In Defense of National Park Entrance Fees

by Stephen Nash, author of Grand Canyon for Sale: Public Lands versus Private Interests in the Era of Climate Change

The Trump administration has announced that it is considering big increases in entrance fees for 17 of the most popular national parks during their peak season. I’m getting lots of emails from conservation groups opposing that.

But our national parks are desperately underfunded and have been for decades. Their natural systems are rapidly degrading, partly as a result of lack of funding for protection, restoration, and for science. In my new book Grand Canyon for Sale, I’ve made the case that park visitors, senior citizens like me included, should pay far more.

Whaaat? You love national parks and public lands and you agree with Trump and his allies, mostly minions of the oil, gas, coal and mining industries who couldn’t care less about the environment?

Not quite. It’s plain that the Trump plan is to charge those higher fees but also to continue drastic cuts of Congressional allocations for park budgets. There’s nothing there to be in favor of, and the threats to public lands will continue to mount.

In a rational political system, policy debates are useful — should we raise fees or not? In a government of chaos and pillage, that discussion is mooted. I’d advocate that instead of spinning our wheels opposing limited measures like new fees, we who love parks and public lands should turn our energies elsewhere.

Organize instead to replace those destructive forces in Congress and the White House. Why mount a campaign against a leaky faucet when the roof is on fire?

We need to remain hopeful, right?, or we cannot fight effectively. But hope isn’t just a mantra, to be chanted with beatific thoughts behind closed eyes. My favorite ecologist, David Orr, has written: “Hope is a verb, with its sleeves rolled up.”

When we return to a time of sane government and parks administration, these points about entrance fees will be worth your consideration:

  • An amazing 38 percent of visitors to Grand Canyon are foreign citizens. They are induced to come and spend money, en route, in Phoenix or Las Vegas or Tusayan. Everyone does well, except the destitute parks.
  • National park visitors put an estimated $15.7 billion into the cash registers of private businesses in local gateway regions, in just one recent year. The money directly supports nearly 174,000 jobs and a $5 billion private-business payroll.
  • At Grand Canyon, we fork over an absurd $30 per carload to be in the park for a full seven days. Tour bus operators only pay $8 per passenger. Helicopter air-tour companies are charged only twenty-five dollars per flyover, sometimes less, often nothing — no matter how many passengers are in the aircraft. Morethan one hundred thousand overflights carry nearly half a million passengers each year.
  • In Kenya, by contrast, each national park visitor pays per twenty-four-hour period, plus an issuing fee, plus a fee for a car, and the entry and exit are time-stamped. Ecuador’s Galápagos National Park costs a hundred dollars per person to enter, unless you’re Ecuadoran. Argentina’s national parks charge a per-person entry fee higher than what Grand Canyon charges per carload. One former superintendent told me that whenever he asks them, visitors say, “You ought to charge us more! We’re okay with that!”

Many national park units don’t charge an entry fee at all and some, for practical and legal reasons, can’t. But a reasonable fee increase at those that do would take in about $1.2 billion a year—at least a billion more than entrance fees total now. And in this happy scenario the usual annual congressional budget allocation would of course stay at current levels too.

Some fraction of that revenue could implement a rolling management plan for climate change on all public lands. “Every young person joining the Park Service now, their entire career will be consumed by climate change and responding to it,” according to Gary Machlis, the science adviser to the director of the national park system. “We need to train them and prepare them for those complexities. We have to take the time to do that.” And we have to pay the money.


Stephen Nash is the author of two award-winning books on science and the environment, and his reporting has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington PostBioScienceArchaeology, and the New Republic. He is Visiting Senior Research Scholar at the University of Richmond.


Best of the Blog 2017

As 2017 draws to a close, we’ve compiled ten blog posts that resonated most with our readers over the past year. Popular blog themes closely mirrored current events, and the state of global political realities — immigration, inequality, fascism, and environmental issues; additionally, readers were taken by posts on critical thinking, “slow” cinema, indigenous and world poetry, and the secrets unearthed from an ancient metropolis.

Have a happy new year, and see you in 2018, the 125th year of UC Press’s founding!

Immigration historians from across the United States launched the website #ImmigrationSyllabus to help the public understand the historical roots of today’s immigration debates, inspiring us to follow suit with a list of UC Press suggestions to provide further context to the ongoing conversation. View the Immigration Syllabus: UC Press Edition.

Raj Patel & Jason W. Moore’s A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things focuses on seven areas that are the foundation of modern commerce: nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives. In this excerpt, find out how the cheapening of care has made the world safe for capitalism: #7CheapThings: Cheap Care

In Trump’s Transgender Crisis, Jack Halberstam, author of Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability, responds to Donald Trump’s tweeted policy change banning trans soldiers from the military to ask: at a time when the visibility and acceptance of transgender people has never been higher, why this ban, why now?

In today’s fast-paced political news cycle, terms like “fascism” and “populism” are often used, but not always clearly defined. This excerpt from Federico Finchelstein’s From Fascism to Populism in History, explores the origins of these ideologies, their significance, and the important distinctions between them: Fascism or Populism? Playing the “Democratic Game”

One of the earliest, largest, and most important cities in the ancient Americas, Teotihuacan is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most visited archaeological site in Mexico. Take a Look at Teotihuacan to see some of the rare and awe-inspiring artifacts featured in the exhibition and accompanying catalogue Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire.

 

Fifty years since its original publication, Jerome Rothenberg’s Technicians of the Sacred continues to inspire and educate readers with its ability to expand the possibilities of poetry throughout the world. Rothenberg recently visited the UC Press offices to discuss the book’s enduring power and read from the 50th anniversary edition.

 

 

Peter M. Nardi, sociologist and author of Critical Thinking: Tools for Evaluating Research, addressed the importance of looking beyond the “two-sides-of-the-coin” perspective when responding to complex issues in his post False Balance, Binary Discourse, and Critical Thinking.

Releasing in May 2018, Paul Schrader’s seminal text Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer will be reissued with a substantial new introduction representing his experiences and ideas as a filmmaker that have evolved over time, giving the original work both new clarity and a contemporary lens. Hear Schrader discuss some of the techniques and attitudes of slow films in Transcendental Style in Film Revisited.

During the 2017 International Open Access Week, we interviewed Interim Director Erich van Rijn to survey the landscape of OA publishing at UC Press, discussing the progress and future of Luminos (our OA monograph program), and Collabra: Psychology and Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene (our two OA journals).

What is a case study, and how can case studies positively impact critical thinking and knowledge acquisition, as well as inform research in academia and training in professional practice? In the post The Case for Case StudiesCase Studies in the Environment Editor-in-Chief Wil Burns explains what case studies are, and how they can provide an important bridge to understanding important environmental issues.


5 High-Impact Articles in Earth & Environmental Science and Ecology

Thanks to those at the AGU Fall Meeting that have stopped by booth #1820 to see Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene featured alongside DataOne, DataCite, and Dash. As part of Elementa‘s #AGU17 blog series, today we’re showcasing content from our Earth & Environmental Science and Ecology domains that show high levels of views, downloads, Scopus citations, and Altmetric activity.

In case you missed it, this week we announced that Elementa has been accepted into the Science Citation Index Expanded and is expected to get an Impact Factor in June 2018 (confirmed by Clarivate Analytics). We look forward to seeing Elementa content fully indexed in Web of Science/Science Citation Index Expanded soon (in addition to its current indexing in Scopus), and we are also pleased to see many other metrics of Elementa’s journal- and article-level impact.

For more information about the journal or to submit an article, please visit us at elementascience.org.


Earth & Environmental Science
Editor-in-Chief: Oliver A. Chadwick, University of California, Santa Barbara

5 High-Impact Articles
(All metrics from December 8, 2017. Citation Source: Scopus)

Dating the Anthropocene: Towards an empirical global history of human transformation of the terrestrial biosphere
Ellis EC, Fuller DQ, Kaplan JO, Lutters WG. 2013.
Impact: 32,078 views/downloads, 24 citations, and Altmetric Score 67 since original publication on December 4, 2013

Sources and sinks of carbon in boreal ecosystems of interior Alaska: A review
Douglas TA, Jones MC, Hiemstra CA, Arnold JR. 2014.
Impact: 19,292 views/downloads, 3 citations, and Altmetric Score 2 since original publication on November 7, 2014

Earthcasting the future Critical Zone
Goddéris Y, Brantley SL. 2013.
Impact: 18,379 views/downloads and 6 citations since original publication on December 4, 2013

Water depletion: An improved metric for incorporating seasonal and dry-year water scarcity into water risk assessments
Brauman KA, Richter BD, Postel S, Malsy M, Flörke M. 2016.
Impact: 18,003 views/downloads, 1 citation, and Altmetric Score 106 since original publication on January 20, 2016

Response of stream ecosystem function and structure to sediment metal: Contextdependency and variation among endpoints
Costello DM, Burton GA. 2014.
Impact: 17,401 views/downloads, 6 citations, and Altmetric Score 1 since original publication on August 27, 2014

Ecology
Editor-in-Chief: Donald R. Zak, University of Michigan

5 High-Impact Articles
(All metrics from December 8, 2017. Citation Source: Scopus)

Warming, soil moisture, and loss of snow increase Bromus tectorum’s population growth rate
Compagnoni A, Adler PB. 2014.
Impact: 24,051 views/downloads, 6 citations and Altmetric Score 1 since original publication on January 8, 2014

Quantifying flooding regime in floodplain forests to guide river restoration
Marks CO, Nislow KH, Magilligan FJ. 2014.
Impact: 21,889 views/downloads, 6 citations, and Altmetric Score 4 since original publication on September 3, 2014

Biotic impoverishment
Naeem S. 2013.
Impact: 20,479 views/downloads, 2 citations, and Altmetric Score 9 since original publication on December 4, 2013

Proactive ecology for the Anthropocene
Chapin III FS, Fernandez E. 2013.
Impact: 18,092 views/downloads, 3 citations, and Altmetric Score 6 since original publication on December 4, 2013

Towards a general theory of biodiversity for the Anthropocene
Cardinale BJ. 2013.
Impact: 18,032 views/downloads, 7 citations, and Altmetric Score 15 since original publication on December 4, 2013

 


5 High-Impact Articles in Sustainability Transitions & Sustainable Engineering

This week we have the pleasure of announcing that Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene has been accepted into the Science Citation Index Expanded and is expected to get an Impact Factor in June 2018, as confirmed by Clarivate Analytics. We thought his news would be of interest to attendees of the AGU Fall Meeting, and we invite those at #AGU17 to visit Elementa at booth #1820, where the journal is featured alongside DataONE and DataCite.

We are pleased that we can soon add an Impact Factor to the many ways we measure Elementa‘s impact. Today, as part of Elementa‘s #AGU17 blog series, we present high-impact content—as measured by views, downloads, Scopus citations, and Altmetric scores—from our Sustainability Transitions and Sustainable Engineering domains.


Sustainability Transitions
Editor-in-Chief: Anne R. Kapuscinski, Dartmouth

5 High-Impact Articles
(All metrics from December 8, 2017. Citation Source: Scopus)

Expert opinion on extinction risk and climate change adaptation for biodiversity
Javeline D, Hellmann JJ, McLachlan JS, Sax DF, Schwartz MW, et al. 2015.
Impact: 510,200 views/downloads, 6 citations, and Altmetric Score 69 since original publication on July 15, 2015

Carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural land: Ten diet scenarios
Peters CJ, Picardy J, Darrouzet-Nardi AF, Wilkins JL, Griffin TS, et al. 2016.
Impact: 92,506 views/downloads, 5 citations, and Altmetric Score 669 since original publication on July 22, 2016

Enhancing agroecosystem performance and resilience through increased diversification of landscapes and cropping systems
Liebman M, Schulte LA. 2015.
Impact: 19,518 views/downloads, 12 citations, and Altmetric Score 19 since original publication on February 12, 2015

Avoiding collapse: Grand challenges for science and society to solve by 2050
Barnosky AD, Ehrlich PR, Hadly EA. 2016.
Impact: 16,882 views/downloads, 4 citations, and Altmetric Score 69 since original publication on March 15, 2016

Sustainable Engineering
Editor-in-Chief: Michael E. Chang, Georgia Institute of Technology

4 High-Impact Articles
(All metrics from December 8, 2017. Citation Source: Scopus)

Geoengineering redivivus
Allenby B. 2014.
Impact: 18,297 views/downloads and Altmetric Score 10 since original publication February 12, 2014

Educational materials on sustainable engineering: Do we need a repository?
Davidson CI, Allenby BR, Haselbach LM, Heller M, Kelly WE. 2016.
Impact: 8,257 views/downloads, 3 citations, and Altmetric Score 4 since original publication February 23, 2016

Holistic impact assessment and cost savings of rainwater harvesting at the watershed scale
Ghimire SR, Johnston JM. 2017.
Impact: 322 views/downloads and Altmetric Score 4 since original publication on March 10, 2017

Shipping and the environment: Smokestack emissions, scrubbers and unregulated oceanic consequences
Turner DR, Hassellöv I-M, Ytreberg E, Rutgersson A. 2017.
Impact: 206 views/downloads since original publication on August 11, 2017


5 High-Impact Articles in Atmospheric Science & Ocean Science

To mark the second day of Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting, we are sharing the 5 most-read articles from Elementa‘s Atmospheric Science and Ocean Science domains. As you’ll see, Elementa articles have high usage, download, impact, and citation metrics (and if you’d like a more sweeping view of the journal’s overall impact, click here). By publishing your research open access in Elementa, your work could also receive high exposure (view submission information here).

For those attending #AGU17, we hope you’ll stop by booth #1820, where Elementa is featured at the DataONE/DataCite booth.


Atmospheric Science
Editor-in-Chief: Detlev Helmig, University of Colorado Boulder

5 High-Impact Articles
(All metrics from December 8, 2017. Citation Source: Scopus)

Global distribution and trends of tropospheric ozone: An observation-based review
Cooper OR, Parrish DD, Ziemke J, Balashov NV, Cupeiro M, et al. 2014.
Impact: 33,419 views/downloads, 94citations, and Altmetric Score 13 since original publication on July 10, 2014

Influence of oil and gas emissions on ambient atmospheric non-methane hydrocarbons in residential areas of Northeastern Colorado
Thompson CR, Hueber J, Helmig D. 2014.
Impact: 24,606 views/downloads, 10 citations (source: CrossRef) and Altmetric Score 14 since original publication on Nov 14, 2014

Anatomy of wintertime ozone associated with oil and natural gas extraction activity in Wyoming and Utah
Oltmans S, Schnell R, Johnson B, Pétron G, Mefford T, Neely III R. 2014.
Impact: 21,352 views/downloads, 16 citations, and Altmetric Score 4 since original publication on March 4, 2014

A characterization of Arctic aerosols on the basis of aerosol optical depth and black carbon measurements
Stone RS, Sharma S, Herber A, Eleftheriadis K, Nelson DW. 2014.
Impact: 19,782 views/downloads, 13 citations, and Altmetric Score 2 since original publication on June 10, 2014

Seasonally varying contributions to urban CO2 in the Chicago, Illinois, USA region: Insights from a high-resolution CO2 concentration and δ13C record
Moore J, Jacobson AD. 2015.
Impact: 19,444 views/downloads, 8 citations, and Altmetric Score 3 since original publication on June 5, 2015

Ocean Science
Editor-in-Chief: Jody Deming, University of Washington

5 High-Impact Articles
(All metrics from December 8, 2017. Citation Source: Scopus)

Evidence of lasting impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on a deep Gulf of Mexico coral community
Hsing P, Fu B, Larcom EA, Berlet SP, Shank TM, et al. 2013.
Impact: 28,269 views/downloads, 21 citations, and Altmetric Score 17 since original publication on December 04, 2013

The evolution and future of carbonate precipitation in marine invertebrates: Witnessing extinction or documenting resilience in the Anthropocene?
Drake JL, Mass T, Falkowski PG. 2014.
Impact: 23,578 views/downloads, 8 citations, and Altmetric Score 7 since original publication on May 7, 2014

Sea ice algal biomass and physiology in the Amundsen Sea, Antarctica
Arrigo KR, Brown ZW, Mills MM. 2014.
Impact: 20,946 views/downloads, 19 citations, and Altmetric Score 4 since original publication on July 15, 2014

The changing Arctic Ocean
Arrigo KR. 2013.
Impact: 20,466 views/downloads, 6 citations, and Altmetric Score 1 since original publication on December 4, 2013

Solar energy capture and transformation in the sea
Karl DM. 2014.
Impact: 20,348 views/downloads, 11 citations, and Altmetric Score 2 since original publication on January 8, 2014


Visit Elementa at the AGU Fall Meeting

Today is the first day of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting in New Orleans, continuing through December 15, and if you are attending the meeting, you’ll see our open access journal Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene featured at the DataONE/DataCite booth #1820, alongside friends from Dash. We are especially pleased to appear alongside these organizations this year, as Elementa recently announced a partnership with Dash, the data publication platform from the University of California Curation Center (UC3), part of the California Digital Library, which allows Elementa authors to publish their data at UC Press Dash for free. Head over to booth #1820 to learn more about Dash’s data repository service for Elementa authors!

Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene is a trans-disciplinary, open-access journal with the ultimate objective of accelerating scientific solutions to the challenges presented by this era of human impact. Because such solutions will require collaboration among all research disciplines, and among academics, practitioners, and policymakers, the journal’s trans-disciplinary nature is essential. As such, the journal is structured into six distinct knowledge domains, and gives authors the opportunity to publish in one or multiple domains, helping them to present their research and commentary to interested readers from disciplines related to their own.

Elementa’s mission is Open Science for Public Good, and we believe that publishing scientific research that fulfills this mission is more vital than ever. So throughout #AGU17 this week, we’ll be highlighting Elementa’s high usage, download, impact, and citation metrics, sharing the top 5 most-read articles from each of the six domains (stay tuned for the post tomorrow featuring Atmospheric Science and Ocean Science!).

In the meantime, be sure to check out a recent blog post with key article- and journal-level metrics across the whole journal, demonstrating how Elementa’s open, accessible research has a wide reach and impact across a global audience.


Expanding the Environmental Imagination

By Dan McKanan, author of Eco-Alchemy: Anthroposophy and the History and Future of Environmentalism

This guest post is part of our AARSBL blog series published in conjunction with the meetings of the American Academy of Religion & the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston Nov. 18-21. #AARSBL17


The time is ripe for environmentalists to expand our imaginations. By withdrawing from the Paris climate accord and threatening to exploit Bears Ears and other national monuments, President Trump has sent us a clear message. We must be the ones who will protect and heal the world that we love. When political leaders refuse to lead, cities, towns, neighborhoods, schools, and religious communities must step forward. Together, we can cultivate a truly ecological response to global warming, mass extinction, declining soil fertility, and the resulting devastation of poor communities. An ecological response eschews top-down and one-size-fits-all solutions. Instead, it builds a resilient network of organic farmers and university scientists, bankers and spiritual leaders, preschool teachers and practitioners of civil disobedience. Like the ferns and fungi, predators and herbivores of a forest ecology, each group has a special contribution to make.

As a Divinity School professor, I am fascinated by the ways spiritual traditions fill distinct ecological niches within the environmental movement. I am especially fascinated by anthroposophy, an offshoot of theosophy that has been interwoven with environmental activism for the past century. If you have ever purchased a share in a community supported farm, sipped a glass of biodynamic wine, or read Silent Spring, you have felt the influence of anthroposophy and its founder, Rudolf Steiner. Students of Steiner created the first system of organic certification, initiated the campaign to ban the spraying of DDT, invented community supported agriculture, and founded the world’s largest “green banks.” Increasingly, they work in symbiotic partnership with Buddhists, Sufis, seekers of the New Age, and even Roman Catholic religious orders. My new book, Eco-Alchemy, tells these stories and invites environmentalists of all stripes to learn from the distinct approach of anthroposophy.

I was inspired to write Eco-Alchemy not because I was personally committed to anthroposophy, but because it puzzled me. Anthroposophy is a small spiritual movement. It has unusual ideas about reincarnation, the evolution of humanity on multiple planets, and the presence of Christ in the soil. In developing the “biodynamic” approach to agriculture, Steiner blended experimental science with homeopathy, astrology, and alchemy. As I learned more, I realized that anthroposophy’s commitment to the alchemical principle of balance has great potential to stretch the imagination of environmentalism. Students of Steiner work creatively with the polarities of human and nature, matter and spirit, macrocosm and microcosm. This has allowed them to pair farming with care for persons with developmental disabilities, green banking with artistic creation, and scientific research with meditative practice. While many environmentalists assume that they must choose either modern science or antimodern magic, East or West, or the political left or right, anthroposophy challenges us to work creatively with both sides of each polarity. As one part of an ever-expanding movement, it invites us all to broaden our vision and escape ideological monocultures.


Dan McKanan is the Emerson Senior Lecturer at Harvard Divinity School and the author of several books on religion and social transformation, among them Touching the World: Christian Communities Transforming Society and Prophetic Encounters: Religion and the American Radical Tradition.


Cosmic Narratives, Ecology, and Religion

By Lisa H. Sideris, author of Consecrating Science: Wonder, Knowledge, and the Natural World

This guest post is part of our AARSBL blog series published in conjunction with the meetings of the American Academy of Religion & the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston Nov. 18-21. #AARSBL17


A lively discussion on Edge.org asks prominent thinkers to address the question, “What scientific term or concept ought to be more widely known?” The answers provide a handy resource for anyone wanting to brush up on epigenetics or confirmation bias or case-based reasoning. The term that caught my eye is the “noosphere.” Its advocate is David Christian, the leading proponent of “Big History,” a science-based approach to history that melds the human and cosmic story into one grand narrative. Big History is exciting, TED-talk-ready stuff, and Christian obligingly narrates the whole shebang—14 billion years ago to the present—in under 20 minutes. It is presented as a modern origin story for all people, a vehicle for restoring meaning in the way that institutional religions did in the past.”

In resuscitating the noosphere, Christian claims it had a brief efflorescence “and then vanished.” It has not vanished, I assure you. You just need to know where to look.

My research on cosmic narratives like Big History and its (overtly) religious counterpart, the Universe Story, has led me down the noosphere rabbit hole. The noosphere designates a planetary sphere of mind, a thinking layer of the planet, that evolves and unfolds much like the biosphere (animate matter) or the geosphere (inanimate matter). It originated with the Russian geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky (1863–1945) and the French Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), among others.

A version of the noosphere concept is alive and well in scholarship on religion and ecology today, and in contemporary discourse about the Anthropocene. Some see the noosphere as a precursor concept to the Anthropocene because both signal a geological stage in which humans have become the dominant—and directing—force on Earth systems. In the words of Julian Huxley, “Whether he likes it or not [man] is responsible for the whole future evolution of our planet.”

So, how do we like it? I, for one, am uneasy. Others, not so much. Christian sees scientists’ recent announcement that the Anthropocene began in the mid-twentieth century as vindication of Vernadsky’s ideas. Why that date? Many researchers mark the detonation of the first atomic bomb in 1945 as the official start of the Anthropocene epoch. Of course, this is hardly an auspicious beginning to our career as planetary managers! Nevertheless, this was the moment, Christian argues, when “the sphere of mind joined the pantheon of planet-shaping spheres [namely] cosmos, earth and life.”

Pantheon. Mind you, we are talking about a geological epoch that began with world-destroying weapons and is proceeding apace with catastrophic climate change.

I worry that cosmic perspectives on human planetary dominance may frame it as a natural, even inevitable, evolutionary stage. My concerns were not allayed when researchers proposed recently that the Anthropocene seems a “predictable planetary transition” from the standpoint of astrobiology. Elsewhere that study’s lead author opines that our environmental crises are “simply another thing the Earth has done in its long history.” Better yet: the Anthropocene marks our “coming of age as a true planetary species.”

Such observations are both unscientific and irresponsible. If asked what scientific concept ought to be relegated to the dustbin of history, I would vote for the noosphere.


Lisa H. Sideris is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University, where her research focuses on religion, science, and environmentalism. She is the author of Environmental Ethics, Ecological Theology, and Natural Selection.


Spirituality, Morality, and Eco-Activism

By Sarah M. Pike, author of For the Wild: Ritual and Commitment in Radical Eco-Activism

This guest post is part of our AARSBL blog series published in conjunction with the meetings of the American Academy of Religion & the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston Nov. 18-21. #AARSBL17


For the Wild came about because I wanted to understand the lives and motivations behind “ecoterrorist” stereotypes that were current in the news media during the 1990s. During interviews I discovered that memories and emotions may play an important role in shaping activists’ commitments. Love for other-than-human species, compassion for their suffering, anger about the impact of contemporary human lifestyles on the lives of nonhumans, grief over the degradation of ecosystems and the suffering of other animals: these emotions are expressed through and emerge out of what I describe in the book as protest rites.

My book is also concerned with fundamental questions about human identity construction in relation to others, human and nonhuman, expressed through and at the same time created by ritualized actions. I argue that these activists are the radical wing of a broader cultural shift in understanding humans’ place in a multispecies world and a planet in peril. Their actions express trends in contemporary American spiritual expression and moral duties to the nonhuman at the turn of the millennium. Their beliefs and practices reflect a way of being in the world that decenters the human and calls for rethinking our appropriate place in the world. Their stories further our understanding of how younger Americans, in particular, situate the needs of human beings within a world of other species that they see themselves as closely related to and responsible for. The following excerpt is from the introduction:

In July 2000, federal agents raided an environmental action camp in Mt. Hood National Forest that was established to protect old-growth forests and their inhabitants, including endangered species, from logging. High above the forest floor, activists had constructed a platform made of rope and plywood where several of them swung from hammocks. Seventeen-year-old Emma Murphy-Ellis held off law enforcement teams for almost eight hours by placing a noose around her neck and threatening to hang herself if they came too close. Murphy-Ellis, going by her forest name Usnea, explained her motivation in the following way: “I state without fear—but with the hope of rallying our collective courage—that I support radical actions. I support tools like industrial sabotage, monkey-wrenching machinery and strategic arson. The Earth’s situation is dire. If other methods are not enough, we must not allow concerns about property rights to stop us from protecting the land, sea and air.” Murphy-Ellis speaks for most radical activists who are ready to put their bodies on the line to defend trees or animals, other lives that they value as much as their own.

For the Wild is a study of radical environmental and animal rights activism in late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century America. I set out to explore how teenagers like Murphy-Ellis become committed to forests and animals as worthy of protection and personal sacrifice. I wanted to find out how nature becomes sacred to them, how animals, trees, and mountains come to be what is important and worth sacrificing for. This work is about the paths young activists find themselves following, in tree-sits and road blockades to protect old-growth forests and endangered bird species, or breaking into fur farms at night to release hundreds of mink from cages. These young people join loosely organized, leaderless groups like Earth First! and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), coming to protests from contexts as different as significant childhood experiences in nature and the hardcore punk rock music scene. Various other experiences also spark their commitments, such as viewing a documentary about baby seal hunts or witnessing a grove of woods they loved being turned into a parking lot. What their paths to activism have in common is the growing recognition of a world shared with other, equally valuable beings, and a determined certainty that they have a duty to these others.


Sarah M. Pike is Professor of Comparative Religion at California State University, Chico, and, in addition to For the Wild: Ritual and Commitment in Radical Eco-Activism, is the author of Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community and New Age and Neopagan Religions in America.


Debuting at ASA 2017: American Studies Now, a New Series

Taking the 2017 American Studies Association conference by storm the new series edited by past presidents of the ASA American Studies Now: Critical Histories of the Present offers short, timely books on the issues that matter today.

“We need new ways to publish and distribute the work of American Studies scholars. The monograph and the journal article have a crucial role in our field, but they aren’t serving us well in the undergraduate classroom. And they aren’t putting our work into circulation in the pressing, scary political present. This new series is one new way to address those needs — short, accessible books on Black Lives Matter, climate change, neoliberalism, BDS, the continuing urban crisis, indigenous politics, queer and trans issues, the crises in higher education and more. They are designed to provide timely, provocative analysis for teaching, for activism, and for engagement now.”—Lisa Duggan, past president of the American Studies Association & co-editor of American Studies Now

Much of the most exciting contemporary work in American Studies refuses the distinction between politics and culture—focusing on historical cultures of power and protest on the one hand, or the political importance of cultural practices on the other. With a short production schedule, the titles in American Studies Now are able to cover these political and cultural intersections while such teachable moments are at the center of public conversation.

“Given the constant rush and hum of information in our social media saturated worlds, it’s easy to get stuck in the here and now in ways that make it difficult to take a critical perspective on where we are and how we got there. So American Studies Now reflects not only the urgency of the questions raised by each volume in the series but also suggests what we mean by critical histories of the present — scholarship that helps readers think about contemporary problems in terms of their larger historical, social, and cultural significance.”—Curtis Marez, past president of the American Studies Association & co-editor of American Studies Now

Learn more about this exciting, new series in this Q&A with series editors Lisa Duggan and Curtis Marez, and visit UC Press at booth 405 to browse the books. Heading to the conference? Be sure to check out the following session:

  • American Studies Now: Critical Histories of the Present
    Fri, November 10, 4:00 to 5:45pm
    With UC Press Executive Editor Niels Hooper, series editors Lisa Duggan and Curtis Marez, and series authors Scott Kurashige, Sunaina Maira, Barbara Ransby, Shelley Streeby, and Macarena Gomez-Barris
    View session details here

For more author sessions at ASA, and to see what else we’ll have on view, head here.