Environmentalism and Me


How I Started Looking for a Better Environmentalism:

Bioengineering, AI species ID, modeling bryophytes, phylogenetics - how did I get to have all these crazy ecological opinions? It’s hardly normal environmentalism!

It started with seeing all the ways environmentalism is broken. Here’s some examples:

  • I saw entire forests dying because deer populations are too cute to kill.
  • I saw parks trying to force their land to stay unchanged as the climate shifts.
  • I saw my classmates say “prevent wild animals from crossbreeding” and “don’t assist species evolution” and “don’t assist species migration” when it would save them from extinction.
  • I saw $200,000 spent to save a single plant in order to keep a subspecies from extinction for one more decade.
  • I saw conservation easements prevent the connection of wind farms to power grids, defeating their purpose in helping native species.

Environmentalism seems plagued by fighting unwinnable battles, and remaining uncompromising to the point of sabotaging themselves. Yet environmentalism is equally premature in eschewing fixing ⭳ damaged landscapes, perhaps because dealing with the problem means becoming associated with imperfect results.

I wanted a more coherent and consequentialist environmentalism. One that focuses on the best outcome.

Restoration Ecology - What I Believe So Far:

I want to improve the world based on core values,1 regardless of how strange and unusual the best methods are. I want the undiluted truth, I want the most good for the most people, and I want to get there as fast as possible. I’m pro-technology and pro-intervention2 and pro-data, because those are the most powerful tools available. I don’t think nature is delicate, but even if it were, it is worth moving fast and tinkering until we can understand how to heal natural environments. I’m also pro-diversity and pro-tradition because I’m thinking of the needs of future generations in our collective long-term future. I’m pro-compromise because I want to achieve the best outcome possible, and that requires balancing for many goals and many trade-offs.

A key part of my worldview is recognizing that preserving the natural world is part of the project of human civilization, not a force opposing it. I firmly believe environmentalism ranks highest among our interests, but I do not believe it is superior3 to humanity. Loving nature is a human value, and that is okay. Some environmentalists may find this subversive, but I assure them I am not claiming nature is for us to dispose of or that we only preserve it because it suits us. I can believe both these things: that humans are equally important as nature4 and also that we must preserve nature far more!

Most environmentalists believe taking action, even on behalf of nature, can only make things worse. I reject that. I believe there must be ways to make things better, to take positive action. I am firmly aligned with Restoration Ecology and the potential to help ecosystems and habitats thrive. Nature evolves and adapts. It is dynamic.

This has lead me to imagine the possibility of “improving” nature. Environmentalism was founded in repairing things to how they once were and trying to envision some kind of better, healthier nature is understandably divisive. Still, I want to work towards encouraging and cultivating an essence, a “eudaimonea,” a thriving of living systems. It is not easily defined. I don’t know if it is more resilience,5 more adaptation, more living metabolism, more interconnectedness, or something else altogether. It will take a long time to develop a mature philosophy. But I believe the concept is deeply worth pursuing!

I’m not against modifying nature to serve us either. It is a good idea when it leads to a better world and encourages natural diversity. I think eventually we will wield natural systems as powerful technologies. Consider the alternatives: replacing nature with machines or halting all progress. I reject both. I believe a vast and beautiful future is ahead of us, as long as continue to pursue our values. We benefit from nature and we like to benefit nature. There is so much potential to do this more in our technologically advanced future.

Where I Am Now, What I am Moving Toward:

Maybe you like the sound of all of this or maybe not, but at least you can agree environmentalism doesn’t follow a single format. Hopefully now you can see where I am coming from, and how my somewhat eclectic collection of opinions go together.

My personal career goals are a reflection of my beliefs:

  • I am searching for ways to practice environmentalism more efficiently, serving many goals simultaneously and balancing trade-offs to find the best possible result.
  • I am looking for interventions that will improve things, not just stave off the inevitable temporarily.
  • I am seeking to understand ecology in order to wield it to benefit all. (both nature and society)
  • I am trying to spread awareness of innovations and their benefits which may not have been considered yet.
  • And I am trying to define what makes good ecology stewardship.
When I was working for the National Park Service I saw a problem: how little the available data was used to develop management plans. So I went off to get a Master’s so I could become an expert in interpreting data and develop ecology management plans. I will be connecting managers with applicable plans based on the latest scientific understanding, and finding effective restoration techniques and positive actions to help natural environments thrive. In my career, I will be managing complex trade-offs and maximizing environmental goals for the best outcome.

  1. Hence my obsession over “what is nature,” “what are we trying to preserve,” “what is the point.” Turns out it is particularly gnarly to try and figure that out when it comes to environmentalism. Tell me if you can define what makes a “healthy ecosystem,” because I still don’t have a good answer. [return]
  2. I’m not only about interventions. In limited locales, I embrace a radically hands-off approach where we let species invade, go extinct in the wild, and undergo natural disasters at times. This is respecting the natural process, free from human values and judgments. I think it is important to practice this in places. But conserving Nature as a Process is very different than conserving the diversity nature has produced. These are essentially separate goals. I primarily focus on conserving diversity because it is currently being permanently lost, which is a horrible tragedy for future generations. [return]
  3. No, this does not mean I support rewriting all of nature in service to humanity. Our lofty ambitious art, our hushed reverence of history, and our soaring aspirations in technology are the same as our spiritual awe of nature. Nature is not transcendent, which is a bitter pill to swallow for environmentalists who love Nature above all civilizational concerns, and a transition I made with reluctance. [return]
  4. Philosophically speaking, I do think that the survival of and propagation of life is of greater importance than humanity’s ambitions. But Nature, in the sense of “preserving living ecosystems free of human intervention,” is not superior to other human interests. Despite its otherworldly beauty and perfection! [return]
  5. Here is one attempt. [return]