“Effective protest is grounded in anger, and we are not consciously angry. Anger nourishes hope and fuels rebellion, it presumes a judgement, presumes how things ought to be and aren’t, presumes a caring. Emotions remain the best evidence of belief and value.” – Jack Turner, The Abstract Wild: A Rant
Have you ever walked into a place and been immediately taken aback by its overwhelming power? I’ve been fortunate enough in my life to have felt that often. These instances stand out clearly to me because of the uninhibited emotion they provoke so naturally.
My classmate, Shane, and I took a walk along the Yellowstone River after climbing out of the vans following our drive from White Sulphur Springs. We had just driven into a glowing golden valley with the Yellowstone River perfectly framing our campsite and it was all a bit overwhelming. At this particular moment I told Shane I was angry. She was confused, which is understandable because this place is unbelievably beautiful and instead of being in a classroom, I was galloping through Paradise Valley just a few hours after getting cinnamon rolls from some copper miners. I had no business being angry. After thinking about it I decided anger probably wasn’t the correct emotion, but I was feeling something strong for sure. I was angry (for lack of a better word) because this place is stupidly beautiful and there is no way my camera or my mind and memories will ever do it justice. I want this place to remain this unfairly beautiful, I want other places of the same caliber to retain their charm and stunning beauty and I want everyone to be able to see these places and feel this power I felt at that moment.
We’ve seen the extremes when it comes to water quality. The Missouri River has been polluted over and over by agricultural runoff and its waters are murky and dark, whereas in the Scapegoat or the Big Snowies, the waters are clear and clean. Mining threatens the coveted Smith River near White Sulphur Springs, and heavy cattle ranching threatens sensitive prairie ecosystems that only exist in large quantities in a few places in the world. Threats such as these could drastically alter the heart wrenching beauty of these natural places.
I’m very aware of my own emotions and generally have very strong, gut reactions to things that make me happy, and even more so to things I know are wrong. Stories of injustice towards what I care most deeply about, such as my mom, dad, or brother hit me the hardest. I don’t like negativity, it fires me up, and I’ve worked really hard in the past years to sit on my initial feelings for a bit and think about what is making me feel this way. From there I am able to more rationally attempt to see the other side of the story and decide a plan of action. My parents have pushed my brother and I to take what we felt were undeserved attacks from other people and try to see their side of the story and understand the other person’s motives. Because after all, anger is a strong and often hard-to-sort-out emotion.
Anger and other gut reaction emotions reveal what we believe deep down in our core. This anger that builds, and the feelings that quickly follow it, despair and some hopelessness, then an absolute burning need to do something about whatever ticked ya off, that’s how you determine your fiery passions. That’s when you know things are not the way they ought to be, your beliefs and values are blindingly apparent, and a call to action has laid itself out. Rebellion is the only option at this point and deep down there’s that hope that Turner mentions, that change is a possibility, although at first the situation appeared bleak.
This is how we get change. People who are so fired up about something are the ones that get things done and don’t settle for anything less than what they feel is right deep down in their gut. Anger is not a very pleasant emotion, which is why it works so well as a propellant. People generally want to stop being angry, I know I do. So when people become angry, they figure out what this anger is telling them and they go out and do something about it, and if they don’t go out and do something about it, they darn well should.
We have an obligation to be angry about the environmentally damaging behavior that happens today. As upsetting as this damage is, I also fully realize that my lifestyle contributes to the degradation and that I have the capability to make changes to mitigate that. By not actively trying to prevent mining and sensitive habitat destruction, we are indirectly giving our approval of these practices and letting precious places slip through our fingers. We are preventing future people from experiencing these places and learning their importance. This course has certainly solidified in me the understanding that the best way to fully comprehend these beautiful places is to experience them first hand. I want people in the future to be able to do that as well, instead of only being able to learn about them through a textbook.
I struggled with the term anger ecology when I first heard it. I don’t like to be fueled by anger, so you can see where my discomfort stems from. Jack Turner’s paper “The Abstract Wild: A Rant” helped ease me into the whole idea. Anger ecology does not encourage staying angry forever about something observed in the world that appears to be completely unfair. It’s about finding a driver that helps us determine what deeply matters to us, this driver that starts out as anger turns into an unwieldy passion and love for something that may not have been obvious from the beginning. Anger is just the little bit of fuel needed to get the real fire going.