“The crisis is in our backyard and each of us has to get out of bed and do something about it.” -Forest Woodward for Patagonia
Friends, in case you haven’t been paying attention, there’s a lot going on with our national parks right now.
Just last week Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s report to President Donald Trump was making headlines in the outdoor community. Zinke recommended that the President shrink and/or modify beloved national parks and monuments in the United States under the Antiquities Act. I’m going to repeat that for you so it really sinks in: our government wants to shrink and/or modify some of our national parks and monuments. Land that is being protected and preserved for future generations to enjoy is at risk of getting smaller when we don’t have enough of it as it is.
Scary, right? So what exactly can YOU do about it?
We live in an era in which the voice of the public is a notable force. Social media has enabled people who otherwise wouldn’t have a voice to speak their minds about issues they care about and to actually be heard. Grassroots activism groups are widespread throughout the nation and make an impact in local areas. Petitions are widely accessible and have to potential to enact positive change. The exigency to help our environment exists.
Hold up… exigency? If you’re not familiar with the term it refers to an urgent need or demand for action. Exigency is the catalyst that sparks a rhetorical situation, and the rhetorical situation regarding our public lands is well underway. Let’s take a look at three different artifacts that express the exigency of our national parks and monuments in response to Zinke’s proposal in disparate ways.
1) The New York Times wrote an article that does a good job introducing the exigency regarding protecting national parks and monuments. The article begins by stating that 6 national monuments are at risk for losing land while 4 face management changes, and then it goes on to highlight each individual place. The New York Times does its best to remain somewhat neutral and stick to the facts of Zinke’s report but even so the underlying urgency of the article is clear. Exigency is subtly implied in every picture of a place that might suffer under the Interior’s proposal. Seeing a picture of beautiful wilderness that could be developed over or exploited for its resources should tear at your heart and remind you that there is a countdown on some of these places and that the seconds are ticking away.
After reading the New York Times article most people have a general sense of the exigency to save our public lands but probably feel overwhelmed and unable to help. Don’t worry, I felt that way too. Sure the need to protect our environment is there and sure these places are at risk, but what can I do about it? When 10 national monuments are thrown at you all at once it seems impossible to save them all; there’s too much land and not enough time. This article is effective in that it raises awareness of the threat to our public lands, but it doesn’t create a connection or a desire to act within the larger population.
The next two artifacts focus on one monument as opposed to all 10 that are currently at risk. By focusing on one particular piece of land, these artifacts maintain the sense of exigency associated with Zinke’s proposal yet present it in a way that is more manageable. So lets take a look at Bears Ears.
2) Bears Ears National Monument in Utah is one of the lands threatened by Zinke’s proposal, and the public outcry and retaliation has been inspiring. A Dirtbag Diaries podcast created by Patagonia focuses specifically on Bears Ears and explains the struggle the area has faced to gain monument status, a status that is at risk of being taken away. The podcast shows Bears Ears through the eyes of Josh Ewing, a climber turned activist who works with Friends of Cedar Mesa, a non-profit group fighting to protect the monument.
The Dirtbag Diaries podcast is overflowing with exigence. Every aspect of the artifact is an active reminder that there is a problem that needs addressing. While the podcast does a good job explaining the issues of the land and generating a call to action, it is sometimes too narrow. By focusing on Josh’s experience and on the experiences of the native tribes surrounding Bears Ears, Dirtbag Diaries runs the risk of alienating its audience.
3) Patagonia’s blog, The Cleanest Line, posted an article last year about why Bears Ears deserves to be a national monument. While the article was written long before Zinke’s proposal and Bears Ears has since gained the status of a national monument, the arguments made are relevant even today. Due to the persuasive nature of the article the exigency of the situation is clear but Patagonia goes even further by making it applicable to more of their audience. They give reasons that appeal to climbers, environmentalists, Utah residents, and overall decent people.
When viewing the three artifacts in conjunction it becomes clear how exigency can be used effectively and ineffectively. When an event of rhetorical significance occurs, such as Zinke’s proposal to President Trump, it is important that we are aware of how the articles we read regarding the situation are influencing us. These three articles do a good job of explaining why we need to act from an environmentalist standpoint, but plenty more do the same from the opposing point of view.
When it’s all said and done regardless of whether the exigency is there or not we have to consciously chose to act. Whether that’s by calling your local politicians and advocating for public lands or by driving out to a nearby park or monument to support it in person, something must be done.
I encourage you to listen to the full Dirtbag Diaries podcast below and check out the links to the articles mentioned and some that I found interesting. Remember, the best way to protect our wild spaces is by staying educated and aware.
Speak up for what you love, protect what you love, and never stop fighting for what you love.
🌿 Zinke’s report (NOTE! This report was leaked to the media and The White House refuses to publish it. That being said I was able to find a low quality version via the Washington Post): https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/4052225/Interior-Secretary-Ryan-Zinke-s-Report-to-the.pdf
🌿 Photos courtesy of Desert News Utah: https://www.deseretnews.com/article/865687503/Bears-Ears-to-be-160000-acres.html
🌿 New York Times article: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/18/climate/bears-ears-changes-monuments.html?sf115252125=1
🌿 Dirtbag Diaries podcast: http://dirtbagdiaries.com/endangered-spaces-bears-ears/