He spoke eloquently:
America’s most valuable assets aren’t controlled by hedge funds; they’re shared by us all. Gaps between rich and poor have been growing, but our national lands are a rare space of utter democracy: the poorest citizen gets resplendent views that even a billionaire is not allowed to buy.
Roll out a ground sheet, lay down your sleeping bag and the vistas are yours. Particularly in a grim post-9/11 era — an age shaped by anxiety and suspicion — there is something profoundly therapeutic about reconnecting with simplicity and nature.
Kristof describes how he spent a chunk of the summer backpacking with his family along part of the Pacific Crest Trail, which in its entirety runs all the way from Canada to Mexico. And so he got to sample some of the U.S.’s “finest real estate,” as he notes.
The magnificence of this scenery is indisputable. Indeed, it was one of the main reasons that I ended up staying in California, rather than returning to England after two years, as I had promised my mother! I love spending time in the Sierra mountains, even with their unpredictable rainstorms and snow showers.
Our National Lands Are Threatened
But there are two reasons that we should be alarmed. First, as Kristof points out, Republicans have proposed opening more than 50 million acres of federal lands to logging, grazing and other uses. They argue that this would allow responsible “multiple use” of lands now locked up as wilderness.
Bruce Babbitt, the interior secretary under President Bill Clinton, has described the Republican bill as “the most radical, overreaching attempt to dismantle the architecture of our public land laws that has been proposed in my lifetime.” He said it would be “nothing more than a giveaway of our great outdoors.”
Number Of Visitors To National Parks Rapidly Decreasing
The second reason is too many people don’t care. The National Park Service reports that the number of recreational visits to our national parks was lower in 2010 than a decade earlier — lower even than in 1987 and 1988. There were 35 percent more backcountry campers in the national parks in 1979 than in 2010.
As I discuss in my book, Get Out! 150 Easy Ways for Kids and Grown-Ups to Get Into Nature and Build a Greener Future, children are spending less and less time outdoors, and as a result not only are they losing a connection with nature, but almost a third of them are overweight or obese.
Perhaps conservationists need to expand their focus from preserving nature to encouraging the public to experience it. The only way to protect wilderness in the long run is to build a constituency for it, to grow the number of people who revel in camping under the stars.
What do you think?
Photo Credit: imjan
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