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Excerpt | On Digital Advocacy

letter to outdoorists (that's you)

I believe every outdoorist (any human, really) has a responsibility to take care of the planet around us.

Dear outdoorist,

Whether we hike, bike, camp, climb, hunt, ride, paddle, paint, garden—whatever way we get out and enjoy nature, we leave an impact on the outdoors every time we step outside. Every step our boots take down dusty trails, every bolt we clip draws into, every time we cruise down a dirt road, till the soil, we leave an impact.

There’s a trail winding through my favorite place on earth, the San Rafael Swell, cutting straight through miles and miles of cryptobiotic soil fields. Crypto, as it’s affectionately called, is a living soil crust composed of organisms like algae, fungi, and cyanobacteria. It holds the entire desert together, provides arid plants with a rare home to root in, and takes decades to form. Black earthen castles spread across the landscape like entire tiny kingdoms, and a single footstep can crush a hundred years of careful growth in an instant.

The Goodwater Rim Trail slices through fifteen miles of the soil crust’s home like a clean scar, either side of a sandy single track flanked by blackened biotic expanses. The building of this trail, and even our daily use of it, means inevitable harm to the cryptobiotic soil—but would I have become such an advocate for this organism had I not had access to a trail that would lead me to it? What is the cost of creating an advocate? Is it worth it?

I think so. Though I certainly busted my fair share of crust before I knew better, learning about the sacred nature of cryptobiotic soil changed and deepened my relationship with this landscape I have come to be an advocate for. I began to consider the many layers of this ecosystem, beyond the scope of my own recreation.

I began to witness.

Miniature castles of black, white, and pink crypto towering along sandstone hillsides, soil sentinels holding the land together through wind and rain. A bizarre cocktail of algae, moss, lichen, bacteria, and fungi—all swirled together to make the desert a sustainable home. The soils became a friend to me. If you asked someone to write a list of the things I love, there’s a strong chance they’d scribble “crypto” toward the top alongside my dog, Spaghetti, and my gardens. Maybe you know what I mean. Maybe you, too, have a natural companion you’ve grown to recognize and adore. Perhaps it’s juicy banana slugs creeping through the redwoods, or the way Spanish moss drapes itself down cypress trees in the south. Whatever it is, that thing pulling your heartstrings and tugging you to do something—that feeling is worth putting your boots on the trail for.

The tricky thing is: regardless of our love for these places, we’re still having an impact on them—which means we have a responsibility, a sacred duty, to give back to them.

It’s easy for us to point fingers at extractive industries like oil and gas.

“That’s bad for the planet,” we confidently accuse.

Drilling on public lands? An obvious negative impact on the land and a resounding “no thanks!” from us. Outdoorists, however, aren’t absolved from our own impacts just because we hold beloved affection for these natural spaces. The scales of impact are different, of course, and nuance is a necessary companion to every aspect of this conversation—but I said what I said.

We have an impact on the land every time we step outside. That matters.

My first lessons as a student of Earth’s curriculum came before my ability to keep memories, but the idea that

nature and all its creations should be respected and loved was a constant institution in my household. My mother wrapped earthworms around my fingers while I played in the sticky dirt in Miami. My father taught me how to save frogs from the pool filter, and we’d walk down to the canal to gently release them. I spent summers at a Girl Scout camp covered with potato vines where bugs and birds always had the right of way. I was taught early on that we take only memories and leave only footprints.

But even footprints aren’t leaving nothing.

Outdoor recreation inherently involves impact on the land. Whether we feel at ease justifying it or not, that’s the simple truth. Extractive industries aren’t the only ones taking from the land. Climbers drill anchors into cliff faces, hikers build zigzagging trails, paddlers shape riverbanks for takeouts, campers affect vegetation every time we set up our tents.

This is not to demonize outdoor recreationalists or try to conflate our individual impacts to the detrimental scale of the oil and gas industry––but we must acknowledge them nonetheless. I believe that once we take honest ownership of our impact on the outdoors, we’re more empowered to do something effective about it.

If we are to be moved to protect these places with all our might, we must first fall in love with the land. We must connect with it; the land must become our holy place. And for more people to sustainably experience these places and fall in love with them too, development and infrastructure must happen.

We need more outdoor advocates, yes, but those budding advocates will need parking, bathrooms, visitor centers, and safe ways to visit. It’s a messy and imperfect system, but problem-solving is a core pastime for adventurers, right?

A key challenge to these notions is this: individuals cannot be held responsible for solving all the ailments of this mistreated planet. The brunt of the climate crisis should be on the shoulders of industry and corporations.

You will not save the planet. I won’t either.

That’s okay.

Release yourself from that burden immediately.

The onus to radically invest in the heaviest labor of solving the climate crisis is on corporations (looking at you, outdoor industry), period. It’s the people, the communities, the individuals that will demand change from that corporate level. After a decade of working in the outdoor recreation industry, I’ve grown weary of the idea that change will be sparked from the top down.

Change will be demanded by the people, who will push the corporations (run by individual people like us, mind you) to enact the scale of change needed to stop this planet from erupting into a fiery hellscape. It shines clearly to me that positive impact will radiate from the bottom up.

If we want to change the corporate supply, it’s up to the people to make our demands.

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