Trust the academics, God bless ’em, to confirm the obvious.
This summer the journal BioScience reported that global climate change has eclipsed biodiversity conservation as the top environmental concern among philanthropies and scientific researchers, as well as in media coverage. The shift is hardly news: A glance at the websites of the leading environmental organizations reveals that global warming is the central issue for most campaigning outfits. Over the past fifteen years, as reports about the scope of the climate crisis piled up, much of the green movement has pivoted from a focus on wildlands preservation to human self-preservation.
Environmentalists’ urgency will be on display on Sunday in New York City as crowds gather for the People’s Climate March. Organizers are hoping to recruit more than 100,000 people to rally in Manhattan on the eve of a climate summit at the United Nations, with similar demonstrations to take place worldwide. Greens hope the global day of action will highlight the recklessness of the carbon barons and their political sock puppets, and jolt global leaders into action to stem greenhouse gas emissions.
By coincidence, the People’s Climate March will come just two weeks after the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act. That law is one of the signature accomplishments of the American environmental movement. It marked a sweeping extension of the national park philosophy by establishing a legal definition of wild places as areas “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man.” The anniversary should be an occasion for celebration, yet conservationists find themselves in something of a defensive stance. The wilderness ideal is experiencing a “midlife crisis,” The New York Times declared this summer. Drawing two-dimensional lines on a map appears insufficient for the multi-dimensional threats of an overheated and overcrowded planet. Federal land managers are struggling with whether to manipulate wilderness areas to save certain plants and animals, while advanced technologies erode the wild’s remoteness and isolation. The once-solid certainties about the value of wild nature are melting under the glare of a hot, new sky.
Environmentalists are having to figure out where (or whether) wilderness fits into civilization’s twenty-first-century survival kit, a question that is forcing a split among the green community. Some argue that we have no choice but to abandon the old faith, while others say that we have to maintain a commitment to wildlands and wildlife.