Let’s dub it the Mount Bierstadt Summit. “Summit” as in confluence of great forces inexorably leading to our demise, and “our” as in Earth as we know it and us, the conscious beings that have been at odds with nature since declaring independence from it.
The right to access Mount Bierstadt v. protecting it from continued degradation. Legal right v. environmental ethics.
Perhaps, the news about the overuse and abuse of Bierstadt will serve as a wakeup call on the micro—Bierstadt—level and the macro: a consciousness-changing look at our obsession with growth and conquest and its impact on our world.
For hundreds of millions of years, life evolved and died in great waves. Five colossal extinctions occurred over the past 400 million years. During the last one 65 million years ago, the one with which we’re most familiar, the Cretaceous-Tertiary, dinosaurs were incinerated, gassed, or starved into oblivion.
It then took 63 million years for humans to evolve and put two feet on the ground; and over the next two million years, all was relatively good in terms of co-existence among mammals. A kill-or-be-killed Garden of Eden. Find dinner or be dinner. Until 70,000 years ago when homo sapiens with ability not just to communicate, but to think creatively, imaginatively, fictionally appeared, giving them/us a distinct advantage,
Mythologies and superstitions arose, culminating in the most brutal esoteric belief, monotheism with its fateful command, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28, KJV).
What nonsense! That declaration gave cover for human rapacious behaviors. It instilled in peoples’ minds they were separate from and above nature and accountable not to their fellow sentient beings and natural home but, instead, to some mythic transcendental power that would punish, destroy, or even obliterate them if they weren’t good, “good” being whatever the dominant power decided was the good.
The results have been catastrophic, and of late, scientists have posited, with good evidence, that we’re experiencing a sixth mass extinction. If that’s the case, it would be distinct from all the previous, caused not by a natural event but an intentional act of conscious volition.
Correlating the overuse of Bierstadt with species extinction might seem dizzying, but there is, as I wrote last week, a thread that runs true and through it all: Man.
Not long ago, if one wanted to hike up Bierstadt, he/she only had to show up. It was pleasing to see folks, especially Americans, getting off their duffs and out into nature. But as it is with everything else up here, from Interstate 70 traffic to ski resorts’ massive numbers, it’s a case of too much of a good thing: people.
Rights, privileges, and responsibility. The trifecta of essential citizenship meet on Mount Bierstadt’s summit with our species’ penchant for exploration.
Is it a right or privilege to access Bierstadt? Legally, it matters. The mountain as do all the 14’ers save one—Culebra—sits on public land. Further, it’s in a national forest as opposed to a national park.
Public land. Right to access. Questions abound. Does it mean the right to leave one’s vehicle along the roadside for free to get nearer to the trailhead? Does it include the rights to go off-trail and to litter the mountain with trash and dog waste? Does it necessitate no fees allowed?
A culture has evolved that seems to say yes to each. Can we change that culture? How?
Teddy Roosevelt exhorted us to get out there. That was before paved, high-speed roads, ATVs, four-wheel-drive vehicles, camp stoves, and hydration packs. We have, however, entered a new paradigm that requires a different way of thinking, beginning with understanding man was and is not separate from but a part of nature, distinct with his/her abilities to imagine and to problem-solve complex issues.
It’s our chance to play God, sort of. We cannot create new beings, at least not yet, but we can create a better future by protecting our environment from further degradation and preserving that which is not yet extinct.
To be continued.