Douglas Tompkins

on .

INTERVIEW WITH Douglas Tompkins
("Foundation for Deep Ecology ," Head,; "Tompkins Conservation," Head, -

Born as branch of study in the second half of the nineteenth, Ecology, over time, has triggered the establishment of several movements and has long been the subject of a strong debate between who proposes an holistic approach and who proposes a reductionist one. Now it is possible to distinguish between “Superficial Ecology”, whose objective is to reduce pollution and preserve the natural environment without changing the “worldview” of Western culture(anthropocentric approach) and “Deep Ecology” (term coined by Arne Næss in 1973), that proposes a radical change in Western Culture, moving definitely from an anthropocentric approach to an eco-centric one. Many scientists, politicians and entrepreneurs are skeptics about the role “Deep Ecology” can play in improving human wellness and solving global problems. The reality is that the modern anthropocentric view is damaging human social and environmental relations. Can “Deep Ecology”, both as a discipline and as a movement, play a key role in redefining the position of the humankind on our planet? What are the main ecological questions we are going to face? Douglas Tompkins, head of both “The Deep Ecology Foundation” and “The Tompkins Conservation” answered to those and other questions.
Douglas Tompkins: Douglas Tompkins grew up in Millbrook, New York but headed west at 17 to ski race and climb. By the late 1980s Tompkins saw how the consumer culture that he’d helped promote as a businessman was a destructive manifestation of an industrial growth economy toxic to nature. So he decided to sell his stake in the fashion company Esprit that he’d cofounded, and to use his wealth to endow an environmental foundation with an activist orientation. In 1990 he created, along with the writer and activist Jerry Mander, the Foundation for Deep Ecology. Since moving to South America in 1990, he has worked to create large-scale protected areas in Chile and Argentina. Tompkins has supported activist groups in North and South America, India, Europe, Australia, and Russia and he has helped produce numerous campaign-related books on topics such as industrial forestry, factory farming, and coal mining.
Foundation for Deep Ecology: the Foundation for Deep Ecology (FDE) was created in 1990 by Douglas Tompkins, along with the writer and activist Jerry Mander. Since its inception, the foundation has embodied the idea that strategic philanthropy can support innovative, biocentric activists tackling the root causes - not merely the symptoms - of ecological destruction. The mission of the FDE is to support education and advocacy on behalf of wild Nature. FDE carries out this mission primarily through publications, grant-making, and support of campaigns on particular issues affecting the future of nature and people.
“We believe that stopping the global extinction crisis and achieving true ecological sustainability will require rethinking our values as a society. Present assumptions about economics, development, and the place of human beings in the natural order must be reevaluated. Nature can no longer be viewed merely as a commodity—a storehouse of resources for human use and profit. It must be seen as a partner and model in all human enterprise.”
Tompkins Conservation: The Tompkins Conservation organization (TC)has been creating national parksfor two decades, recovering imperiled wildlife, implementing ecological agriculture, promoting healthy local communities, and supporting leading-edge activism. In particular, in Chile and Argentina, the TC has developed a set of projects to create parklands, restore biodiversity, develop ecological agriculture, and promote leading-edge activism.According to the TC, the loss of biodiversity is the greatest crisis of our time. If humanity is to build a truly sustainable economy, we will have to abandon the premise of perpetual economic growth on a finite planet. Doing so will entail a shift from the globalized economy toward local economies adapted to particular places.

INTERVIEW - (December 2013)
The interview was realised in December 2013 and published in January 2014 - (Original interview in English)
Subject: Ecology - The role of Deep Ecology in our society; the main ecological questions; Tompkins Conservation ecological approach

Question 1: You are a strong advocate of “Deep Ecology”. Can you explain what does “Deep Ecology” mean for you and the progress this concept has done in our society since it was coined in the 1970s by Arne Næss?
Well, epistemology and world view, of course, are fundamental to the way we make decisions since values are founded upon how we have been acculturated to see and understand the world around us. Given the severity of the eco-social crisis within which humanity is presently snared, it stands to reason that we need to first make a deep systemic analysis of the very values we are basing our social, economic, cultural and educational on, and see if there is not something in the fundamental thinking that has led us down a path that is undoing the ecosphere and producing such profound negative side effects as global climate change and the extinction crisis, Mother of All Crises. Naess and others , to make things quick and to the point, postulate that ‘sharing the planet with other creatures’ is a fundamental criteria for the possibility to reverse present trends. It would not guarantee that humanity could reconcile its deep conflict with Nature, but it would make positive steps in that direction. To not do so would only deepen this crisis. This is hardly the end of what and adoption of a bio-centric, or eco-centric world view would imply, but perhaps the most succinct short explanation.
Question 2: One of the main criticism Ecologists make to modern society is the loss of social and environmental relations: men are becoming more and more isolated from both society and nature. What are the causes and the consequences of this tendency and what can institutions and citizens do to recover such relations?
Civilization, that is the trend towards human societies to live more and more in large clusters of towns, cities and giant urban areas not to mention with a techno-industrial economy and social structure founded on a mega-technological optimism, has, as we have seen, distanced humanity from the natural world. This distancing has decontextualized man from Nature and placed humanity into a kind of microcosm of its own making, thus losing the sense that Nature, the very essence of what makes the world work and upon which humanity ineluctably depends is important or must be conserved, preserved and held to be of the highest importance. Thus, leaving the fate of the planet and its health at risk, and of course humanity embedded within it equally if not more at risk. After all the planet will survive long after humanity is extinct.
Question 3: The strongest advocates of “Deep Ecology”, Arne Næss and Edward Goldsmith, strongly criticize “globalization”. Could you explain the main logic of this criticism. In particular, do you think “globalization”, and more in general “capitalism” should be completely eliminated or there are some elements that can be saved?
Well, there is not enough time nor space here to answer this except in broad terms, but again, similar to the anthropocentric world view that needs to be discarded as a failure, so would apply the same idea of the globalized economy and capitalism. In my view they need to be seen through the lens of technology criticism. The fundamental notion that all technologies, but perhaps more so, mega-technologies such as biotechnology, nuclear technology, industrial agriculture, high speed computation, satellite communications, television , chemistry, etc. once adopted oblige that society either continue or have installed a certain structure or architecture of elements or it can not develop or produce these kinds of economies. That is the technology comes with a certain built in and impossible to change or even reform characteristics that obliges society to comport itself in a certain way according to the way such a technology is produced or managed. It is easy to see if you take , for example, nuclear technology and to see that to have and to produce a nuclear energy industry certain main structures with in society must be present to produce a nuclear power plant, and to then to maintain it. A society would have to be a growth society, always getting bigger, it would have to be a society with narrow professional expertise and careers, it would have to be society of large capital, it would have to be highly centralized, it would have to be a military society, it would have to be a techno-industrial society. This inherent logic in whatever mega-technology a society adopts has been poorly , if at all, understood by the leadership. Thus development and adoption of what are socially and ecologically destructive technologies, primarily mega-technologies and centralizing and dominating technologies has led to the crises and predicament we now find ourselves. Capitalism would have to be considered a mega-technology and be rigorously analyzed under the terms of a systemic critique, with emphasis on “systemic”. Globalization is also an economic mega-technology and would/should have to undergo a systemic analysis to predetermine if it should or should not be adopted.
Question 4: One of the key elements in redefining human relations with all the Ecosystem is the use of Earth resources, in particular energy. Nowadays, the excessive use of fossil fuels seems to be the main cause of climate change and environmental problems. What do you think should be the right approach towards this issue with regards both the demand side (how much energy we use) and the supply side (what kind of energy we use to satisfy our energy needs)? This question seems, or should seem obvious to answer.
The purest expression of the current techno-industrial consumerist growth society has been the extinction crisis and global climate change. It would seem logical, reasonable, prudent and intelligent to therefore change development policy and seek a development that led humanity and the rest of Nature to a type of development that began immediately to ameliorate , reverse and eliminate this crisis. A crisis, which if it continued to unfold would signal the very extinction of humanity itself. That current course whose extrapolation is such that any school child can project it, would seem like sheer madness and suicide and defies reason and logic. Yet very very few, especially in leadership roles, are even presently capable of a systemic critique of the system itself. For that reason, energy as an issue, is discussed in only superficial terms. As a first step, however, the entire notion spoke above in the discussion of a technological critique would have to reenter the discussion. For the adoption of any given energy technology would bring with it an entire suite of issues and problems that add immeasurably to the social and ecological consequences and impacts that a given energy system would imply. All of society and Nature are then stuck with the entire enchilada of techno-industrial culture by the adoption of just one element of , say, photovoltaic solar panels. The mere manufacture of one panel requires, as Wes Jackson describes, the entire “scaffolding on civilization” to make it. That idea may take a few minute to sink in, but when it does, the “predicament” begins to make itself clear.
Question 5: You are the head of the “Tompkins Conservation”, a “Deep Ecology” based organization. Could you explain what the mission of this organization is? In particular, what are the progress and the main projects it has done since its birth?
Well, I am not sure even as an insider in our organization if we have indeed made “progress”. The notion of progress may be best described as “what is going on now”. But in terms of concrete projects we have , on the conservation side, formed two national parks in Chile and Argentina so far, with a third hopefully to be declared within months, and help form a provincial park in Misiones Province in Argentina, expanded the national park of Perito Moreno in Argentina with a gift of land. We have “in progress” six other national parks in both Chile and Argentina on the agenda where we would donate land to the national government to be incorporated into the national park system. In short, national park creation is our central focus. We also have done thousands of hectares of reforestation or restoration of damaged landscapes, aided scores of NGOs in activist work, and focused other efforts in the area of ecological agriculture.
Question 6: Among the “Tompkins Conservation” activities (Park creation, Landscape restoration, Ecological agriculture, Activism) what is the most important one in preserving Earth sources?
Well, if would seem logical following my line of thinking described above to focus on the most fundamental and relevant issue, which is the extinction crisis and focus on reversing that crisis, and to make an economy whose inherent logic would be to seek health to all the species that compose what we refer to as biodiversity and the processes and elements necessary to do that. Air, water, climate, ecosystems, etc. should be healthy and conducive to maintain the ecological integrity of the entire ecosphere to maintain richness (that is “lots of”) and diversity (“all”) species that, again, we are ethically obliged to share the planet with. If we make our development plans, and live lifestyles that lead to that, we would be a long way towards reversing this ‘mother of all crises’. Short of that, everything else is basically irrelevant. Plus the outcome of our techno-industrial consumerist society is neither desirable nor truly biologically sustainable. In other words, we are only going into the dustbin of geological history on our present trajectory.
Question 7: One of your activities is promoting Agro-ecological Agriculture. It seems that changing Agricultural practice from industrialized fossil fuels based ones towards more ecological ones (Agro-ecological Agriculture, Permaculture and so on) is the key issue in granting our environmental sustainability and feeding a growing population (see the United Nation Report, Trade and Environment Review 2013). What is your opinion on this issue? And what are the main projects the “Tompkins Conservation” have carried out on Agro-ecological Agriculture?
I have never thought that the high moral purpose of mankind was to “feed a FAST GROWING population”. This seems to be the mantra of the industrial agriculture lobby trying to sell agro chemicals, bioengineering schemes and artificial fertilizers, the notion of large scale and mechanization. All, I might add, are nails in the coffin of Mother Earth, by any reasonable analysis. Soil degradation, climate change, water overuse and contamination, unhealthy food, prodigious over spending of energy to produce food and deliver it, a few of the major negative direct impacts of this model of agriculture. So, it seems apparent that a new model of agriculture be embraced and implemented with governments pushing and demanding it, policy and law mandating it, such that we make a fully integrated food system that builds soils, puts more eyes to the hectare, reduces energy consumption in food production and distribution and produces healthy food. In our view unless we can turn around agriculture from its destructive ways, there will be no turning around the global climate crisis or again, EXTINCTION.
Question 8: The “Tompkins Conservation” has implemented much of its projects in South America. Here, one of the main issues is how to preserve the Amazon forest. Could you explain what the current state of this forest is? What are the main threats and what the best initiatives? In particular, what are “Tompkins Conservation” initiatives on the preservation of this forest?
We are not involved directly in Amazonian forest conservation so I am really not the one to consult on this. Although I am generally aware of this as an issue, I can not speak very eloquently except to say, that anyone knows, or everyone knows essentially that the loss of forest cover and the conversions taking place in the greater Amazon watershed have put a great deal of the area  in a virtual crisis mode.
Question 9: Apart from South America, there are other part of the world the “Tompkins Conservation” is trying to spread his approach in order to preserve Earth sources?
We are primarily focused on Chile and Argentina and with the time we have and the resources we have, this is almost more than we can handle. Some days we definitely feel it is WAY MORE than we can handle!!
Question 10: Finally, many scientists say that, within a century, if the humankind lifestyle doesn’t change, Earth living conditions will drastically change. What is your opinion on this matter? What are the main 5 actions to put in place in order to avoid a further deterioration of our planet?
There are movements afoot that speak of the NTE (Near Term Extinction) and many other (often highly denigrated) “doomsdayers” especially in light of new projections and implications of  global climate change since the science now is increasing the speed and depth of the crisis in their forecasts. Of course there is a lot of speculation and a lot of denial and the public, and any non specialist does not have a basis to make a good judgment and it takes serious scholarship to weed through the myriad reports and opinions to make ones own conclusion or interpretation of what may or may not be happening with climate change. What seems a sure thing though is that it would be smart, intelligent, wise, prudent, cautious, logical, reasonable, etc. to put everything in gear to reverse climate change conditions and see if even the possibility of a catastrophe of the scale that some suggest could happen could be averted. What if the projections and forecasts are wrong? Not much would be lost if indeed climate change turned out to be more of a theoretical threat than an actual one. However, in the process many other good things would happen, and those bi-products would help heal a great number of other ills. So, the downside to acting is practically negligible. 
Foundation for Deep Ecology  -