Stephanie’s post on Dave Foreman’s rant raises a subject that’s been hashed over on this site many times. But we’ve got some new readers around, so I’m going to hash it over some more.

Here’s how I see it.

  • If you really love "nature for nature’s sake," you’ll want to do or say whatever it takes to protect what’s left of nature. Your goal will be to find the most effective strategy and message to convince your fellow human beings to join you in working to protect nature.
  • Most people do not love nature for nature’s sake, at least insofar as that means prioritizing the protection of wild spaces over the welfare of their fellow human beings. Most people, whether or not they admit it, value animals more than “nature,” people more than animals, fellow members of their tribe (country, team, etc.) more than “people,” and friends and family more than members of their tribe. This basic structure — widening (and weakening) circles of concern — is built into our biology. We evolved to value those closest to us, for obvious reasons. That’s the reality.

Thus:

  • The most effective strategy/message for protecting nature will not have "nature for nature’s sake" — a notion that intrinsically appeals to a tiny minority — at its center. It will instead find areas where protecting nature overlaps with other human goals. It will focus on answering human needs and human desires in a way that goes lightly on nature. That will enable the largest possible coalition.

Thus:

  • Focusing on "nature for nature’s sake," and insisting that all other environmentalists do the same, is about building a movement that is aesthetically appealing to those involved rather than maximally effective. It’s about moral purity and superiority. It is vanity.

That’s my reaction to rants like Foreman’s. He wants to build an order of monks, distinguished by their ability to suppress their natural affinity to others of their species. He and his followers can transcend the pedestrian concern others have for “people” and instead focus their refined sensibilities entirely on Nature.

Foreman’s order of monks will be pure, and in some sense admirable, but it will also be self-limiting and ultimately irrelevant. It won’t get the work done.

He can have it. I won’t begrudge his choice. But neither will I listen to his priestly scolding or join him in irrelevancy. I’d rather focus on getting the work done.