David Brower Reflects on Working Toward Peace

What I'm working the hardest on now, if I can say hardest at my age, is trying to establish a global CPR service: C for conservation, P for preservation, and R for restoration. You can sum it up in a ten-second sound bite: Conserve the golden eggs carefully. Preserve the goose or there will be no more golden eggs. And if you've already damaged the goose, get going on restoration.

It comes down to some fundamental requirements. Don't get rid of anything you can't replace, for example, such as species. Of course, we're getting rid of one species about every twenty minutes, because we don't understand the true value of nature. The forest service, for example, thinks the value of wilderness is the number of human footprints we put in it. That's like evaluating the Mona Lisa by weighing its paint.

I like to say that before we start criticizing capitalism, we ought to try it. We don't factor the value of nature and its services into the market equation. A wonderful, eye-opening book edited by Gretchen C. Daily called Nature's Services puts it in perspective. Every year we use roughly $33 trillion worth of nature's services throughout the world's civilizations, and we make little or no effort to pay any of that back. We just use it. Look at the service a bee provides us, for example. A bee doesn't charge hourly fees or anything else. But if we lose the bees, we're not going to eat. And the pollinators are disappearing. I just found that out in my own backyard. Last year we had lots and lots of flowers; this year, somehow, we have almost none. And with no crop, we're in trouble.

Let's not run our credit out on the earth. If we use $33 trillion worth of credit every year and don't pay anything back, someone's going to say, "I'm sorry, your credit line is exhausted." And when we lose the wilderness-if we lose it-the world becomes a cage.

Even if we know little about the wilderness outside, even if we've never left the city, we can still revel at what's going on in ourselves and where we came from. The patient egg and the lucky sperm-from these two entities comes everything necessary for you and for me, everything needed to be a person. You needed to be nourished by your mother, kept warm and safe until you emerged, and nurtured. But everything you needed to know comes from two cells, two seeds: How many eyelashes do you need? How do you build a retina? How do you build windshield wipers to keep the eyes from getting too dry? How do you build an immunity system? (At eighty-seven, my immune system has been developing for so long I hardly have colds anymore. The grim reaper's not going to get me with something little like a cold. He'll have to get me some other way.)

All this works by itself. It wasn't invented in the Industrial Revolution. It wasn't the result of the Renaissance. Man's appearance on this earth isn't responsible for these systems. Everything now alive relates directly to when life began, a direct outcome of failures and successes along the way. Every one of us alive now is the result of three and a half billion years of pure success in the transmission of life's magic. And this happened in wilderness, because that's all there was. It's the ultimate encyclopedia, and we must stop degrading it.

I would like to see human beings honoring each other and the intelligence with which we were born-recognizing our wonderful, delightful variation. No two people ever will be or ever were alike. That difference is one of the exciting things we can all celebrate.

When I was about eleven, I read the entire Bible. I've forgotten what I read, and I certainly didn't understand it, but now I keep being reminded of some of my favorite quotes. My current favorites are from Isaiah: "Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy" (Isaiah 9:3) and "Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth" (Isaiah 5:8). These verses point to two things-that God doesn't like sprawl, and that God does like wilderness.

The problem with the Ten Commandments, though, is that they are all about how to take care of each other, which is very important, but they don't have one suggestion about how to take care of the earth-not a word. Maybe we should take Father Thomas Berry's advice: "Put the Bible on the shelf for twenty years, and read the earth." There is a vast amount of information out there and it's pretty fascinating stuff. Once you get even a little skilled at looking at it and trying to understand it, you will never find life dull again. We need to work with the earth, and do some global CPR: conserve, preserve, and restore.

Note from photographer Michael Collopy

I photographed David in his yard above the fog in the Berkeley hills. David has lived in his house nestled in the redwoods since 1947. Behind him on the right is the lacelike anise, or "lady's chewing tobacco," one of David's favorite plants because it attracts the western swallowtail butterfly.



Resources for Teachers and Students