Last night (1st May 2012), BBC4 had an interesting documentary examining the history of Yellowstone National Park . It focussed on Aldo Leopold, an American ecologist, an influential figure in the construction of the ecological environmentalism that emerged in the second half of the 20th Century.
Leopold, penned an essay titled ‘Thinking like a Mountain’ in 1949, in which he outlined what he saw as the interconnectedness of an entire ecosystem. Apparently, confronted with the embers of the dying spirit of a Wolf he had shot as part of his Park Ranger duties to maintain a healthy deer population, he knew that neither the mountain nor the wolf deserved this.
Leopold’s scientifically trained ecological environmentalism is a philosophy that has pervaded US national park management ever since. The national parks, are for the US, an opportunity to hark back to some pristine uninterrupted version of nature -a wilderness. However, even now the documentary pointed out we are just beginning to realise the extent to which the Native Americans, who it should be noted were pushed off this land in the 19th Century, had historically managed this nature. Meaning the version of nature that the national parks are romantically harking back to, are in fact not some pristine pre-human natural, but some sort of unnatural history.
This baseline that environmentalists set is as always constructed both historically and scientifically. When we try to reverse the damage that we –that is humans –have done to the environment what do we set as our benchmark: Pre-industrial revolution; pre WWII; 1970; or some other statistical average that is ever changing as we continually update the average.
At what point have we succeeded in reverting nature back to its natural state?