We ourselves came from the forces that are in the wilderness, yet we haven't the beginning of an idea how many answers there are to the questions we haven't even learned how to ask in and of the wilderness. That's part of what Thoreau had in mind when he said, "In wildness is the preservation of the world." I've been trying to get that message through to the people who think wilderness is just where the hardy, wealthy few make footprints for their own pleasure. Anybody who thinks that would evaluate the Mona Lisa by weighing the paint. Wilderness is terribly important as our window to how the life force works and always has worked-quite successfully, at a very low hourly cost.
Mariah: What forms of commercial or economic development do you condone for the future?
Brower: I condone, particularly as I watch the resource bank being overdrawn rather heavily, going back where we were with building, and going into recycling, refurbishing, renovation, and retrofitting. We've already put some good bones into our past construction, and those bones offer us the very challenging opportunity to keep a lot of people busy making old structures usable, and delightful. I'd like to see more of this.
I would certainly like to see the development of the railroads. I would love to see the [Army] Corps of Engineers stop pouring concrete into rivers, and be given the assignment of getting the railroads back into operation. The Corps has the engineering skill; it knows how to get the contracts; it has the political muscle to get the job done.
I would like to see the Bureau of Reclamation reclaim land, for the first time in its history, rather than just overcome deserts, and inundate fertile valleys. I'm not against all the Bureau has done, but there a few things I'd like to have undone, like Glen Canyon Dam and Hetch Hetchy Dam. I'd like to see the Bureau's emphasis shifted to getting lands that have been exhausted by poor agricultural practices back into operation. I'd like to see the Bureau of Reclamation build a nationwide constituency, and reclaim abused land in Tennessee, West Virginia, California, and Utah.
Mariah: Does it bother you that environmentalists always seem to be telling people what they're doing wrong instead of what they should be doing right?
Brower: No, it doesn't. When we say it's wrong to build dams, we're saying it's right to have free-flowing rivers; there are two sides to every coin. I think it's the opponents of conservation who like to say it's negative to want to save something-I think it's positive. There have been times in our past when thrift was looked upon as a virtue.
FOE's new book, Progress as if Survival Mattered, goes into some 18 sectors of society and tries to outline how each of those sectors would be operated if we had more conservation conscience in them, as if we thought it is fiscally responsible to leave the environment with as great a net worth when we pass it on as when we acquired it-to see if we can operate the environment, the Earth, while we are here as brief tenants, as we do a public trust. A trustee at the bank has got to make sure the beneficiary gets all that's coming to him or he can be hauled into court. I think the corporate and government managers of land, and the private managers of resources, should operate by the same ethic.
Mariah: Do you believe it's more important for people to adapt their personal lifestyles toward more ecologically conscious living, or to fight social or legal environmental battles?
Brower: It's a good idea to do both. I think personal lifestyles can be changed to great advantage. And everybody should fight an environmental battle now and then-don't take them all on, because it's very exhausting; take on one or two that move you.
As for changes in lifestyle, I've seen for myself the advantages, when I wanted to go to Nepal. As I approached 64, I decided I'd better go fairly soon or it might not be possible. When I was 63 �, I started training: I wanted to go to Nepal the following October. I pushed food and drink farther away than usual, and that was helpful. But the main thing I did to get rid of some weight was to start walking down my hill in Berkeley to the bus a mile and a half away, 800 vertical feet lower, rather than drive my care to work. As a result, I put 600 miles on my boots and 6,000 fewer miles on my car.
Counting parking fees, depreciation, gas, and bridge tolls, I saved about $3,000 in those ten months-which more than paid for the trip. I also saved myself from carrying 25 extra pounds, and I lost 22 more pounds on the trip itself. Now I'm as light as I was when I was married, 34 years ago. My wife thinks that's pretty good, and so do I.
I had intended to retire at about the age of 66, or maybe sooner, but I came back feeling that I wouldn't retire until I was 128. I felt that good. It is just amazing what your body will do if you change your lifestyle that much. It doesn't hurt to walk; it's good to walk.
Mariah: What outdoor activities do you enjoy now?
Brower: I try to get to the Sierras, because they're still my home away from home. I started going there when I was about six, and I don't want to quit. We have a few places we can get to, my wife and I, or one or two of the kids will come. We can experience the wilderness in a rather short weekend simply by going off-trail. When you get up high in the Sierras, it's easy to do that. The off-trail country is very beautiful.