Mountainfilm In Telluride: Redefining “Wild"

Spring has sprung. Off-season in Telluride means (relatively) empty streets, but heads filled with thoughts of the summer festival season just around the corner. The kick-off is, of course, Mountainfilm in Telluride, where one of the featured (returning. They all do) guests is M. Sanjayan, executive vice president and senior scientist at Conservation International, who specializes in human well-being and conservation, Africa, wildlife ecology and media outreach and public speaking on conservation issues. Below is his blog, which appeared on Mountainfilm’s website, about “Redefining ‘Wild.’”

M Sanjayan

M Sanjayan

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed The Wilderness Act. In that same year, he also dramatically escalated the war in Vietnam. As Errol Morris’ Oscar-winning Vietnam documentary The Fog of War details, America vastly underestimated the resolve and desires of the local population, and that is a key reason why we lost the war.

I fear we may be at risk of losing the war to save nature for a similar reason.

The environmental movement has long been dominated by an understanding that “untrammeled” nature is the end goal and that people are generally bad for nature. This perception is right there in The Wilderness Act itself, which defines “wilderness” as a place absent from the influences of humans: “where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”  Humans, in this view, are separate from nature.

Yet reality is that Earth has entered a new epoch that scientists call the Anthropocene, literally meaning “Earth in the age of man.” I’ve just returned from an epic two-year quest to witness the state of wild places in this new epoch for a new PBS and National Geographic TV series called “Earth: The New Wild” (airing in spring 2015). What I found is that the wild can thrive, but only if we bring people into the picture.

Take one of the most diverse places on Earth, for example: the Ecuadorean Amazon, where amidst this rainforest cathedral dripping with biodiversity are people, the Waorini…

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