3. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite was set aside as a national park in 1890, and since then, we haven’t done a spotless job preserving and managing it. There’s even a Starbucks in the park! We’ll discuss the economic inefficiencies, inequities, and environmental degradation currently taking place at Yosemite and consider ways to both solve these specific issues and think about the land where we live. We’re joined by Leo Brother (Elon University), Velina Georgi (College of Charleston), and special guest Dr. Sarah Phillips: Professor of History at Boston University and author of This Land, This Nation: Conservation, Rural America, and the New Deal.
In The Office episode entitled “Conflict Resolution,” Michael, while solving an office dispute, insists that a compromise is a suboptimal outcome. Though his method of solving the dispute in the episode is ridiculous, he’s right about compromises.
My favorite environmental issues to discuss are issues that pit our values against each other. When an issue affects the economy and equity for multiple groups and the environment in multiple ways, I think it makes for such a fun discussion. We got a taste of that in “Traffic,” but in “Yosemite National Park,” we get really intricate really fast. Buckle up! And like Michael Scott, I’m of the mindset that we don’t need to compromise one value for another. No solution is perfect, but we can try to improve them all! And talking with people of different backgrounds and political views is really helpful for considering the issue from every angle, as we discuss and discover in the episode.
The writing process for this episode was, in a word, weird. I wanted to do an episode on land use, but that didn’t make sense unless I focused on a particular piece of land. Hetch Hetchy is what drew me to pick Yosemite National Park. I actually learned about Hetch Hetchy in Dr. Phillips’ course “History of American Environmental Politics” which I took at BU last fall (and, might I add, turned out to be one of my favorite college courses). But having never actually been to Yosemite, I was in an odd place. I did a lot of research to try to understand some of the issues facing the park from every angle, and what I thought would be a more clear-cut simple conversation turned into possibly the most complicated one yet.
Dr. Phillips provided such a useful historical framework to build a foundation for our conversation, and Velina and Leo did a fantastic job of looking at the issue from every angle, acknowledging how complicated and intersectional it is, and suggesting very innovative solutions. I hadn’t actually read much about privatization of parks until I read Leo’s interview questions before the call, and I scrambled to learn what I could in advance! This episode brought a healthy amount of disagreement, but also a lot of common ground in the end.
As Michael Scott would say, compromise is not the best we can do, for Yosemite or for any issue. We can innovate, gather new perspectives, and find ways to protect each and every one of our values. It may not be perfect, but it’s progress.
Next time you visit a park or campsite or lake or other outdoor space you care about, I hope this episode helps you grapple with the kind of thinking required to maintain it. Preservation and conservation, in particular, are great tools to consider land use in more philosophical terms. Land isn’t easy to manage, but when we succeed in protecting it, there’s a host of benefits to reap.
Thanks for listening! Stay tuned for Episode 4 next Friday!