We gave it a B+
Unlike the Brie-nibbling, chardonnay-sipping environmental lobbyists from the Audubon Society or the Sierra Club, Dave Foreman specializes in rambunctious behavior. ”Why shouldn’t I be emotional, angry, passionate?” asks the cofounder and self-appointed spokesman of Earth First! ”Madmen and madwomen are wrecking this beautiful, blue-green, living Earth. Fiends who hold nothing of value but a greasy dollar bill are tearing down the pillars of evolution a-building [sic] for nearly four thousand million years.”
A good question, actually, and one that has certainly occurred to anyone who has ever watched helplessly while a beloved river is poisoned or an expanse of forest is converted to a habitat for Buicks and Toyotas. By his own proud admission, Foreman is one of those ”environmental extremists” President Reagan used to warn us about. Except that Reagan was referring to the mainstream groups Foreman and fellow Earth Firsters consider weenies.
So how seriously can Confessions of an Eco-Warrior be taken? That depends upon how literally you read it. Foreman’s version of a philosophy he calls ”biocentrism” in some places, ”Deep Ecology” in others, won’t stand up under very close scrutiny. ”The idea of wilderness,” he claims, ”is the most radical in human thought… wilderness for its own sake, without any need to justify it for human benefit. Wilderness for wilderness. For bears and whales and titmice and rattlesnakes and stink bugs.”
And rats and fleas and the bubonic plague bacillus? Apparently so. ”In our explosive population growth,” Foreman writes, ”we humans have become a disease — the Humanpox.” Without denying for a moment that population control exceeds in importance all other environmental issues, just where does this kind of talk get us? Whatever its emotional appeal, the innocent nature — wicked humankind idea represents a particularly idiotic brand of sentimentality. Even the primitivist vision of what wilderness is, as Alston Chase’s wonderful book Playing God in Yellowstone points out, conveniently ignores the massive environmental engineering — chiefly by predation and fire — done by prehistoric humans.
The Earth First! crowd is daydreaming if it thinks ”monkeywrenching” — vandalizing machinery used to rape the environment — ”will hasten overall industrial retreat from wild areas.” In reality, it will hasten the arrival of fences, guards, and guns. Far from perfect, democratic persuasion is still the best tool for the job. That much said, few readers will come away from this angry, enthusiastic, muddleheaded, yet oddly endearing book unchallenged or unchanged. For all his passion, Foreman never lacks humor, a quality often absent in books on a topic that so easily lends itself to pieties. B+