When I think back on the best memories of my life, most of them involve the natural world. The balance of peace and terror of canoeing on the French Broad River. Staying up all night to hike under the light of a full moon in the Eastern Californian desert. Getting lost in staring at the hawks from the summit of Hanging Rock. These moments, of course, never registered as particularly important at the time, but in thinking about my past they always jump out. I think that they are some of the most potent moments of my life. Moments when I had no desire for things to be any different than they were. No desire to take a picture or hold an image in my mind to look back on. I simply experienced what nature had to show to me in those moments and wound up forgetting my position as an observer.
In conversation, when I try to explain why I think environmentalism is important, I frequently find myself relying on talking points like: “climate change is the most serious threat facing our species and we are barely doing anything about it” or “at the rate that we are polluting water, we are driving aquatic species to extinction and before we know it we are going to be out of clean water.” I believe that practical, human-centered, issues like these are of the utmost importance, but I am not an environmentalism solely or even most deeply because of them. I’m worried about climate change because I trust climate science and I care about humans. I’m worried about water pollution primarily because I am worried about not having enough food and clean water to keep our growing population alive and healthy.
What I want to convey when I say that I’m an environmentalist, though, is something more than that I trust science and care about people. When I say that I’m environmentalist, I want to convey that I care about the environment for the environment's sake. That I care about the mountains and the hawks and the dirt in nature. My experience of being in nature is that there is something special out there that we ought to protect, both so that future humans can experience it, but so that it can exist. I think that the world would become more boring and colder without the mystery and beauty that is held within nature and that is why I am an environmentalist.
Austin Smith is a freshman at Deep Springs College and is a summer intern for PEA. He became interested in environmentalism in high school and is planning to major in environmental science and policy.