Thus goes a motto for responsible camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities. It is a motto I learned on my first Outward Bound course, mountaineering in the Four Corners region of southwestern Colorado. It’s a mantra that was repeated on the three subsequent courses I took, as well.

With an exception.

My third (and best) Outward Bound course was thirty days of canyoneering in southeastern Utah. We began the course about a hundred miles south of Canyonlands National Park, and finished up in the Park itself.

One of countless things I learned in those thirty days was that a National Park designation will drive human traffic up ten-fold. With that many feet moving through an area, “leave no trace” becomes an impossibility. Instead, the strategy became one of minimizing impact. This was accomplished by sticking to established trails and designated campsites, thus beating down only that which has already been beaten down.

There’s an odd incongruity between this logical and reasonable viewpoint towards environmental responsibility (if we enjoy pristine wilderness, we should not ruin that enjoyment for those who venture forth after us) and certain “green” philosophies that far more of us might seek to practice in daily life. After all, the number of wilderness hikers is minuscule when compared to the number of people who choose organic foods.

Apart from the nebulousness of what “organic” actually means, there is a little-noticed or deliberately ignored reality. Organic farming is less efficient, particularly for food crops. It produces lower yields per acre than best-practices farming does. This means that more acreage is required to produce the same amount of food, acreage that cannot be grassland or forest.

As the Earth’s population grows, and as more and more people rise up out of subsistence living (and thus are able to afford more “farming-intensive” meats), the demands for food production grow as well. Malthus, centuries ago, mistakenly predicted that population would grow faster than the ability to feed it, leading to famine and destruction. History has proven him wildly wrong, as technology has outpaced population growth. Indeed, today, thanks to technology, farmland is actually being retired/abandoned. We produce more food per acre than ever in history, and there’s no reason to think that trend will change.

Clearly, humanity cannot “leave no trace” in its activities on the Earth. Nor would we want to. After all, the point of “leave no trace” is for fellow humans to enjoy that which we enjoyed, not to preserve some human-free museum piece. The Earth doesn’t care, and the only reason the Earth matters is because it is our home. Thus, we fall back to the minimal impact philosophy. If we want more wild natural land to enjoy, we shouldn’t consider ideas that consume more acreage as “green.” If we are concerned with deforestation, organic farming should properly be seen as a contributor, not a remedy (while deforestation and organic farming tend to occur in different parts of the world, we can both decry unnecessary deforestation and offset it by allowing other land to re-forest).

The same goes for energy. Solar and wind power are the darlings of the green movement, but in terms of land use, they are an abomination. To replicate the energy output of an acre of land devoted to nuclear power, 35+ acres of solar arrays or 200+ acres of wind turbines are required. Most people don’t think about that, and those that do often embrace a NIMBY mind-set, happy to demand more “green” power while insisting that it be elsewhere.

Spend some time among the most vocal greens, and you’re likely to also hear complaints about urban sprawl and the horrors of suburbia. You may also find advocacy for big high-speed rail projects. Both (and they are related) have as one of their foundations the idea of minimizing land use and increasing efficiency – via concentrated, high density housing, via reduction of the number of cars and therefore the number of roads, and via herding of people towards living near rail stations, which can be placed “wisely” by the Best-and-Brightest.

Why, then, would these greens advocate for things that consume more land? It’s not logical, obviously. Before we condemn them, though, we should perhaps consider that they simply aren’t aware of this inconsistency, that they haven’t thought deeply enough about organic farming and “green” energy, and that they’re simply going by what feels right and by what people they’ve decided to trust tell them. Best, then, to simply point out the realities, and see if a bit of good ole old-fashioned natural sunshine opens their eyes.

Oh, and if you go for a hike in the woods, please, at a minimum, pack out your trash. No one wants to see your Snickers wrapper.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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