Interview with Edward Abbey by Eric Temple

Subject: Environmentalism
Themes: 20th Century Environmental Issues
Age groups: High School
Resource type: Websites

In 1982, Eric Temple visited Edward Abbey with the intention of interviewing him. Writes Temple, "When I arrived, Ed was out chopping firewood in the yard. The first thing he did was light up a cigar and offer one to me. He was very gracious and we spent a couple of hours doing the interview. I had a female assistant with me and Abbey lit up whenever he made eye contact with her."

Here is an excerpt from this fascinating interview that can be found on the site. To read the entire transcript, CLICK HERE.

Eric Temple: What is the future of environmentalism as you see it?

Edward Abbey: Well I think that it has a very good future. The worse the environment gets, the more popular environmentalism becomes. People like James Watt do us a lot of good to spur interest in environmentalism and boost membership in all sorts of conservation organizations. People always get concerned about things that they are in danger of losing,..though it often comes too late. I think America has led the way in this field. We are probably the most environmentally conscious, big industrial nation on earth, getting the parks established over a century ago. First nation on earth to do that. Good thing we did too. I'm not much of a prophet. I suppose the conflict between conservation and development will grow more intense each year with the pressure of a growing population and economic demands.

That's all I can see in the future, more conflict, more arguments, more shouting. Possibly if the economy stays in a recession long enough, a majority of us will gradually adapt to a simpler, a more frugal way of life. Not make such enormous demands on the land, the air, and the water. But there's so many of us in the United States already, 240 million I guess and still growing. The rate of growth is supposed to be slowing down, but the total keeps growing- When I was a kid in school, we were taught that the population of the United States was 120 million, as if that were a fixed, permanent figure. And now its apparently just about doubled. And all of us want to maintain our American standards of living. We like having these nice little houses, electricity, running water, cars and pickup trucks and motor boats; it's hard to give up all of these technological toys. We wouldn't have to give them up in fact, if we had a small population. I guess I'm sort of a nut on the subject of planned parenthood. I think we should plan it a lot more intensively. I'd be in favor of revising the income tax structures in such a way as to reward single people, childless couples, penalize heavy breeders. Make people that have more than say two children pay extra taxes instead or less. Make that a national public policy to encourage small families.

And that means cutting off immigration too. Restricting it to a very low level. These are very delicate, touchy subjects, especially here in Arizona. And that's why I bring it up. I don't like to talk about it. Makes me sound like a racist and an elitist. But I talk about it because apparently no one else will. The politicians won't touch the subject of course. And the chamber of commerce doesn't care, they welcome a growing population. That means more demands for more goods . . . more extensive exploitation of the land and water and the air. Strip mining the ranges, and clear cutting the forests, and damming the last of the free-flowing rivers. But I think if we're going to have a decent future in this country, and I'm only speaking of the United States, the rest of the world is ... most of it is in much worse shape than we are. If our children and grandchildren are going to have a decent life in this country, we're going to have to reduce the total population gradually by attrition, letting old farts like me die off... cutting off immigration, especially illegal immigration, gradually adopting, adapting to a simpler lifestyle... doing without more things. Giving up all of our gadgets... or making them so expensive that you have to choose. So you could have a car or a pickup truck but not both, that's kind of ridiculous. Things like that, a gradual ... I wouldn't call it a reducing of the standard of living, but a simplifying of our way of living. And I think it would be good for us ... be good for us to do more walking, or to ride bicycles to school instead of driving a car.

These are old ideas of course, people have been preaching them now for ten or fifteen years. I don't have any new ideas on the subject ... just repeat the old ones. I think there's a great popular support for these basic ideas . . . great popular support for environmentalism, all the polls, all the elections seem to suggest it. Most of the voters want their clean air, they want their clean air laws not only maintained, but strengthened. Most people seem to want our wilderness areas preserved. Most people apparently would prefer to live more outdoorsy sort of life. To got away from the big cities, and even the suburbs now. Apparently more and more people are moving back to small towns or even to farms if they can manage it. But I think environmentalism has popular support, has majority support, but we don't have the money... we don't have the power to translate that popular support into political action or at least not into enough political action. Power still lies in the hands of corporations and those with lots of money to throw around. The fate of the Arizona bottle bill is a good example of that. I imagine that if the bottle bill had been limited to a fair, public debate ... without the huge advertising against it, that probably a majority would have voted for it. I think next time, four years from now, it will be passed. If we don't have a federal bottle bill in the meantime. But that's just one example, a rather trivial example of the reforms we need.