In defense of Muir

John– Good post. I agree that a lot of environmentalists are wackos. But I think that Muir actually deserves some due as an environmental thinker those of us who favor freedom can admire. Why? He was honest.

The quotation from Muir that you cite perfectly reflects his romantic mindset: he had strong, personal emotions about the world and wanted to share them. He understood the majesty of nature, talked about it forthrightly, and sought to preserve it for its own sake.

Although I don’t know the source or context of your quote, I have a good idea of where Muir was probably coming from: most plains Indians didn’t care at all about the majesty of nature. They wanted to exploit the environment as best they could in order to raise their own standard of living. Among other thing, helped hunt the Buffalo to near extinction. Indians weren’t rich enough to care about the environment.

A forthright acknowledgement of environmentalism’s romantic nature and roots could help clarify many of the debates that go on today. A wealthy society, I believe, should sometimes preserve natural places largely for their own sake. And, it should likewise make deliberate decisions that certain natural places have no value if left alone. A forthright acknowledgement of this could help clarify debates over everything from global warming to oil exploration in ANWR.

Personally, I’d pick Gifford Pinchot and Muir as leading environmentalists any day over Al Gore and Carl Pope.