Help the wild be: Alfred Runte, Yosemite

Confessions of a bad environmentalist: I've never been to Yosemite or Yellowstone, nor to Clayoquot Sound or the Great Bear Rainforest. Sure, I'll argue always that these places don't need my consumerist footprint weighing them down further than they are already, but imaginatively, I'm terribly compromised by my exposure only through indirect means (cue Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction").

Or so the argument goes, I guess. I'm supposed to feel bad that I haven't been there, but I don't. In fact, I've always been a little bit proud, secretly, that I'm never collected the standard visitors' badges to wild places as cred for my green views.

Alfred Runte's angry 1990 work of environmental history helps to clarify and support this sort of reluctance to visit wild places. Yosemite: The Embattled Wilderness forcefully proposes that the American national park system, especially its signature park Yosemite, has been doomed from the start through management toward principles of human utility and visitation, rather than principles of biology or forestry or ecology. The only responsible position is that visiting Yosemite must occur in a context of respect for nature and place, rather than for human desires.

"Nature" at night: Yosemite Valley
Is it possible to manage nature without doing so for human ends? No, because our understanding of nature is always already limited and deceitful and manipulative, no matter how good our intentions, but as Runte explains, management in Yosemite has really never even tried to aim at the best of intentions. The park's development is a sorry history of managerial and touristic practices that should have been criminal at the time, and in some cases were indeed criminal, but that were allowed to thrive until the park's reason for being has in large measure been extinguished.

It's a beautiful place still, obviously, well worth visiting touristically, but after reading Runte's book, I just can't imagine that I'll ever want to visit Yosemite. I refuse to contribute to the Disneyfication of this place; I will not accept that it should remain the thoroughly consumerist-industrial resort that it has become. Frankly, I'm feeling pretty good right now about my practice of rarely visiting parks or places far from my home, here in a city.

Leave wild places right the hell alone. Not the worst mantra for an environmentalist to live by, even if I'd absolutely love to hike the untrailed Brooks Peninsula one of these summers....

And if you want more detail, then I'd recommend that you read the longer, more careful review published in the LA Times when the book first came out. Good times!


FH said…
There's a large series of stories written by Larry Niven in which instantaneous teleportation is not only possible but dead cheap: step into a phone booth in one place, dial another place, and you're there, for a quarter.

Stay with me here; I've got a point.

These stories are not ever about teleportation; they're murder mysteries, romances, adventures, uncategorizable science fiction meanderings…that sort of thing. But if you read enough of them, you can follow the progression of these teleportation booths over the course of decades, and see the effect they've had on society and the planet. (A favourite title is "All the Bridges Rusting")

On the plus side, there are no more cars, and the suburbs disappear.
On the minus side—teleportation is destroying the planet because now there's no stopping the spread of humanity. Nowhere in the world is more than five minutes away.

Except Easter Island: the government of Chile just doesn't put any teleportation booths there. If you want to get there, you have to take a boat. A what? A boat.

I dunno, just remembered that.

richard said…
Perfect solution: if you couldn't get out of the teleportation booth in a national park!

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