The primary purpose of this website is to celebrate the mountains of south eastern Australia and Tasmania. This includes getting out and enjoying them – walking, skiing, riding, climbing, paddling, or simply just taking it easy. I have a deep belief that getting people out into wild nature makes them more likely to feel engaged in protecting wild ecosystems.
There has been some interesting conversations of late about whether this assumption is actually correct.
With the Trump administration walking away from climate action and seeking to open up large sections of protected areas to mining and fossil fuel development, there has been solid and sustained opposition to these plans from the outdoor industry. Trump’s extremist approach has mobilised people and individuals, possibly in an unprecedented way.
There has recently been a number of interesting pieces addressing the question of whether the outdoor community and industry are doing enough. The Colorado based High Country News recently published an essay by Ethan Linck, “Your Stoke Won’t Save Us,” which questioned whether outdoor recreationists and the outdoor industry were effective advocates for conservation.
In response, Louis Geltman wrote a counter piece titled Actually — I think stoke will save us, which was also published in High Country News. The sub heading of the story sums up his perspective nicely: ‘Passion for place matters, and outdoor recreationists are taking action every day’.
“Meaningful conservation is driven by action — not sentiment; not vaguely defined “environmental concern” … It’s organizing to deliver political pressure and make change that make the difference, and by that measure, outdoor recreationists and the outdoor industry are delivering. And stoke — genuine enthusiasm derived from visceral experience — is the fuel that’s driving action”.
I fully concur with this statement. As Forrest Shearer once put it – ‘we need to show up’ and be active campaigners, not just bystanders. Sentiment, opinions on social media, personal behaviour change or consumer choices alone are not enough. We need to act. This means engaging in the realm of politics. And having first hand experience of wild nature and understanding the need to protect wild ecosystems is a good incentive for outdoor recreationists to campaign for conservation outcomes. Of course, in the 21st century, climate change poses an existential threat to wild nature is another essential aspect of the campaign to defend wild ecosystems.
Louis highlights some of the actions by outdoor recreationists and their representative groups in the USA:
“Last year, Outdoor Alliance, the organization for which I am the policy director, helped people write and call their lawmakers more than 100,000 times about public lands conservation issues. Grasstops advocates —local leaders in the recreation community — turned out for hundreds of meetings with land managers and elected officials. The Outdoor Industry Association, which Linck casually dismisses, undertook heroic efforts to move the industry’s marquee tradeshow in a few short months in order to stand up for its values. The association has also developed economic research that’s leveraged by public lands advocates across the conservation movement, and it was instrumental in the recent push to finally secure a fix for fire suppression budgeting”.
He also touches on the question of whether being outdoors encourages people to become activists, and suggests that it does:
“The idea that outdoor recreationists don’t display “environmental concern” at a higher rate than the general population certainly doesn’t comport with my own experience. I grew up in Washington, D.C., but whitewater kayaking was my passion from a very young age. The opportunity to experience wild places — as well as to see places suffer from development — shaped my life. Eventually I went to law school to become a more effective advocate for conservation. I built a career working to help the outdoor recreation community become better advocates for its values. Along the way, being a part of a community of like-minded people, passionate about experiencing the outdoors, as well as our responsibilities as stewards, has been a source of a lot of happiness in my life”.
As someone who came into conservation activism through my teenage experience of walking, climbing and skiing, I can relate to this. Once organised, outdoor recreationists can be a powerful force for conservation. Here in Australia, the membership of the state based National Parks Associations like the VNPA tend to be ‘bushwalker’ heavy in terms of membership, some even running their own outdoor adventure programs as well as their core environmental campaigns. At times representative groups for outdoor recreationists are also vocal (for instance the peak group for bushwalkers in Victoria backed the recent announcement by the Victorian government that it will start a major culling operation of wild horses in the Alpine national park). Outdoor recreationists were very active in the early days of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society and subsequent successful campaign to save the Franklin River.
But taken as a whole, when you consider the scale of the threat facing wild places, the human powered outdoor recreation community is radically under performing when it comes to protecting the places they enjoy.
The recent relaunch of Protect Our Winters in Australia gives me great hope. The Australian tour by POW aligned pro skier Chris Davenport was well supported and received great media coverage. And, the announcements by the Thredbo resort that it will offset all the emissions from resort operations shows what is possible in the commercial space. But as has been noted many times on Mountain Journal, the Australian outdoor brands are generally missing in action when it comes to backing conservation issues. If they were actively promoting environmental issues and showing leadership (ie speaking out on issues) that would help their customers to get active. Prominent Australian outdoor adventurers and sports figures are also mostly missing in action when it comes to being active on environmental issues. Mountain bike riders, a rapidly growing outdoor demographic, is yet to flex any muscle around conservation. Yes, there are always glimmers of hope: Australia has a long history of surfers getting organised on conservation issues, such as through groups like Surfriders Foundation. Climbers have been active in the recent campaign to stop the cable car being built up the face of kunanyi/ Mt Wellington in Hobart. Outdoor media, like Wild magazine and the more recent Outdoor Adventure magazine are often vocal on conservation issues.
Pathways to mobilisation
When I think about what mobilises people to take that first step and get active in protecting the environment, I see a number of key motivators.
Firstly there is the impetus of an external threat. For instance, in our campaign to see a permanent ban on the process of fracking in Victoria, I saw hundreds of people step up, often for the first time, and then continue their activism once the campaign was won. Many of these people are food producers or live in regional areas who were confronted with a very real threat from gas and coal companies. In southern Tasmania, rural communities are fighting a woodchip facility. This type of ‘site resistance’ has breed many of the people who have been core activists in many environmental movements in recent years.
We are also seeing the necessity of ‘legacy’ activism – mobilisation to defend previous victories. The obvious example comes from Tasmania, where the state government is seeking to open up commercial tourism in areas that had previously been declared as national parks and World Heritage Areas.
Then there are the people who can see the existential threat that is posed by climate change. I see people being motivated to act on climate change for many reasons: because of the threat posed to human health, landscapes, lifestyles, the economy, even national security. But to be honest I have not met many people in the climate change movement who have come directly from outdoor recreation pursuits.
Then there are a significant number who come into activism because they see how destructive modern forestry is. Being out in wild forests is what motivated them to act, and many of these are certainly ‘outdoors’ people, so possibly that is the main pathway that outdoor recreationists are following into the environment and climate movements at present. That was certainly the case in the 1980s and 1990s, at the peak of the great forests campaigns. Perhaps the rise of the climate movement in the 2000s changed the pathway for new people joining movements?
Louis concludes his essay by saying:
“Linck begins his essay with a modern definition of “stoke” — enthusiasm for a thrilling experience, especially in the outdoors. But I’d like to get out my “shreddog” Oxford English Dictionary and dust off an older definition: raising up a fire. That’s what the outdoor recreation community is doing right now. We’re taking our experiences, our passion, our community and building a fire to drive change. Stoke is what drives climbers to show up for public meeting on Bears Ears in Blanding, Utah, in triple-digit temperatures. Stoke is what motivates paddlers to spend their careers advocating for dam removals. Stoke is what inspires thousands of adventurists to write their congresspeople in defense of the Arctic, a place most of them will never visit. Community and passion for place: these things matter.
I think stoke is going to save us”.
To quote Rising Appalachia: ‘I consider myself a skeptic but I’m optimist in soul’. I want to believe that ever more riders, skiers, hikers, climbers and paddlers will join the movement. We don’t have enough people on the field to win. We desperately need more. I hope that the development of POW, the growing threat to the Great Barrier Reef and the outdoor economies that rely on a healthy reef, and the sustained campaigns to defend the legacy of World Heritage Areas in Tasmania – among others – will see many more new people join the movement in coming years.
What inspired you?
What was it that pushed you ‘off the couch’ and into action for the environment?
Please feel free to leave a comment below or on our facebook page.