Keep the news coming! Your ad here for only $30 a week.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Wilderness: A sanctuary of freedom

I was moved by this commentary by Dale Allen Pfeiffer on wilderness. It may be the most relevant and valuable description of wilderness that we could ask for in these times.

Henry David Thoreau argued, in the spiritual sense, that "In wilderness is the preservation of the world." In more recent times, others describe wilderness as an essential seedbed of biological diversity that will prove valuable to science as we plunder everything else. Both are true.

Pfeiffer goes one step further in his "Ode to the Remaining Wilderness." He calls wilderness our "sanctuary of freedom." It is a haven we should return to in body and spirit to escape our current definition of freedom, which, he argues sadly, is the shallow freedom to consume. This has compromised the original definition, which was simply the freedom to do as we please.

"In the American lexicon, freedom has come to mean the freedom of corporations to generate profit and the freedom of the public to consume. Freedom is measured by the number of dollars you generate, and the number of dollars you spend. ... In reality, the amount of freedom you have is inverse to the number of possessions you own."

A geologist and science editor at, Pfeiffer argues that the plan to tap oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other wild places is the ultimate expression of this freedom to consume. But he calls this a "gobbling of crumbs" that imperils our true values, long forgotten by our runaway retail economy.

"It is my contention here that the wilderness is the true sanctuary of freedom, and that this is its greatest value. In this respect, the wilderness could truly be called the soul of America, the soul which gave the native peoples their ways, the soul which called to the frontiersmen, the mountainmen and the explorers, the soul which ultimately gave birth to the declaration of independence ... So long as there remains some wilderness where people could potentially go (and some few do) to escape the ties that bind, then the whisper of freedom is still alive."

There's a lot more to Pfeiffer's essay, including a pretty good description of the fallacy of ANWR drilling. In truth, he could have used a firm editor, and he also uses the essay to plug his self-published books (hey, we all gotta put food on the table).

But still, I think his is the best description yet for why ANWR matters to those who work to preserve it, and why it should matter to us all.

[Technorati tags: ]