Rewilding: Doing More Harm Than Good?

I haven’t heard much on this topic within the last couple of months, but I want to express my thoughts about it and get that out of the way, before I hear about it again. (Sigh–I really should stop showing up to the party so tardy.)

For those of you not (yet) in the know, rewilding is defined as an attempt to return the landscape to its original state–the one that existed before human intervention. At first blush, this doesn’t sound very problematic–who wouldn’t want to see more green space, or wildlife outside of zoos? But, like so much else, rewilding in practice does have its dark side.

The first–and most obvious–criticism of rewilding to make is the vast majority of people alive today wouldn’t last very long in a wilderness environment, simply because the advancements we have taken for granted for so long have made wilderness survival skills unnecessary. Only people living in remote, next-to-impossible-to-access areas of the world need to hunt, fish, and forage for food, create ways of disposing of waste, etc., whereas the vast majority of us in the First World have grocery stores, refrigerators, indoor plumbing, etc. Expanding on this subject, civilization has also rendered preventable diseases people would have died from in the wild, by way of medicine, and ever-evolving advances therein.

Also, rewilding, if taken too far, could potentially be anti-vegan; how would vegans get everything we need in a wilderness environment? Civilization, and science, have made veganism possible, as we can now get all the nutrients we need without harming other species of animals.

In short, advocates for rewilding may also be advocating for genocide, whether they realize it or not.

And even if rewilding advocates aren’t calling for civilized areas to be rewilded, there is a question of how far the rewilding is supposed to go. Are we to do away with agriculture? If so, this too falls under the category of unwittingly calling for genocide, as the vast majority of us won’t be able to live if we have to hunt, fish, or forage for our food. And not all of us have the skills to distinguish between edible plants and those which would harm us. I personally am fine with wanting to keep natural areas wild, and changing laws to, at the very least, keep so-called ‘sport’ and ‘trophy’ hunting to the barest possible minimum. But if rewilding advocates are calling for the end of civilization and even agriculture, we’ve got problems.

I’m not calling for progress for the sake of progress; as I’ve said in a previous post, the progress I’m for is the kind of progress that benefits humanity as a whole. And as much as I balk at the idea of unbridled progress and development–especially for their own sake and/or just to make someone a buck or two–I’ll be damned if I’m going to let a segment of fanatics turn back the clock to the days when people did nothing but try to survive, with most failing, especially when most of us don’t have the skills necessary to survive in an uncivilized environment. As Yvette D’Entremont, a.k.a. ‘The Science Babe,’ pointed out in this blog post, nature doesn’t give a fuck about any of us. And for those of you who think I’m misrepresenting the idea of rewilding, why don’t you be clearer and more specific about what rewilding is about, and what it’s supposed to accomplish?

The Simple Life?

It’s 2016, and I still encounter people who yearn, and call, for what they consider a ‘simple life,’ like the lives our ancestors lived. Now, I have no problem with people making their own clothes, growing their own fruits and vegetables, etc. What I do have a problem with is people decrying those aspects of modern development and progress which, among other things, keep us alive, and make our lives easier.

These are the folks who protest things like genetically modified (GM) or genetically engineered (GE) crops, demanding instead an all-organic-all-the-time-regardless-of-the-circumstances lifestyle, call for everyone to ‘get off the grid,’ and protest development of any kind, even in underdeveloped, or Third World, nations, going so far as to romanticize the ‘traditional’ ways of those nations. (Tradition for tradition’s sake is, in my humble opinion, foolish.) And these folks say they protest these things because they’re concerned about, among other things, the environment; the claimed concern about the environment has gotten to the point where the desire for the ‘simple life’ has been confused, and conflated, with environmentalism. But are these people really concerned about the environment? I actually don’t doubt they are, but I also believe they’re trying to have it both ways, in that they fight any kind of development anywhere in the world, while themselves enjoying the fruits of that development at home. Never mind that people who don’t have access to these developments–for instance, farming technology and medicine–die because they don’t have these developments or access thereto. It seems, to me, that the anti-development, anti-GM, all-organic-all-the-time crowd is made up mainly of middle- to upper-class people who were bred, if not born, in more or less sheltered ivory towers, who apparently can’t be bothered checking their privilege at the door.

I don’t support science for the sake of supporting science; I support science because it has a proven track record of actually working. For instance, genetically engineered crops such as golden rice have the potential to feed people all over the world, including those who have no other options, whereas crop yields of organic farming, by itself, are 25% less than those of conventional farming. The folks who oppose GE crops of any kind and cry ‘organic is the only way,’ and oppose any other kind of development and progress, claim they have scientific evidence to back up their claims, but, if they ever present any, it’s bogus, as the anti-progress crowd actively misrepresents science,  and/or use scare tactics and appeals to emotion to get the public to listen to them, and to get what they want. If this crowd has science on its side, why do the people therein feel the need to use such tactics? And let’s not forget that, as often happens when this crowd gets what it wants, people die. I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t consider any ‘solution’ that results in genocide on a scale that would make Pol Pot and Augusto Pinochet look like humanitarians to be any kind of solution at all.

The truth is, the world is much different place now, in 2016, than it was even one hundred years ago. We’ve come too far, in terms of scientific, technological, social, and other forms of progress and development, to ‘get off the grid,’ turn the clock back and live the lives our ancestors lived. But, because of the scientific and technological advancements we have in this day and age, we in developed societies live longer and better lives than our ancestors did. I realize the planet we live on is the only one we know we’ve got, and I want to protect what we’ve got for the sake of future generations, but I’m not about to give up the advancements I’ve spent my life taking for granted and go back to the Dark Ages, or earlier. Also, what’s deemed the ‘simple life’ is actually anything but–our ancestors didn’t have the machines or other advancements that we have, so they actually had to perform hours of (literally as well as figuratively) backbreaking work to feed, house, and clothe themselves, and their life expectancies were shorter than ours are–hell, children have been known to die, sometimes before their fifth birthdays, mostly because of diseases which, in our era, are fully preventable, by way of hygiene and medicine. And yet those who live among us now who call for the world to give up the advances we have and our current quality of life and return to the ways of our ancestors don’t seem to realize that the vast majority of people who would do so wouldn’t last very long. Also, the vast majority of us, especially in developed, industrialized societies, after years of taking things like running water/indoor plumbing, refrigeration, central heating, medicine, and other scientific and technological advancements for granted, are too soft to stick this sort of thing out for very long.

That’s what angers me most about these people who decry the advancements we have now and call for a return to the ways of those who came before us: They ignore reality, cherry-pick the past (much like folks like David Barton), and use sensationalism, and even doomsday rhetoric, in an attempt to get the rest of us on board with their program(s). Alarmism sells ideas, but Chicken Little rhetoric is not what we need right now. Progress is not only a good thing, it’s necessary. But the world needs progress that benefits everyone, and doesn’t just make someone a buck.

Technology: Community Builder or Buster?

I’ve lost track of how long people have been wringing their hands over, and bemoaning, the effect–in their minds, negative–technology has on the current generation of young people. The hand-wringers claim television, the Internet, cellular phones, and video games isolate us from other people, and make it next to impossible for us to connect with others.

I humbly disagree.

Just because people talk on their cell phones, send text messages, play video games, or otherwise spend time looking at a screen doesn’t mean we know anything about their social lives, ergo we can’t make any assumptions about them, nor can or should we assume we know better than they do how they should spend their time, or conduct their social lives. Just because we don’t see people striking up conversations with complete strangers–on buses, in coffee shops, or other public places–doesn’t mean those people are unfriendly, unsociable, or lonely.

So why all this hand-wringing over how people conduct their lives now, especially in their use of technology and the way they interact with other people, as opposed to, say, between thirty and fifty years ago?

I don’t believe it’s entirely true that the Internet, cell phones, and other advances in technology have made people isolate themselves from other people. We are, and always have been, social creatures, and we will seek the company of other members of our species from time to time. Granted, some of us are loners, while others are more gregarious. The point is, people make choices about our use of gadgets and other technologies, and about how we interact, or don’t, with our fellow human beings. And nowadays we have web sites like http://www.meetup.com, which prove that technology can be used to bring people together, and to even build community–or at least facilitate community-building.

The bottom line: Society changes as time goes on. And technology advances, and gives us new tools. So we can either complain about societal changes–which, by the way, are inevitable–or we can roll with them.