Today’s environmentalists are seen as decidedly different than the environmentalists of yesteryear. Ask a random sampling of Americans what an environmentalist looks like, and you’re likely to hear descriptions ranging from urban hipsters in skinny jeans, tree-hugging intellectuals or the vegan locavore who won’t eat anything that casts a shadow. My, how the times have changed. The modern environmental movement can trace it roots through the conservationists of the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the United States, the three most famous conservationists of this era were also foundational figures in the modern American conception of manliness: Henry David Thoreau, John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt.
Thoreau, for example, argued that in nature is to be found a force more awesome than even religion itself, and that our perception of nature’s beauty far outweighs any material benefit that we may derive from its exploitation. John Muir certainly agreed, as he gave up the material comforts of 19th century life, shipped off to California and built a cabin in what is now Yosemite National Park. He spent the rest of his life fighting to save pristine wilderness from the axes of human development and laid the groundwork for what is today our National Parks system. Roosevelt, on the other hand, believed that nature was certainly awe-inspiring, but as his frequent trophy-hunting trips demonstrate, he was not averse to using nature to his own benefit. Indeed, he allied himself with Gifford Pinchot, most famous for dueling with Muir over the Hetch Hetchy Dam Project which ultimately flooded the Hetch Hetchy Valley to bring water and electricity to the city of San Francisco.
Of the three, Roosevelt provides for the strongest correlation between environmentalism and manliness. Indeed, much of the American conception of manliness owes to Roosevelt’s influence. He pulled himself up by the “bootstraps,” overcoming childhood illness to succeed as a soldier, a politician and big game hunter. He embraced a “rugged” conception of the great outdoors as well as the burgeoning idea of strenuous exercise (in his day, boxing or horseback riding; today, he’d probably be a yoga zen master). While most modern environmentalists would recoil at his big game-hunting habits, there is no doubt that his influence has sinced shaped the “man’s” outlook on the great outdoors. And for his all his hard work, we have miles and miles of land set aside for outdoor recreation as well as mixed-use.
The History of Environmentalism and Conservation may be complex (albeit, very interesting), but the modern man can take heart. There are still quite a few things you can do to be green and be a man like T.R. at the same time. In no particular order, here are my favorites.
1. Take the Family Camping
If you’re an avid camper, then you know what I’m talking about. If not, picture this: Man drives family into the woods, pitches a tent, builds a small campfire and whips out his trusty pocket knife to sharpen sticks for roasting hot dogs and marshmallows (preferably not at the same time). There’s no better way to combine your rugged individualism, your ability to build things and your knack for protecting your family from bears and such. So driving to your campsite and lighting a fire might not be the “greenest” things in the world, but there’s an ulterior motive. You’ll be introducing a new generation of boys and girls to the transcendent power of nature and hopefully, instilling in them an ethos that these places must be protected. Some of my greatest memories from childhood involve camping trips with my family, and they’re the primary reason why I’m an environmentalist today.
2. Ditch the Razor, Grow a Beard
May not be suitable for all (i.e. patchy facial hair types or those actively looking for a job). Modern environmentalism is all about sustainability, which is founded on doing more with less. If you’re a shaver, hopefully you’re making maximum use of your razors, because if you’re using disposables and frequently replacing them, then you’re helping to create a landfill problem. With a pair of scissors and a more efficient and occasional razor use, you can keep them from piling up in the trash, and you’ll be saving a bunch of water too. Added bonus - What’s more manly than a good beard?
3. Build Something
I’m a weekend carpentry warrior, and I love looking for used or scrap wood to build something cool. Problem is, I’m not very good at it, so all I’ve got to show for it is a crooked greenhouse made out of bamboo, but you get the idea. Men love building things, and if you’ve got talent, there are few better way to prove your male bonafides than to skip the furniture store and build your own deck furniture. Again, you’ll be making more out of less and promoting a culture of sustainability. If you can’t build it, consider buying it used or going to a place that repurposes wood and metal like my favorite furniture store on earth, the Wooden Duck.
4. Use Manly Propulsion
I understand that dudes are supposed to like cars. I do too, but for different reasons. We recently bought a Prius V, the more wagon-ish version of Toyota’s popular Prius model, and I’ve been having a blast trying to get the max gas-mileage out of it. It’s fun, but if you’re a gearhead, it may not apply. What’s more fun to me, and much healthier too, is to ditch the car altogether and rely on my own legs to get me where I’m going. Walking, Biking and skateboarding, that is. If you live in an urban area, this is entirely attainable. It will keep you looking like “in-shape” man, as opposed to “Peter Griffin” man and prevent needless hours of road rage trying to navigate rush hour traffic. Added bonus - When you get “doored” on your bicycle, you’ll have the bruises and broken bones to prove it. I know from personal experience (always wear a helmet).
5. Supply Your Own Food
We used to describe men in terms of “provider.” That’s marginally changed since women began entering the workforce en-masse in the mid-twentieth century. This is a very good development (please don’t misunderstand me), but for the man who pines for the days of providership, there are options. For example, you can still grow your own food, the way 95% of human males used to. Plant a garden with your favorite stuff, learn how to tend it and reap the rewards. Sooner or later, you’ll want to figure out how to grill vegetables, because it’s all the rage now.
This gets ethically trickier here, but hunting and fishing aren’t antithetical to a green lifestyle. If you’re hunting and fishing in a sustainable manner, then it’s a lot better for the environment than eating farmed beef or fish. Plus, you can say it’s locally sourced. When hunting or fishing, please observe all rules and regulations, and if you’re fishing just for sport, observe catch-and-release. Added bonus - like camping, getting out to hunt or fish can give you and yours a better perspective on the environment and the ecosystems in which we live, and hopefully lead to a more environmentally friendly lifestyle in the future.
I’m certain I missed a ton of points here, and I’d be grateful if you let me know what you think the man can do for the environment!
Robert Nelson is blogger-in-chief at Dude, Sustainable!. Find us on Google+ or on Facebook.