I sometimes shudder the state of world ecology if environmental activists weren’t here to care and fight for its protection and inform the rest of us about the so often unrealized consequences of our actions on the natural world (and thus ultimately on ourselves). Without John Muir, Yosemite and other places of beauty and wonder would have long ago been logged, mined and developed. Its value reduced to the strictly monetary. Without Paul Watson, many more thousands of whales would have been illegally slaughtered than already occurs (and in a whale sanctuary no less!) and probably whole species hunted to extinction. Without Rachael Carson, generations of humans (not to mention other animal species) would likely have to suffer with the the toxic effects of persistent synthetic chemicals than do now.
So often we, the consuming public, are completely ignorant of the existenance of so many threats to nature. Certainly, those who rape and pillage prefer to operate in the dark when possible. How many species now gone, forests clearcut, and toxics dumped could have been prevented if people had just known what was occurring? And so a lot of environmentalism has involved getting the word out. Letting people know about shady deals made behind closed doors by a minority who are only too willing to privately profit from destruction at the expense of the majority. Since this exposure sometimes results in attack of these environmental whistleblowers a certain amount of courage is required.
Though I’ve always loved nature, I learned about these larger issues when I was growing up by watching a variety of nature programming. Television shows like Bill Burrad’s Animal World, Marlin Perkins’ Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. Growing up in Los Angeles, they showed me that there was a whole other world out there of which I was largely unaware, and it called to something deep inside.
There are so many environmental heroes that an encyclopedia of such could easily be written, if it hasn’t already. Selfless men and women who have fought to make the the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe safer. People who believed that people aren’t the only ones with rights. Names like David Brower, Paul S. Martin and Anthony Barnosky etc. etc. Behind them are millions of caring individuals banded together in environmental groups who have written letters, marched in protests and gone to court. Those who, through their tireless efforts, have kept the light shining, and the pressure on politicians and corporations to do the right thing.
One such name, a man who’s been a hero of mine for so long, is the famous British conservationist, and “national treasure” Sir David Attenborough. If you’ve ever watched one of his many television nature programs, like me, you can’t help but be impressed with the man’s knowledge (many species have his name eponymously). But more than that, by his obvious honesty and integrity. His grace, love of, yet non-strident concern for the the earth and its varied life forms. In a world where selfishness is too often valued, and confrontation increasingly commonplace, Attenborough’s gentle and generous presence has been a breath of fresh air.
If you’d like to follow David, now 90 years young, on some of his many adventures through the decades you can’t do much better than Sir David Attenborough: Life Stories. Note: I found this video series at my local library and highly recommend public libraries for their abundance of not only Attenborough’s but also many other quality nature programing (including the very nice Disney Nature, Discovery Channel’s Planet Earth, PBS’ Nature and Nova Nature and National Geographic’s Wild series) and all for free! And best of all, contrary to the popular stereotype of documentaries, they are always well done and entertaining!
Though he’ll never know how many people he’s inspired, myself included, still I want to say, Thank you David!