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Open Letter to Neoliberal Environmentalists

Industrial wreckreation oligarch Yvon Chouinard of Patagucci recently penned a neoliberal op-ed that lead to the Outdoor Industry Association “leaving” Utah to seek another venue for their conventions. I hear Calirado is the leading contender.

Chouinard’s editorial was all about business and money, who brings in more, who is more powerful, and a bluff of “if you don’t change your ways we’ll pack our bags and go” that was called by the Utah anti-public lands theo-constitutionalists. What I find acidly enlightening is that the OIA move is being celebrated by the environmental community with Chouinard, who in his piece made no mention whatsoever of public lands preservation, is being celebrated as a hero.

Will OIA members move their businesses? Will Black Diamond’s founder Peter Metcalf and his friends sell their Park City and southern Utah wreckreation homes? Will the OIA – logically, courageously, with moral principle – call for recreationists who have planned their spring and summer trips to boycott Utah and go somewhere else? Would these consumers of products and places boycott anyway?

Of course not which indicates the feather weight of it all.

***

Chouinard gives it up from the very start:

“Every year, millions of people visit public lands in Utah to climb, hike, ski, hunt and a heck of a lot more. I’ve skied, climbed and fished the wild streams of wild Utah for years. The American people own these lands – and Utah reaps the rewards. Every year, outdoor recreation in Utah drives $12 million in consumer spending and supports 122,000 jobs across the state.  Sure, we use these lands for energy and grazing and other things too. But access to the outdoors is the reason why so many of my friends consider Utah the ultimate place to live.”

He and Patagucci say, “We donate millions of dollars a year to environmental causes!” to which I reply it is donation-based, gimme-praise, marketing with the purpose of selling widgets to people who feel good buying them (stellar products I covet from the second hand store).  I anticipated this editorial in December, chastising the Wreckreation Oligarchs for their “spiritual rot” and implored recreationists to rethink their pursuits and to consider limiting them:

“When you shop at REI and buy North Face or Patagucci, contribute to the Sierra Club, NRDC or other Big Green, you are supporting industries that makes money off of the continued unlimited development and use federal lands. The Wreckreation Industry shares a social class with those who regulate our public lands, has captured the govt organizations and use them to their own benefit, akin to the traditional mining, mineral, timber extractive industries of the past and probable Trump future. It is an industry that unethically claims credit for solving a problem they created – and we sustain this symbiotic for them, parasitic for the planet, paradigm.”

What do they say about carrying capacities or quotas right now in Utah concerning management planning to address overcrowding in the hammered Zion and Arches National Parks? Not much.

Let’s put this into perspective.

OIA cohorts sell their natural resource consuming wares to a currently unlimited public lands based market, claiming credit for $646 billion in annual consumer spending. Over 15 million people visit Utah to recreate, having access to most public lands everywhere. In comparison, 850,000 resources damaging cattle roam in Utah, most on Federal public lands permits.  They are not found everywhere like humans, and some are present in “protected” places like Capitol Reef National Park, Grand Staircase / Escalante National Monument and, criminally, the culturally rich and under-dispute Bears Ears.

People want to say, “Cattle do more damage than a human!” to which I reply these figures. Surely one four legged beast is equal to the environmental damage of 17.4 carbon consuming, fossil fuel wearing, roadkill traveling, lithic tromping, blissfully traipsing, trespassing to the common cactus wren and uncommon winkler cactus, humans.

Consider the millions of dollars in public subsidies either promoting the industry or mitigating negative impacts of any public lands use regardless of user group – including those promoted by the OIA.

I see lots of trails, campgrounds and other visitor infrastructure of which OIA members (along with guides, outfitters with promo deals) take advantage and, certainly, there are more than enough people who buy and use their wares. Sounds like a fence sold to a rancher, sagebrush steppe converted by the government to crested wheatgrass or the installation of a fake waterhole guzzler, to me. Trail, meadow, lakeside, roadside rehabilitation projects are cheatgrass, wildland fire programs and riparian restoration/juniper “treatment” projects. Search and rescue is also subsidized, not unlike predator compensation programs. No matter human shit is as much a problem as cattle and sheep, pit-toilets, catholes, waterholes, cesspools, reservoirs, groovers, helicopters flying barrels of it from Zion’s Angels Landing and all.

Of course, the OIA and its industries get the usual development and property tax breaks like oil and gas, these days the Utah legislature poised to give the guides and outfitters of the oligarchs one.  Hell, the OIA even wanted to expand the subsidized Utah conventions – that will still take place in Calirado – from two to five a year, adding how much more carbon to the atmosphere for their pleasure industry? No matter, a pittance compared to the very creation of their products that are then used by 15 million traveling, littering, loitering people annually to Utah, 370 million for the National Park Service, and untold numbers nationally, worldwide.

***

Foremost, I consider the rights of the flora, fauna, to exist beyond that of corporate or individual anthropocentric greed, whether that be from a miner, rancher, logger, mudder, LDS theo-con, mountain biker, hiker, climber, hunter, photographer, birdwatcher, ATVer, angler or the durable/transient industries that support them.

Most recreational users will say they and their activities have little harm or effect on the environment. This is untrue. Consider the meta analysis of Larson, Reed, et. al. Effects of Recreation on Animals Revealed as Widespread through a Global Systematic Review, where they found, “the evidence was clear with over 93% of reviewed articles documenting at least one effect of recreation on animals, the majority of which (59%) were classified as negative effects”. They conclude, “Protecting biodiversity from potentially harmful effects of recreation is a primary concern for conservation planners and land managers who face increases in park visitation rates; accordingly, there is demand for science-based information to help solve these dilemmas.”

The real issue is mandating science based decision making, using sustainable flora/fauna as indicators, then establishing appropriate uses, carrying capacities, and quotas. Anything short is, well, placating, delusional, and Chouinard and the OIA are of course absent.

I wrote in Wreckreation,

“No doubt Industrial Wreckreation still ranks high on Trump’s list regardless of political persuasion, as business is business and all will still make money as they collaborate to extract their profits from you with joint, slick, marketing campaigns in Outside Magazine.”

Substitute “Utah anti-public lands theo-constitutionalists” for Trump, as visitation to Utah will continue to climb. Like Chouinard and the OIA, Outside will never publish a piece regarding subsidies or negative impacts of their business model, nor ever propose limiting access to the public lands that generate the sales of and revenue from their products. All of them “leaving” Utah should only be viewed as marketing with a purpose.

That the OIA and its oligarchs only speak of business and not preservation speaks volumes of their economic blackmail without environmental conviction.

That recreationists overlook the cumulative environmental impacts of their individual pursuits and celebrate the ‘courage’ of Chouinard, Metcalf and the OIA’s unprincipled Utah boycott is telling of the hypocritical state of neoliberal environmentalism and its role in wrecking the planet.

More articles by:

Chris Zinda is an activist and writer living in Oregon.

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