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The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.

- Alexander von Humboldt

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Climbers

May 24, 2018

The Joe Kinder Lynch Mob: Business as Usual

Ever since the Joe Kinder and Sasha DiGulian thing blew up, I've been feeling like there's something missing in the global climbing community’s response, particularly among American climbers.

WRITTEN BY

Chris Kalman

It’s not that I think Joe Kinder is in the right, or that I think Sasha Digiulian is in the wrong. It actually has nothing to do with either of them. It has to do with us.

The thing that irks me is the lynch mob that has followed this event. I find it frustrating that we, as a community, are suddenly so morally righteous. I find it incongruent with our response, or lack thereof, to other issues. Here in the States, climbers have plenty to feel pretty chagrined about. For example…

We push hard to preserve our right to climb on sacred indigenous sites such as Devil’s Tower, routinely disregarding the innocuous one month voluntary ban that we squeezed out of local tribes who would have preferred no climbing on the monument at all. We’ve pursued, accepted, and justified the sexual objectification (not to mention marginalization) of women in the sport’s media. We have a long standing history of working against public land managers rather than with them (and if you saw Valley Uprising, you know we’re damn proud of it, too). We pump industry dollars and massive amounts of attention into climbing and guiding on Everest, even though every year Sherpas either die or risk their lives for minimal pay, while most of the money for those climbs goes not into Sherpa pockets, but into the pockets of the guides, and the owners of those guide companies.

The very concept behind paying exceptionally skilled climbers to climb is the notion that somehow the stoke and inspiration they generate by holding onto rocks will make the world a better place. And yet, when it comes to conservation, it’s well documented that it won’t.

To be fair, there are certainly climbers and prominent community members out there pushing to make things better. Alex Honnold, Sasha Digiulian, and others are lobbying congress in defense of public lands. Shelma Jun of Flash Foxy, Georgie Abel, and Katie Ives of Alpinist Magazine are reenvisioning climbing media through a feminist lens. Len Necefer of Natives Outdoors is trying to find common ground between the outdoor industry and Native Americans. So there is change in the air.

But something about the response to Joe Kinder’s boneheaded bullying feels less like change, and more like a lynch mob. After all, Sasha is not the only female climber who has ever endured bullying. Where was BD, Sportiva, and the rest of our community when Georgie Abel was getting literal threats of violence for telling the truth about sexism in climbing? Could it be that part of this has to do with the size of Sasha’s instagram following (which is more than half as big as BD’s, and larger than La Sportiva NA’s)?

On a community level, if we were really concerned with bullying, wouldn’t we have done something about the public forums on Mountain Project by now? The vitriolic spew you see there regularly reaches (maybe even surpasses) the intensity of the bullying Kinder perpetrated against DiGiulian. We’ve had ample opportunities to take a stand against that bullying, but aside from the rare individual on the forum (who always gets shot down anyway), we haven’t. MP itself could have, but it hasn’t. The magazines that advertise on MP could have, but they haven’t. Sasha could have (not saying she SHOULD have, but she COULD have), but she didn’t. Joe’s ex-sponsor Black Diamond (who partners with MP) could have, but they didn’t.

A recent Rawk Tawk (which is a climbing instagram account that is pretty bad as far as bullying is concerned) post used the hashtag #cunnies. Is that ok? Do brands only have an opinion about bullying when one of their athletes gets outed as one?

But wait – you might say – if climbing’s past is so sordid, doesn’t that mean it’s time to change? And isn’t holding Joe Kinder accountable for using his white male privilege to bully innocent women a perfect way to do that?

Yeah, sure. But only if that’s what’s actually going on. Maybe it is. I hope it is. But I don’t buy it.

Neither, apparently, does Courtney Sanders. I found myself nodding along with her recent statement in an article for The Outdoor Journal, “I believe that major industry companies such as Black Diamond and La Sportiva acted in their own best interests, which likely includes preserving company image and morality, when deciding to end relations with Joe. Personally, I think that there is room for improvement on all sides, and the potential for those companies to address bullying and harassment with the help of Joe could have been a huge learning experience. Perhaps a larger and more constructive conversation could be started by working together, rather than terminating the athlete and ending the dialogue.”

I’ll be interested to see if anything truly productive follows this. But if it doesn’t – indeed, if nothing but venting and ranting does – then the response to this incident is far less the trumpet of social change, and far more business as usual.

Chris Kalman. Credit Miranda Oakley.

In the meantime, if you (like me) are waiting for the times to change, there’s always the option of looking in the mirror. We might not all be guilty of bullying, but we’re all guilty of something. I have a feeling the next generation will look upon our obsession with rocks during these years with something between disbelief and mortification. Can you imagine telling your child that you were too busy climbing on public lands to protect them? Too busy sending the gnar to get out the vote? Too busy driving gas-guzzling vans and flying in airplanes to rocks all over the world to boycott or protest oil and gas drilling in the ANWR?

It’s on all of us to do better. As long as the gaze is turned outward, not inward, it’s easy to forget that. That’s what bothers me about all of this; it’s that it feels like we’re all patting ourselves on the back for thoroughly excoriating (dare I say…bullying?) Joe, in the aftermath of his mistakes. But what are we doing to be better ourselves?

I would have been way more impressed if rather than dumping Joe and wiping their hands of him (as if their hands were clean), his sponsors had made a plan to pour time, money, and energy into working with him to actually do something about the issue at hand; if rather than the public muckraking that followed, climbers en masse had used their cumulative energy to drive at the root of the problem.

Not because he deserves it (though I think he does). But because we, as a community, deserve it. We owe it to ourselves.

Now that I’ve spent 1000+ words telling all of you what I wish you would do, lest I be (rightfully) accused of sanctimony, let me turn the lens inward, myself.

Here is a note to self. This is where I’d like to see change in my own behaviors. This is what I’d like to adopt as a personal climbing ethos… A Climbing Manifesto

***
Dear Chris,

Don’t tell me how hard you climb. Tell me how you plan to change the world.

How can you use climbing as a tool to be a better human?

How can you take the minimalism of “fast and light” and apply it to your own consumptive life?

When you travel to climb, how will you make it worth the carbon footprint?

When you write about a place, how can you protect it from exploitation?

What can you do to improve the lives of others less fortunate?

How can you fight to protect the public lands where you recreate?

How can you fight to honor and vindicate the indigenous peoples those public lands were stolen from?

When you buy climbing equipment, don’t buy from anyone that engages in business practices that don’t align with your values. Your money is your mouthpiece. It’s your vote. Don’t shop deals. Shop values. Buy what sells you peace of mind.

When you consume climbing media, don’t consume anything that doesn’t align with your values. Clicks are dollars. Your attention is your pocketbook. If you think it is stupid, counter-productive, infantile, distracting, or simply banal, Do Not Click. Read something by an author that speaks to you. Educate yourself about something important. Sign a petition you care about. Donate to a charity you believe in. Don’t work on a climb. Work on learning to maximize your time.

When you go climbing, do it for pure reasons. Don’t spray. Don’t humble brag. Don’t overshare. Don’t hashtag because you’re starved for attention. Don’t play it cool. Don’t self-aggrandize. Don’t talk about numbers, period. Quit worrying about the size of your gut. Don’t be a dick. Don’t be a hypocrite. Don’t be a cynic. Don’t hate. Don’t be someone else. Don’t even measure up against someone else. Just be yourself. Be proud but not prideful. Try hard but don’t cuss. Be brave, not stupid. Be who your mom and dad taught you to be. Don’t be an ambassador of a brand, be an ambassador of humanity. Be respectful of the land.

Don’t stop climbing, just because it’s pointless. Don’t quit trying, just because it doesn’t matter. Everything matters. Cultivate passion. Work on your work ethic. Play because you can. Laugh. Smile. Smile more. Bring the smile home.

Keep your priorities straight.

Slowing down climate change is a necessity. Racial/gender/sexual equality is a necessity. Fighting fascism, corporate greed, xenophobia, oligarchy, fake news, death of ecosystems, and the longterm destruction of the world in favor of short term financial gains is a necessity.

Climbing is not a necessity.

Climbing is a coping mechanism. Climbing is fuel. Climbing is nourishment. Climbing is a tool.

Hone that tool. But don’t forget what it’s for in the first place.

Bring more equity, tolerance, compassion, and respect into the world.

Leave the world a better place.

Chris Kalman is a climber, and author based in Fort Collins, Colorado. You can learn about his new book, or follow his other work, at www.chriskalman.com.

 

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Op-Ed

Apr 22, 2019

Wilderness Porn

In the social media era, nature has become a commodity—hashtagged and hearted for mass consumption. But at what cost? Is our planet ultimately paying the price?

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WRITTEN BY

Douglas Baughman

Last month, when scrolling through one of my very few social media feeds, past the usual fare of thumbs-up aphorisms and pc bromides, I came across an alarming article reposted from Forbes. The headline read “Unless It Changes, Capitalism Will Starve Humanity by 2050.” Beneath the bold black letters was a photo of a desolate and hopeless landscape—a stark contrast of anything I would normally see from accounts I follow on picture-sharing platforms.

In support of the apocalyptic foretelling, the article’s author, Drew Hansen, cited a bulleted inventory of statistics as evidence, from the exponential rate of species extinction and the millions upon millions of acres lost each year as a result of deforestation, to rising population growth, increased levels of poverty, and the continued exploitation of world resources, including an over-reliance on fossil fuels that contribute to climate change.

Photo by Jeff Finley.

“Our most treasured natural landscapes become articles of mass consumption.”

None of this was news to me, generally speaking, and while I may waver to and from agreement or denial of the projected outcome, I am fairly steady on the crux of facts. I studied U.S. energy policy in graduate school, specifically the link between carbon emissions from fossil fuels and global warming, basing the majority of my research on studies conducted at the Rocky Mountain Institute in Snowmass, Colorado, and various scientific and government agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I also knew that during the intervening two and a half decades, nothing had really changed, not substantively, except maybe the urgency of warnings. In many instances, especially among factors affecting climate change, conditions had gotten worse. Global atmospheric carbon concentrations have steadily increased, by about 15 percent during that time period, from 358 parts per million in January 1994 to 410 ppm as of the first month of this year, according to data compiled by NOOA. At the same time, economic pressures threatening once-sacrosanct public lands have only intensified.

Read next on TOJ: Three Things Everyone Can Do to Fight Climate Change Right Now

But what I did not know, or rather what I had not realized, was just how easy it is to turn a blind eye from all of it—the despairing news and dire predictions—and instead find more peaceful refuge in images that showcase vibrant wildlife and natural grandeur, like the one recently posted @planetearthtv of a blue iridescent wave curling from the Indian Ocean and crashing on the shores of Sri Lanka, or the snow-capped crown of Mount Moran reflected upside-down in the still waters of the Snake River @natgeotravel, or a baby elephant guided by the doting trunk of its mother, both of them safe from the butchery of poachers @hearthofafrica.

For many years, I lived in Boulder, Colorado, where access to open space and the stretches of wilderness areas just beyond the foothills are always within eyesight. A short ride up the canyon switchbacks can offer some pretty spectacular vantage points for photo opportunities. On a clear day, facing west toward the Continental Divide, vistas of wintry peaks stitch the Rocky Mountains to the horizon. Conversely, to the east over the patchwork communities spanning the Front Range, a sepia fog on most days blurs the bird’s eye view. The first scene is well-photographed, the other almost never. Yet, they are two sides of the same coin.

The author shooting the Continental Divide, near Boulder, Colo. Photo by: Mary Colbert.

Cropped from the mess of reality, these selective portrayals become more like works of art than photographic realism. And like all works of art, they are an interpretation of the world, in this case an idealized and subjective version, but not true of the world in whole. Strung together and reinforced over time by subtle and subconscious increments, they form a false narrative, albeit an unintended one, whose numbing effects may be counter-productive to addressing imminent environmental issues in a measurable way.

“A preferential focus on the pristine is ineffective at addressing global environmental challenges.”

On Instagram, @NatGeo alone has more than 103 million followers who post, share and by the hundreds of thousands “breathtaking images that inspire people to care about the planet,” according to a recent statement from National Geographic Partners in celebrating its breach of the 100 million followers mark. Plainly there is an appetite, not just at National Geographic, but across many other sites and social media outlets. Strictly from the perspective of environmentalism, and even among enthusiasts who share a passion for the outdoors, has this over-whelming swell of appreciation channelled awareness into meaningful action? And if not, as Hansen’s outline of unpropitious trends indicate, then what of the appetite itself? Is it simply an idle act of consumerism, the product of economic privilege, as some social historians and environmental theorists have suggested?

Photo by: Marco Gnaccarini.

In a highly influential essay presented in 1989 during a visiting lectureship at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies called “Radical American Environmentalism and Wilderness Preservation: A Third World Critique,” Indian ecologist Ramachandra Guha described a fundamental flaw within environmentalism “to equate environmental protection with the protection of wilderness,” a concept he further contended was artificial and distinctly American, borne from a unique social and environmental history.

Although Guha’s main intention was to question the validity and wholesale export of what he considered an impractical form of American-centric environmentalism to populations across other parts of the world, in the process of pressing forward his thesis he made many salient points that offer an interesting insight into the roots of our attitude toward nature, and how that perception hobbles the advancement of global environmental solutions. “Here,” wrote Guha, referencing an earlier thesis from American environmental, social and political historian Samuel P. Hays, “the enjoyment of nature is an integral part of the consumer society.”

Photo by Anh Vy

Hays had attributed contemporary environmentalism to evolving consumer behavior, echoing similar observations from esteemed economist John Kenneth Galbraith. In an article titled “From Conservation to Environment: Environmental Politics in the United States Since World War Two,” Hays traced the history of changing patterns of consumption—beginning in the late 19th century from a concentration on basic “necessities,” i.e. housing, food and clothing; followed in the early half of the 20th century to an increasing attention on “conveniences” in the form of durable goods, such as household appliances and automobiles; and culminating finally with a focus more toward “amenities” and “luxuries” as a direct result of a rise in discretionary income and a correlative increase in leisure time—pinning them to varied new sectors associated with consumption, like the “recreation economy,” the “leisure economy” and the “environmental economy.”

“In this scenario, the environment is up-cycled.”

“One of the distinctive aspects of the history of consumption is the degree to which what once were luxuries, enjoyed by only a few, over the years became enjoyed by many,” wrote Hays. “And so it was with environmental amenities. What only a few could enjoy in the 19th century came to be mass activities in the mid-20th.”

The nettle for environmentalism within this economic framework, unfortunately, is that those areas of more enviable amenity (read: our most treasured natural landscapes), and by proxy to a degree nature itself, become articles of mass consumption, subject to the same principles and driving economic forces as any other commodity or luxury good. In this scenario, the environment is up-cycled. The more exotic, remote and rare supplants the less-desirable, commonplace and humdrum. It is a process for which social media and photo-sharing sites especially are extremely efficient. If the Grand Tetons or Yosemite’s El Capitan are the archetypal crown of American conservation (evinced by the number of times either one or both appear on the calendars of some of the most prominent environmental organizations), then what hope exists for a 100,000-acre expanse of sagebrush? How can environmentalism possibly survive that level of self-competing rigor?

El Capitan. Photo by Arun Kuchibhotla

Instead, Guha argued that virtually every landscape on Earth is affected in one way or another by human interaction and that a preferential focus on the pristine is ineffective at addressing global environmental challenges because it ignores the surrounding problems, such as pollution and over-population. When imposed throughout the world, he claimed, the emphasis on wilderness is actually harmful. In regions like India, for example, which shares many geographic similarities and an ecological diversity comparable to the U.S., but with a radically dissimilar cultural and social history, including most importantly a long-settled and densely populated countryside, the situation is very near the reverse when compared to circumstances in America. It would be impossible to set aside broad swaths of wilderness without displacing large groups of native people.

One of the unspoken obstacles of the environmental movement, and perpetuated in many of the images we choose to post and share and like, is the lingering mythology of the American Wild West. Notions of wide open spaces that once may have kindled the fires of Manifest Destiny or lent a special component of religious vigor to ideas of Calvinistic predestination are deeply embedded in our history and cultural psyche. It may be an outdated ideology, but it still shapes our environmental biases today. It is what John Kenneth Galbraith coined the “conventional wisdom,” the only enemy of which is the march of obsolescence.

Photo by Florian Olivo.

I recently visited Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a popular New York City neighborhood known for its hipster energy and progressive attitudes, and whose majority of residents would identify, I strongly suspect, as an environmentalist, or at least supportive of environmental causes. And still, to my surprise, so much litter covered the streets and sidewalks, like nothing seen in the city since maybe the 1970s. I watched as a small girl struggled to propel a scooter against strong gusts of wind coming off the East River, her progress further hampered by an aerial assault of plastic bags, some wrapping around her front wheels, while her parents remained either unaware or indifferent. I wondered, what makes this environment—the East River, or for that matter, the Bronx River, near where I live now—less enviable than, say, the Snake River in Wyoming? Or is it the edict of our conventional wisdom that directs us to accept a set of values that would rank one above the other

“Familiarity may breed contempt in some areas of human behavior,” Galbraith wrote in the opening pages of his groundbreaking book, The Affluent Society, a cornerstone for understanding the sway of cultural attitudes on economic policy, “but in the field of social ideas it is the touchstone of acceptability.”

Without negating the large body of science that unanimously agrees preservation of wilderness and wildlife is essential to biological health, nor the value of the imagery to inspire its appreciation, the war for environmental well-being will be won in battles that not only strive to protect what we have but also restore what we have lost. Otherwise, it is hard to see how a preoccupation with one-sided points of view and accepted half-truths will prepare us for whatever 2050 will bring.

Feature image by Daniil Silantev

 

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