12 February, 2002

LETTER: Living with nature – not consuming it

Mick Fendley, director. Victorian National Parks Association
Letter, The Age, 12/1/2002

John Vidal, in an extraordinary piece of sophistry in The Age earlier this month (“Wild lies'', 3/1) set about attacking the establishment of national parks and wilderness areas. He did this behind a cleverly constructed screen of concern for social justice and indigenous rights.

After asserting that there was a ''push' to create ever-expanding wilderness areas (this is arrant nonsense: wild or natural areas all over the world are rare and in rapid retreat) and referring to a plot by the conservation "industry" against indigenous people (the fact that no such 'industry" exists didn't seem to bother the writer; nor did the fact that the vast majority of people working for the conservation of nature are highly respectful and supportive of indigenous cultures). Vidal then launched his main attack: that conservation is ''anti- people”. With foot-stamping petulance he demands to know: ''Who runs flits planet?''

There is a sad alienation in this cry an angry and small voice that feels keenly the expulsion from Eden and will lash out like a vandal at any natural beauty remaining.

Vidal seems to have made the fundamental and primitive error that the only needs of people are consumptive and the only values of the natural world ate the so-called 'use' values (hunting. firewood collection, timber cutting and so forth). He failed entirely to acknowledge that there are whole ranges of values we place on the natural world, many of which do not require direct consumption to give us what we need. Indirect values such as through visitation, vicarious values, bequest values for the next generation and intrinsic values of nature itself are placed on the environment and do not require its destructive consumption.

It is clear Vidal wants us to see nature as a lie, that all natural capital is in fact human capital and thus of ourselves and to be used and exploited as we see fit. This is a far-right-wing development agenda pursued using the clubs of the left.

In Australia, humans have shaped the land for millennia, but the imprint is softer and less obvious than in Europe, where Vidal's article was written. The pulse of wild nature still beats strongly here. Our parks in Victoria and around the world seek to protect and celebrate this, for people and nature. We wish to nurture, but not consume.

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