MARK MADISON: Hi. Today's June 30th, 2010, and I'm Mark Madison at the National Conservation Training Center, and I'm with Emily Jenkins who works out here also, and we're in the middle of the Sc3 Conference where we bring about 100 high school students out to NCTC to learn more about the environmental movement and conservation as a career, and one of the benefits of that conference is we bring in a lot of distinguished speakers from around the country who are experts in the environmental field, and we have one of those with us this morning, Tom Butler, who is an author and editor. Tom's most recent book is called "Plundering Appalachia: The Tragedy of Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining." Before that he was the author of "Wildlands Philanthropy: The Great American Tradition." He's a long-term conservation activist, writer and editor. He serves as editorial projects director for the Foundation for Deep Ecology. He's also the founding board member and current vice president of the Northeast Wilderness Trust, the only land trust in the Northeastern U.S. focused exclusively on protecting forever wild landscapes. Previous to that, he was editor for a long time of "Wild Earth."
Tom, welcome. Thank you so much for coming out here.
TOM BUTLER: Nice to be with you.
MARK MADISON: And, Tom, the first question for you is what message did you try to impart to the high school students here this week?
TOM BUTLER: Well, this was a wonderful crowd, really great bunch of kids from around the country. I was very impressed with the level of discussion, the questions they asked.
Since I was here as part of this sort of arts day, exploring the intersection of issues of climate change and species loss, biodiversity conservation and arts-- artistic expression through photography, the printed word, landscape painting, visual art, and I believe tonight there's going to be a filmmaker here. I was here kind of as the book person. So what I wanted to get to in my presentation with the kids, before talking about the tools, that is, of key books in the environmental cannon that may have been particularly influential or key writers, was to talk about the issue at hand, the global ecosocial crisis, this great unraveling of natural and human communities.
So first to talk about the issue at hand, talk about the reaction, the development of the conservation movement to these earlier environmental crises of wildlife loss, forest loss that have faced North America over the last 100 years, 150 years, and then get to the question of tools and how books, language, the words, the metaphors we use can help shape public opinion and help drive public behavior toward an interested appreciation for nature.
EMILY JENKINS: How do those interested find out about your works and what you've done and the books that you have out right now?
TOM BUTLER: A couple of ways to do that. The last two projects that I worked on, this book "Plundering Appalachia," about surface coal mining in Appalachia, and the absolute horrific consequences, both to nature and people, of the coal industry's practice of blowing the tops off of mountains to access the small seams of coal within, that book, people can learn more about that project and the organizations that are fighting-- the really wonderful grass roots and national conservation groups that are fighting surface coal mining at plunderingappalachia.org. The book project before that, this "Wildlands Philanthropy" book that I wrote, in collaboration with the photographer Antonio Vizcaíno, is the exact opposite of plundering. Whereas "Plundering Appalachia" shows the devastating photography juxtaposed with essays by
some of the leading thinkers and activists fighting surface coal mining, is really a negative experience that you see the horrific damage that is being done to the oldest mountain range and the most by logically diverse forest type in North America, "Wildlands Philanthropy" was really the opposite of that. It's stunningly beautiful landscape photography by Antonio Vizcaíno of 40 wild places, national parks, state parks, wilderness areas, Audubon sanctuaries, private nature preserves, all places saved by private initiative and action over the last hundred years. And so it was really fun to kind of work on both of those projects sequentially and to have them juxtaposed. People can see some of the images from that book at wildlandsphilanthropy.org.
EMILY JENKINS: How do you choose between those images, the shocking images that are uglier and show the devastation, and the beautiful photos? Because there are beautiful photos of Appalachia and places that are still nice.
TOM BUTLER: True. Good question. The difference is what the effect of the book is supposed to be, the intended market and the intended outcome.
All of these large-format books that are being underwritten, conceived and produced by the organization I work for, which is the nonprofit Foundation for Deep Ecology, the Foundation is somewhat unusual in that, for environmental grant-makers, in that it maintains a publishing program. That was a conscious decision made by the man who founded and endowed the foundation, Douglas Tompkins, who decided consciously that part of his grant-making that he would do through the foundation would be to help develop the intellectual infrastructure of the conservation movement. Lots of people are going to give grants to do a project or buy a piece of land or a program to help save wildlife or counter pollution. In the political spectrum in North America, in America, on the political right there's a whole industry of think tanks and policy journals, a robust intellectual infrastructure, but on the left hand of the political spectrum, that's really not been much the case, and within the conservation movement, there's been hardly any of that, very, very little of it.
So with the Foundation's publishing program, we decided to create a series of large-format books building on the legacy of the late Dave Brower, David Brower, who ran the Sierra Club in the 1960s, and Sierra Club Books at that time published a whole series of landmark large-format books that combined photography and writing to-- as the centerpiece, really, of several of their environmental campaigns against dams on the-- in the Grand Canyon, on the Colorado River, and the campaign to secure a Redwood National Park and various other issues.
That exhibit format series of books that David Brower helped produce was a landmark at the time and really an effective conservation tool for campaign work. Well, in recent years, you know, you can buy a million pretty coffee table books, but before we, the Foundation, produce the book "Clear Cut" in the early 1990s, nobody had ever seen a coffee table book that juxtaposed the horrors of industrial forestry and the-- just really kind of wrenching clear cuts in the Pacific Northwest with very thoughtful writing about the problems of the industrial mind set as applied to resource management, in this case industrial forestry.
So the goal there was to create a series and a campaign tool that would update this old format and modernize it for modern use. And we have subsequently, since the early 1990s, the Foundation for Deep Ecology has underwritten a whole series of these really-- I think they're terrific books. I wasn't involved with all of them until just the last few years. But one called "Fatal Harvest" about industrial agriculture, aforementioned "Clear Cut," a book called "Wildfire" about the problems of forest management and wildfire in western ecosystems, a book called "Welfare Ranching" about the problems of public lands livestock grazing. These and several others have proven to be really effective campaign tools for nonprofit organizations that are working on specific issues and trying to address those specific conservation problems.
EMILY JENKINS: So, who are you trying to reach by this? Who is your target audience?
TOM BUTLER: Well, it depends upon the project. "Welfare Ranching" was the centerpiece of a national public lands grazing campaign. And so their target audience was decision-makers that help to influence the public policy that governed livestock management on public lands. "Plundering Appalachia"’s key audience was actually produced as a campaign tool for the grass roots groups in Appalachia who are fighting to save their homeland. Really amazing group of activists, local people in many cases. It's really interesting about the fight in Appalachia over mountaintop removal. This did not percolate down from groups in Washington D.C. or big national conservation organizations in San Francisco or New York City. This fight percolated up from people in the hills and hollers of Eastern Kentucky and Southern West Virginia who are literally seeing the landscape, the folds and the curves of the mountains that have enfolded their communities decimated, demolished, altered, as more than 500 mountains in Appalachia have been sheared off, decapitated to support a system of so-called cheap energy production, but which actually has tremendously high costs to nature, to people and to the future.
So the goal here was to produce a product that these organizations within the Alliance for Appalachia, many, many good groups... Cold River Mountain Watch, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Appalachian Voices, various others... that they could incorporate into their ongoing education and outreach programs trying to influence decision-makers about the problem of mountaintop removal.
MARK MADISON: Tom, as an environmental writer, what previous writers inspire you?
TOM BUTLER: Oh, my goodness. That's a huge question! A lot of writers inspire me, but I have a particular fondness for Aldo Leopold. You know, Aldo Leopold is the deity of lots of us in the conservation movement, and particularly in the wilderness wing of the conservation movement, a person who was-- so far ahead of his time in thinking about the necessity of wild places. Yes, he was trained as a forester at Yale just after-- in the early 1900s, but when he went out as a young forest ranger to the Southwest and began to experience that landscape and see the creeping degradation of these big wild places in the Western U.S., came to initially argue for primitive and wilderness areas on federal public lands. And, you know, in the person of Aldo Leopold we see the beginnings of the conservation movement move from that exclusive focus on utility, you know, we need good forest management so that we have a supply of fiber continuously to support our economies, to move-- which isn't to say that's not important, of course, it is-- but to move beyond that toward the intrinsic value of wildlife and wild places for their own sake, for their scientific value, their ecological integrity, and because they have a right to exist. And it is so inspiring for me, constantly, to go back and reread Leopold's essay about the land ethic because there's no better encapsulation to me of a way to measure whether any particular conservation strategy or tactic or objective is thinking about the long term. Leopold, of course, said that "...a thing is right when it tends to promote the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community and is wrong when it tends otherwise." If we measure as an
environmental movement, or a conservation movement, if we measure our strategies and tactics toward that, is it incrementally moving us toward the health, the overarching health of the biotic community and toward an ethical appreciation for all the members thereof, not just a utilitarian view that the earth is here for our enjoyment and our profit and our exploitation, but we're simply members and, I guess Leopold said, plain member and citizen of the biotic community, if we're striving for that, then we know we're on the right track.
So Leopold, as a long-winded answer, of saying Leopold is always great. John Muir, of course. There is that crank from Concord, Thoreau, always fun to read him. Those are some people in kind of the earlier era that I find particularly inspiring and really just fundamental.
MARK MADISON: Great. Last question... if people wanted to learn more about your institution, the Foundation for Deep Ecology, is there a place where you could send them?
TOM BUTLER: Yeah, the web site deepecology.org. There isn't a very fancy or robust web site there. A little bit of information about the Foundation. What is maybe interesting for people to understand is FDE is really just one member in a suite of charitable foundations and a public charity, so a suite of nonprofit conservation organizations that were founded and endowed by Douglas Tompkins and Chris Tompkins, an amazing-- truly amazing couple of conservationists who have been working very, very hard over the last 20 years to protect wild places and endangered species in South America with their personal philanthropy. To date, they have helped to protect upwards of 2.2 million acres in Chile and Argentina, created two new national parks, and are working on three more, including the future Patagonia National Park in
Chile's Chacabuco Valley. This is one of the most exciting wildlands preservation efforts that I know of worldwide. There is going to be, when this project is done, a new world-class national park of close to 700,000 acres. So a Yosemite-scale natural area there in Patagonia that was the result largely of the vision and philanthropy of the Tompkins, but with also the support of many other donors as well.
MARK MADISON: It's nice to go out on a positive note. Thank you so much, Tom. This is really fun.
TOM BUTLER: Well, it was a great pleasure to be with you, Emily and Mark, and to visit the National Conservation Training Center. Again, this is such a wonderful institution. It's always a pleasure to be here.
MARK MADISON: Great. You've been listening to Tom Butler who is with the Foundation for Deep Ecology. He's an author and editor and he's here for the Sc3 Conference. Thank you very much for taking the time to listen.
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