The new environmentalism: Loving wildness and fighting for your backyard

Kristen Lodge / Outdoor Adventures
Grand County, CO Colorado

David Gessner writes in My Green Manifesto, Down the Charles River in Pursuit of the New Environmentalism, “We need stories, told outside, told in a way that links activism to beauty, wild beauty. They should be told in the open air so that we remember that loving and fighting aren’t two specialties, but one thing.”

His story weaves a tale of environmental planner Dan canoeing down the Charles River near Boston, Mass. Gessner tells Dan’s story: how one government employee fell in love with a place and then fought for it. He tells how Dan restored the polluted Charles River and turned it into an urban haven for wildlife and wild people. Thus begins Gessner’s premise for the manifesto: Despite all odds, one person just might change the world.

As he builds up to his new environmentalism, Gessner addresses a potential accuser of “burying his head in the sand.”

“I am not Henry David Thoreau; I get that, and I live in a limited, depraved, depressing time; but I am here to say that I can still experience joy and yes, maybe even a little transcendence … I do want an environmentalism that I can live with; one that is part of my everyday life.”

There are comparisons to Thoreau and other nature writers throughout the book. But I like Dan’s philosophy on nature lovers and environmentalists.

“We nature lovers are hypocrites … none of us are consistent. The problem is that we let that fact stop us. We worry that if we fight for nature, people will say, ‘But you drive a car’ … And that stops us in our tracks. It’s almost as if admitting that they are hypocrites lets people off the hook … we need hypocrites who aren’t afraid of admitting it but will still fight for environment.”

Gessner says Dan is just a “stubborn guy who fell in love with a place and then fought like hell for it.”

Gessner’s advice: “Find something that you love that they’re [messing] with and then fight for it. If everyone did that – imagine the difference.”

The entire book reminds me of the Fraser River and how Grand County citizens are fighting for its survival. I really like Gessner’s approach to fighting because it’s not about in-your-face environmentalism. It’s about exploring our backyards, getting to know it well, and then fighting for it.

My favorite chapter is The Wild West. Gessner compares New England and Colorado/The West. Gessner lived in Boulder for many years before returning to the East. Colorado made an impression and his emerging definition of the new environmentalism includes the West as a model.

“It is the one region that has managed to tell a more romantically compelling story of humans and nature. It’s both a sexier, gun-slinging narrative, and a more free-spirited, radical story.”

In between talking to the reader, urging readers to a new environmentalism, and telling tales of trips to wild places, Gessner tells Dan’s story about how he became motivated to save the Charles.

“Tell me to save the world and I will panic. Some jobs are simply too big … but tell me to save a chunk of that world, a river say, and I might just become engaged.”

Ultimately Gessner discovers the new environmentalism for this century.

“I want to suggest falling in love with the world, and maybe battling to alter it in some small way.” And, he proposes a toast, “To our glorious adventure and continued wildness.”

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