Road to Survival: Empowering Wisdom the Forgotten Book That Shaped the Modern Environmental Movement

At the essence of his query into the crucial motive forces of our civilizations course is Vogts insistence that while much is braked with the exploitive consumerism behind the worlds federal government and market, much more depends upon and is mendable by the concerted collective action of common individuals. In a humbling testament to the sluggish work of cultural modification and civilizational course-correction, it would take nearly a century for his ideas to come actionable and alive in such pillars of environmental responsibility as the Paris Agreement, the Green New Deal, and Greta Thunbergs global school climate strike motion.

At thirty, Vogt quickly left the city for Latin America, taking a trip on a Peruvian commission to study bird populations on the guano islands. In the three years he invested there, laboring in the salted air on the hot barren rocks, he got to an empirical evidence of Muirs insight– Vogt found that when changes in ocean currents lessened the population of plankton and anchovies, countless birds fled the islands in search of food, leaving their helpless chicks to pass away in “pitiful, collapsed, downy clumps” that broke his heart.

Art from If You Come to Earth by Sophie BlackallVogt spent the next decade and a half developing these ideas by feasting on many books and scientific papers, talking with researchers and sea diplomats, captains and farmers, presidents and sheepherders in Patagonia, engineers and trappers in Manitoba.

During his long healing from paralytic polio as a kid, William had actually fallen for the natural world, leaving his confinement through books about the wilderness and its fascinating animals. A century before the Oxford Childrens Dictionary discarded lots of words related to nature as unimportant to the creativity and its prosthesis in language, the little bedridden kid grew specifically enchanted by the feathered creatures of free flight that he fulfilled on the page.

He saw in this heartbreak a mini of the entire– the complex interlacing of creaturely destinies on a world of limited resources, growing populations, and limitless interconnectedness of needs.

A century after the trailblazing conservationist John Muir observed that “when we try to choose anything by itself, we discover it hitched to everything else in deep space,” and half a century before Maya Angelou urged us in her cosmic clarion call to see that “we, this people, on this kithless and small world” need to correct our course prior to we damage ourselves and our kith-hitched world, the ecologist and conservationist William Vogt (May 15, 1902– July 11, 1968) made up a masterwork of admonition and actionable vision that formed the ethos of the modern environmental motion and emboldened the generation of pioneers who set it into motion.

Art by Jackie Morris from The Lost Words by Robert MacfarlaneLiterature remained his website into life as he set out on a literary career in New York. But nature beckoned, the birds beckoned.

William VogtIn an age when mankind related to the rest of nature as a world parallel to our own– a world at finest gone to in enjoyable adventures, at worst reduced to extractable resources to serve human needs– Vogt firmly insists that “ecological health is among the indispensables” in the “blooming of human joy and wellness.” A century after Ernst Haeckel created the term ecology and a decade before Rachel Carson made it a household word, Vogt makes use of his island discovery to contour the totality of Earths environmental interdependence:

Extreme steps are inevitable. Above whatever else, we must rearrange our thinking. If we are to get away the crash we must desert all idea of living unto ourselves. We form an earth-company, and the great deal of the Indiana farmer can no longer be isolated from that of the Bantu … A wearing down hillside in Mexico or Yugoslavia affects the living standard and possibility of survival of the American individuals … Todays white bread might force a break in the levees, and flood New Orleans next spring. This years wheat from Australias wearing down slopes might flare into a Japanese war three years.

Art from If You Come to Earth by Sophie BlackallRising from the wakeful pages is the assurance, simultaneously empowering and disquieting with its weight of duty, that “we the people” is not some pile of abstract others however the amount total of each and every one of us as concrete and individual agents of modification.

In a chapter appropriately titled “History of Our Future,” Vogt composes:

When I write “we” I do not indicate the other fellow. I mean everyone who checks out a newspaper printed on pulp from vanishing forests. I indicate every man and female who consumes a meal drawn from steadily shrinking lands. Everyone who flushes a toilet, and consequently contaminates a river, wastes fertile raw material and assists to decrease a water table. Everybody who places on a wool garment originated from overgrazed varieties that have actually been cut by the little hoofs and gullied by the rains, sending overflow and topsoil into the rivers downstream, flooding cities hundreds of miles away.

Composing shortly prior to he became National Director of Planned Parenthood– a position he would hold for more than a years in parallel with his conservation work– Vogt adds:

Especially do I indicate males and females in overpopulated countries who produce extreme numbers of kids who, unhappily, can not escape their fate as captives to the forces of anguish and disaster that lower upon the horizon of our future.
[…] The direction of these curves and the suffering they compose throughout the earth are not most likely to be altered in the near future. Fantastic masses of people have a preponderantly young population; as they come into the reproducing age we must, regardless of all possible efforts short of generalized massacre, expect human numbers to increase for a time.

In an admonition of astonishing prescience, Vogt firmly insists that changing the pattern requires revising our past ideals to calibrate them to an evolving ecological reality:

The freebooting, rugged independent, whose nerve, creativity, and vitality contributed a lot of good to the building of our nation (together with the bad), we need to now acknowledge, where his activities ruin resources, as the Enemy of the People he has ended up being … Above all, we need to find out to know– to feel to the core of our beings– our reliance upon the earth and the riches with which it sustains us. We can no longer think valid our assumption that we reside in self-reliance.

Art by Aurélia Fronty from Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees by Franck PrévotWriting shortly before Rachel Carson penned her prescient open letter to America, insisting that “the genuine wealth of the Nation lies in the resources of the earth– soil, water, forests, minerals, and wildlife,” Vogt calls for long-term thinking and broad-range sensation:

We must– everybody, ladies, men, and children– reorient ourselves with relation to the world in which we live … We must pertain to understand our past, our history, in terms of the soil and water and forests and turfs that have actually made it what it is. We must see the years to come in the frame that makes area and time one.

In a world he thought about currently overcrowded and resource-strained by the 2 billion individuals populating it– a population that would triple within a generation– Vogt adds:

As we are crowded together … on the diminishing surface of the globe, we have actually set in movement historical forces that are directed by our total environment.

Art by Ping Zhu from The Snail with the Right HeartHalf a century after Alfred Russel Wallace released his prophetic prescription for civilizational course-correction– an admonition that fell on deaf ears at the beginning of the twentieth century and would stay a point of willful deafness in the environment rejection of the twenty-first– Vogt makes an impassioned and empowering attract the only substantive force of modification in the grand plan of any society and civilization:

If we ourselves do not govern our fate, strongly and brave, no one is going to do it for us. Democratic federal governments are not likely to set forth on such a steep and rocky path unless individuals lead the method.
[…] So that individuals shall not misguide themselves, find further aggravation through quack nostrums, battle their way into blind alleys, it is crucial that this global issue be made known to all mankind. The human race is captured in a situation as concrete as a set of shoes 2 sizes too small. We should comprehend that, and stop blaming financial systems, the weather condition, bad luck, or callous saints. This is the start of wisdom, and the very first action on the long road back.

Art from If You Come to Earth by Sophie BlackallVogt spent the next decade and a half developing these ideas by devouring many books and scientific papers, talking with scientists and sea farmers, diplomats and captains, presidents and sheepherders in Patagonia, engineers and trappers in Manitoba. We form an earth-company, and the lot of the Indiana farmer can no longer be separated from that of the Bantu … An eroding hillside in Mexico or Yugoslavia impacts the living standard and probability of survival of the American people … Todays white bread may force a break in the levees, and flood New Orleans next spring. Great masses of people have a preponderantly young population; as they come into the breeding age we must, despite all possible efforts brief of generalized massacre, expect human numbers to increase for a time. Democratic governments are not most likely to set forth on such a steep and rocky course unless people lead the method.
That the people will not misguide themselves, find further frustration through quack nostrums, combat their method into blind streets, it is crucial that this world-wide problem be made understood to all humanity.

For a modern counterpart to Vogts Road to Survival, see the outstanding anthology of policy, poetry, and science All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, shining a kaleidoscope of actionable point of view by women leading the method on the roadway Vogt imagined, then review Eve Enslers extraordinary letter of apology to Mother Earth.