, pollution, loss of habitat)the goal of protecting 50 percent of the planet as advocated by EO Wilson is all the more urgent.

    1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      Protecting 50% of the Earth from human destruction would be exponentially better than the current situation. However, we should all live properly in ecologically-balanced numbers. If we did, we wouldn’t need to protect anything, because we wouldn’t be harming anything. That needs to be the ultimate goal.

      Nothing will be protected until and unless humans as a whole change their attitudes toward this. Even areas that now seem protected will be destroyed, just like they’re fracking in state parks in Ohio.

  7. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    It’s a big worry, and it will be a huge setback to everything that has been accomplished up to now.

    Frightful. If certain lands had not been protected, they would not even exist today, such things as stands of old-growth forest and the wildlife who try to survive alongside us. I envision an Easter Island type scenario with this dangerous line of thinking.

    Thanks for this!

  8. Fred Koontz Avatar
    Fred Koontz

    Excellent article, George! One related observation to share. The very word “conservation” is confused, and this is creating a quagmire of conflict among policymakers and interest groups. “Conservation” is to most natural resource agency personnel, natural resource managers and policymakers: “the actions to sustain the use of animals and plants.” Virtually, the same Human use-oriented view as Gifford Pinchot in the 1930’s.

    I am surprised that most large-box conservation NGO’s and professional organizations, including the Society of Conservation Biology, have failed to adopt a more modern, ecocentric version of the word. I believe they do the political calculus and keep silent. After all, in growth we trust, and that is all about managing nonhuman life for its use.

    For example, I suggested in 2022 to an Society for Conservation (SCB) audience that SCB should define conservation as “science-informed actions to preserve the health and resiliency of natural environments, safeguard the intrinsic values of non-human nature, and provide equitable benefits to current and future generations of humans and nonhuman life. These actions include protecting and restoring air, soil, water, biological diversity, ecosystem processes and evolutionary potential.” There was no reaction.

    The myth of sustained use in a political world of growth will be our end.

  9. Ralph Duane Short Avatar
    Ralph Duane Short

    It’s interesting to note that many of these supposedly enlightened people claimed, only a few decades ago (and some still claim), that human beings do not have the capacity to destroy the planet or its atmosphere.

    We, who continue to work toward environmental preservation and wildlands restoration, are bookended by two extremes.

    One extreme consisting of academics claims, “It’s too late because humans have done too much damage.” The other extreme is the small-minded claim that humans cannot possibly do too much damage to the planet.

    I submit that today’s conventional environmentalists (like you, me and most commenting on your essay) are the true pragmatists. Those currently labeling themselves pragmatic environmentalists/conservationists are, in reality, among the ranks of extremists.

    It is not that conventional environmentalists (like us) have moved left or right (so to speak). The truth is that both left and right have moved farther left and right. We traditional environmentalists have been circumstantially positioned in the middle.

    We have been situated in the middle because our science-supported premises and positions have us well-anchored in verifiable fact. While science, over time, adjusts its facts, theories, and laws to meet new information. Basic science rarely changes.

    The state of science today demands that I define “basic science.” I feel a pit in my stomach because even many scientists hear the term “basic science” and automatically think. “Oh. That’s the simple science stuff.” The opposite is true.

    Basic science discovers a bit or unit of information. This science is the hard part. Discovery is hard.

    Applied science borrows a collection of bits or units of information and arranges them into means by which human beings benefit. Technology is the more physical aspect of this process.

    The application of knowledge gained through basic research is not inherently evil. But in today’s anthropocentric age of endless economic growth and consumption, the temptation to profit from such applications is overwhelming our society.

    The most appropriately applied science to environmental issues is not applied science at all. Only basic science informs how our universe works. This hard fact is almost entirely lost today. Even scientists who should know better often fail to appreciate this truism.

    The highest aspiration of basic science, like education in general, is to help human beings know. Knowledge, understanding, and appreciation are the pinnacle of human existence.

    Knowing, understanding, and appreciating need not be transformed into conquering, controlling, or doing simply because we can. Yet, humankind has used its knowledge in this manner for several centuries.

    Applied science is, by design, a form of science used to manipulate or change what is. The instant that basic science is transformed and applied to any natural static condition or dynamic process, the alteration of nature is underway. Applied science is the genesis of technology.

    Post-industrialization, basic science communities have been bullied and obfuscated by applied science communities. Basic science is all but silenced. The only funding available for the basic sciences today is that which possesses a clear payoff for some end consumer of the newfound knowledge in terms of financial gain.

    Basic science produces knowledge, understanding, and appreciation for how the universe is and functions.

    Graduate students do most of the basic scientific research today. The depth of this research is deep enough to satisfy the program graduation requirement. The state of basic science research is abysmal. This observation is not to diminish the value of graduate students. The point is that science itself is suffering the scourge of capitalistic extremism.

    Technology, the progeny of applied sciences, is favored over the basic sciences. Basic science produces knowledge, understanding, and appreciation for the universe.

    Applied science and technology produce profit. Need I say more?

    The unstable radical right and left drift in the political and societal whims of time. The basic sciences have little to do with their premises.

    Despite the troubling aspect of being bookended/flanked and squeezed between radicals who embrace the same argument, it is refreshing that we occupy a history-making position of being the moderates of environmental protection.

    We remember when being a moderate meant being the cooler or level head and more reasonable in society.

    I’m left wondering. Has history somehow placed us in this moderate position by accident or by some grand universal design?

    After reading your essay and exercising some thought based on decades of observation, I believe you have revealed, without stating so, something I consider to be profoundly true.

    Finally, we can ethically, logically, and accurately portray ourselves as the voices of reason rather than only the voices of the wild.

    By owning our moderate position, we disarm the radicals on either side of us. They can no longer claim we are radicals. They have become the radicals. We must use this fact to our advantage.

    We have always had science on our side, but now we possess the fickle societal advantage of occupying the moderate space of social reasoning. Fickle is fickle. However, we must not waste leverage.

    We must exploit this advantage. We must do so no less shamefully than anti-wildness parties perpetuated and continue to perpetuate the myth of so-called radical and alarmist environmentalists.

    We have no cause for shame. As we have always been, we are on the side of reasonable moderation. We don’t ask to destroy what remains of our wild areas. We seek to restore and preserve only one-third of our planet. How is this radical?

    The anti-wildness forces, not us, are throwing their arms in the air and giving up on saving our planet and its atmosphere. That’s radical.

    Perhaps our arduous efforts have somewhat unintentionally but advantageously divided our adversaries. They currently exist as two distinct camps. The small-minded who believe man exists to rule the wilds, and the corporatists who believe man’s destiny is to be enriched by the wilds.

    Environmentalists have long lamented that we should learn better to celebrate our victories, even the small ones.

    We have won!

    By being grounded in well-established sciences, we have split the “God meant for man to have dominion over earth” crowd from the “rogue capitalists” who believe that humanity exists to take whatever it wants from the Earth.” The real radicals agree on one thing. They agree that Earth is finite when it is not.

    Basic science is the awl that splits the hardest hardwood.

    Having believed, for a while, that maybe environmentalists have failed our planet, your essay has sparked in me an uplifting notion.

    This notion is that conventional environmentalists are in an unprecedentedly comfortable position of being recognized as the more mainstream representative of public/societal sentiment. You have already covered the Neos, so I needn’t weed them out here. Thanks for having the wisdom and courage to say about them what few will.

    To either side of our positions on the environment are groups claiming 1) that man cannot destroy the planet or 2) that the planet is beyond repair.

    We are in a unique position to highlight these two extremes as contradictory. In addition, we can point out that they suggest the same response, which is to take no or little action to preserve and restore the planet. Such is a radical position.

    My confidence in the US citizenry and its government is in shambles. Regardless, I think the majority still believes we should not give up on our planet.

    Owning what has become our moderate position on environmental protection could be the best strategy to gain more public support for our efforts. For better or worse, moderates generally determine outcomes in a Democratic society.

    We must choose the most appropriate frame for our newfound moderate identity.

    We do not need to change our science-based positions. But we must more clearly frame them as the moderate positions they have become.

    If we frame our position accurately, we can win over those moderates who have always kept us at arm’s length.

    We environmentalists have been rejected by many, not because they disagree with environmental protection, but simply because they (for social reasons) will not be associated with radicals (of any kind). And we have been plagued with the radical label for over half a century.

    Of course, environmentalists (in general) have not been radical. But we have been lumped as such. As biologists, we know all about lumpers and splitters.

    To the layperson, an environmentalist is an environmentalist. The loudest, rowdiest radicals always drawn the most attention and thus label those associated (in any way) with them as such.

    Here’s our chance! It’s staring at us. We should seriously consider how we move forward in light of our new, hard-won advantage.

    Counting the Costs

    One clear aspect we must highlight is the costs of not protecting our wildlands, waters, and atmosphere.

    As far as I know, Aljazeera News is the only major news media outlet to daily explore the cost of doing nothing to address environmental issues daily. I see this outlet as a source of learning and inspiration. In my opinion, their journalists are well ahead of the curve.

    Truth is where we find it.

    Moderates, at large, claim they always count the costs. They don’t. They only consider the gains in the context of our planet as the provider of all resources.

    We should be better. We must be better at exposing the risks and costs of Anthropocentric mindsets and behaviors. Anthropocentric positions only account for short-term financial profits. We must more effectively refute and control this false narrative.

    We can beat this drum starting today. We have an entire drumline of drums to play if we take advantage of our newfound and fortuitous moderate status.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I believe society is no longer amused with extremism. I think I feel a return to civility coming and with it a healthy respect for reason, if not a full-blown return to science for answers.

    1. Ralph Duane Short Avatar
      Ralph Duane Short

      Correction ~ They agree that Earth is finite when it is not. Should read: They agree (or behave as if) the earth is ‘infinite’ when it is not.

    2. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      I agree with most of your comment, with the lone major exception below. This statement by you contradicts everything else you wrote on this subject, so I suspect that we agree far more than we disagree on this, but I had to say something when I read it.

      “The application of knowledge gained through basic research is not inherently evil.”

      Really? Name one technology that doesn’t kill native life, harm or destroy ecosystems or habitats, or pollute. Never had anyone meet that challenge, because ya can’t. Humans’ only proper role on this planet is to expand our consciousness. The portion of science that discovers information is fine, and is part of that expansion. But the part of science that uses those discoveries to in any way alter or harm the natural world is pure evil.

      When someone says that humans can’t destroy the Earth, I respond that we already have. The Earth before agriculture looked like a totally different planet than it does today, and that’s not even accounting for the severe harms caused by industrial society.

      We haven’t “won” anything; in fact, we’re losing big time. 90% of all native ecosystems gone, same with both terrestrial and aquatic megafauna, pollution literally everywhere including inside of at least all mammals, global warming, ocean acidification, the Sixth Great Extinction, etc. That’s not winning by any definition.

      Dave Foreman used to say that it is not we Earth First!ers who are radical, it’s those who advocate ecological harm and those who practice it. We’re actually conservatives, as in conservation. I couldn’t agree with Dave more, and I told him so when he said this in the 1980s.

  10. Chris Zinda Avatar
    Chris Zinda

    What find unsurprising is GW and ‘neo progressives’ are conservationists, neither interested in preservation- which is the word used in the Wilderness Act.

    So, GW continues to dicker, trying to define his form of conservation as “good” instead of promoting preservation of even wilderness itself and upholding the law that ‘created’ them.

    It’s hard to take him or 95% of enviros seriously.

    1. Richard Halsey Avatar

      Having surveyed a number of your posts, Chris, it might be helpful to run them by an objective person prior to posting. As many stand, including the two here, they don’t make any sense. George isn’t interested in preservation? Really? Care to offer a reasoned argument with facts to support your statement?

      1. Chris Zinda Avatar
        Chris Zinda


        GW identifies as a conservationist, not a preservationist. He – like 95% of the environmental movement – conflates the two terms at will, regardless that they have very different semantics.

        Even though he knows the Wilderness Act is the only legislation that includes the word preservation, he does not promote such management through legally required carrying capacities and quotas. Nor does he promote carrying capacities and quotas for NPS sites that all have a legal mandate to do so, albeit their enabling legislation only contains the word conserve.

        He is for continued unlimited access for human use – conserving it, the hallmark of anthropocentrism – largely because industrial wreckreation is a virtue for all ideological persuasions.

        Seems to me, if enviros like GW were serious about extinction and climate, advocating for the preservion of landscapes through legally required methods would be the subject of GW’s rhetoric instead of hypocritically blaming others who just parse their conservation differently.

        1. Chris Zinda Avatar
          Chris Zinda

          Adding, I see you’re the founder of the California Chapperal Institute and on LinkedIn use ‘preservation’ in your bio.

          So, which is it? Are you a conservationist or preservationist? Both? If so, how is this reflected in your views and work on how landscapes should be both legislated and managed?

  11. Jerry Thiessen Avatar
    Jerry Thiessen

    The only person that can clarify George’s position on conservation vs. preservation is George. If I have one criticism of George is that he writes stuff then sits back and reads comments but seldom,if ever, contributes to the conversation that goes on between his readers as a result of his posts. This discussion is an example of when George should weigh in, in my view.

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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George Wuerthner