Off-Roading, Chopped Joshua Trees, Overflowing Toilets: Our National Parks During a Shutdown

Yves here. I’m running this piece because the destruction of national parks during the shutdown is strong evidence of the decay in social capital. While history shows again and again that old farts bemoan the decline in morays of the young, it’s still disturbing to see large groups of people take advantage of a lack of supervision at national parks to trash them. If they can’t show some consideration in a context like this, how can we expect citizens to pull together when the Jackpot comes?

I remember watching the 2011 Steven Soderberg movie Contagion and finding it to be far too optimistic about how the public would react to a pandemic. Contagion has the US being put under quarantine for six months to prevent the spread of a deadly, high communicable disease. There’s no consideration whatsoever about how people are supposed to support themselves, as in pay their mortgage/rent, electricity and other bills, or how the many that need prescription drugs are supposed to get them (as in how are they to be produced and distributed if everyone but emergency workers are to stay at home). In other words, it was completely unrealistic about the ongoing human effort needed to provision society and clean up its garbage.

While the movie did show some signs of social breakdown, like looting, it also portrayed the government as effective in maintaining a great deal of order, like closing state borders. But it also depicted people lining up to get food rations and only some scuffles breaking out.

The US simply does not have remotely enough social cohesiveness to handle a six month quarantine and then a relaxation of it, including rationing of the vaccine as limited supplies were distributed. This country is full of guns. You’d see too many people doing as they saw fit in a time of breakdown. And that’s before questioning whether our government, which has significant outsourced activities, would have the managerial ability and operational capacity to respond effectively to a crisis of this order.

If Brexit crashes out at the end of March or after an extension, we’ll get a picture of how well governments cope with national emergencies after decades of neoliberalism and demonization of public service.

By Annelise McGough. Originally published at Grist

Ever wanted to cut down an iconic Joshua tree in order to create space for some off-roading? No? Well, we thank you. But during the government shutdown, some fine folks did just that.

National parks are filling with garbage, and not just the kind that comes in trash bags. Since the government shut down 20 days ago, Joshua Tree, which is about the size of Delaware and located two hours east of Los Angeles, has been forced to reduce its number of rangers from 100 to only eight. The lack of staff is making it difficult to keep up with the mayhem that is illegal off-roading and road creation, damage of federal property, overflowing garbage and toilets, out-of-bounds camping, and the chopping down of literal Joshua trees.

And it isn’t just Joshua Tree bearing the brute force of the barbaric human. Reports have been surfacing of human waste and trash pile-up in a number of national parks, from Yosemite to Death Valley.

“I think there are a number of things that are not very obvious to the general public, like the trash and toilets [are], that are pretty consequential when you have a shutdown,” National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis told the the National Parks Traveler.

While the sight of overflowing waste and cut Joshua trees is shocking (and quite frankly repulsive), there is also major damage happening out-of-sight. The longest-running research initiative in the Shenandoah National park — 200,000 acres in the mountains of Virginia — has come to a grinding halt during the government shutdown. The study examines the impact of acid rain in the mid-Atlantic forests, and the research has been used to understand the effects of air pollution on natural systems. No big deal, unless you like breathing clean air.

Earlier this month, Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt instructed all national parks to use fee revenues in order to keep parks open during the shut down. Parks that require an entrance fee often save 80 percent of that revenue for ongoing projects such as park maintenance, visitor services, wildlife habitat needs, and law enforcement.

But just as we have knuckleheads, we too have good samaritans: Volunteers across the country are showing up to clean toilets and take out the trash, helping to tidy up the government-made mess.

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  1. The Rev Kev

    Glad to see somebody else thought the movie Contagion was on the polyanish side of life. If they had simply filmed some of the stuff that had happened back in the great flu pandemic in 1919 in the US, it would have been enough to raise your hair and made it an epic film. That film was more like what the government would like to happen in an actual contagion. Anyway, back on point. These reports have been in the media for weeks and also include graffiti on rock faces in those parks. It’s like this is what people want to be able to do in National Parks as, after all, they pay their taxes!
    I hope that somebody is working out what groups of people are doing this for future reference. I bet that blame will be levied on deplorables but I do wonder. I remember when George Bush was first elected and one of the first things that he did was to open up the National Parks to snowmobiles in the middle of winter. Not then a measure for your average Joe but more your entitled elite who he was trying to please. Assuming, as I suspect, that this park damage is mostly the handiwork of the middle class and upper class, then this is bad news as it is these groups that are supposed to be the glue that holds countries together in troubled times. Rather an ominous data point this.

    1. Carolinian

      I think Contagion was more an exploration of the medical side of an epidemic. Movies leave stuff out that, say, a book could more thoroughly explore.

      And as I’ve written here you don’t need a shutdown for the wilderness to be threatened by idiots. On my side of the country a substantial chunk of the Great Smoky Mountains was burned by careless or deliberate firebugs. In Arizona off roaders cut fences to gain access with their noisy toys. Elsewhere in AZ graffiti was spray onto 100s of years old saguaro cacti at Saguaro National Park. There can be a wild west mentality in rural places where people–having grown up surrounded by things that city folk find amazing or beautiful–grow indifferent to natural beauty and act out.

      1. Wukchumni

        In my neck of the woods nothing really happens in Sequoia NP, no graffiti or desecration of the mighty trees that i’ve come across, but there was this fellow that drove in through the exit of the entrance station without stopping around Thanksgiving about 7 years ago and parked at the Ash Mountain visitor center, exited his car and pulled out a gun and fired 8 shots, but didn’t hit anything and was subdued by law enforcement officers, which is why you never heard about it.

        Used to be able to pull up the story on the internet, but it looks to have gone missing.

    2. ChiGal in Carolina

      “National parks are filling with garbage, and not just the kind that comes in trash bags.”

      Thanks for your observation, Rev. The above was unnecessary editorializing, especially in what I assume is a government publication. Some commenters on the article itself seemed to react to this, e.g., “and nobody ever cut down a tree in a national park before Trump was president.”

      There is a long history in this country of calling people trash–the original “deplorables” were the indentured men, women, and children brought over to “improve” the land when the gentry in England wanted to dump their poor. See Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash.

      Regardless, as a longtime visitor to our national parks and someone who spent every summer as a kid in Canada’s provincial parks, this is heartbreaking.

      And, as Yves points out, ominous. That the article should include the kind of name-calling that is dividing us when we desperately need to pull together is a shame.

      1. DF

        It might be a bit unprofessional, but I think it’s fair to call people garbage when they do bad things that are completely within their agency to not do.

        I don’t think you can really claim anyone’s 4x4ing, cutting down Joshua trees, vandalizing, or littering is occurring because they’re too poor or desperate to not do it. It’s really just another form of entitlement.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Perhaps it is pure spiteful malice directed towards trolling the conservationists and trolling the environmentalists.

        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          I suppose it could be taken as a sign of further division if Earth First were to sneak into ” No Off-road Vehicles Allowed!” areas and carefully planted anti-vehicle land mines in them for Off-Roaders and other such violators to drive over.

      2. Anon

        Well, I took the sentence to be a “polite” reference to the human feces that is being deposited along the roadside and other locations in these National Parks. Yes. Many folks don’t know how to make a second use for single-use plastic bags when traveling in non-urban settings.

        The number of people who “trash” these special places is actually small, as a percentage of visitors. But the damage is severe and long lasting when it occurs. Adult supervision (park rangers) is mandatory to restrain many visitors. People do some pretty dumb shit in non-urban settings; even when they think they are “treading lightly”.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        I scanned the first of five links at the site you pointed to. I’m probably more ready than most to wear a tin-hat but really????? Where is the evidence? There is no way I am going to sort through five discussions of this “conspiracy”.

      2. Grebo

        First point of the summary:

        The reason modern technology has not been able to pinpoint the killer influenza strain from this pandemic is because influenza was not the killer.

        The virus responsible was sequenced in 2005.

    3. rd

      I am still baffled why people believe the hype about “self-regulation”. The 2008-9 financial crisis, “Me Too” revelations, and now national park destruction are parallel examples of the “tragedy of the commons” that occurs when there aren’t clear rules and enforcement. “The Lord of the Flies” was a pretty accurate depiction of how thin the veneer of society actually is.

  2. Ignacio

    1) When political gambits start to play harder and harder, what does this means? It is amazing to watch such polarization between two rigth wing parties.
    2) It seems US institutions are being rotten from the top (STEP2) and this adds to poor infrastructure maintenance (STEP1). Libertarians might not be that far from their dreams.

    1. mle detroit

      Dear Ignacio, I enjoy your comments and appreciate your viewpoint, but please delete “rigth” from your keyboard’s autosuggest. (Oops, now it’s gonna get added to mine!) Thanks.

      1. Ignacio

        Unfortunately is not my keyword, it is me doing the same mistake all over again. Let’s see if i can write the right word for once.

  3. samhill

    Contagion? The Road (2009) got it better, had the courage to be bleak from beginning to end, everyone hates that movie. But even I’m surprised always figured the overhanging threat to the parks was oil, mining, condo cancer lobbying power, apparently loosen the authority over the national parks even a bit and they will become like Mordor in short order. Orcs on ATVs will be the vanguard for development whether they know it or not. Bleak, and in pointed contrast to the start of the last century when the country came together to create the national parks. Public effort even had the Adirondack Park protected in the NYS constitution as “Forever Wild”.

    1. coboarts

      Yeah, I bet it’s ‘ok’ to litter under Sauron’s eye. There is a reason that we have authoritarian hierarchies after a few thousands of years of trial and error. You then would be encouraged to litter in the shire, as per your vanguard.

    2. Jeremy Grimm

      I like that image “Orcs on ATVs” as a portrayal of our degradation. That’s a vision deserving realization as an image. I’ll have to fire up GIMP and work on that.

  4. Wukchumni

    Sequoia-Kings Canyon NP’s were reopened yesterday, utilizing revenue generated by entrance fee collection pre-shutdown.

    This is tantamount to somebody unemployed having to live off of meager savings, while hoping to hit the lottery for $12 Billion in needed Federal funds to repair, restore and rebuild the dated infrastructure in our national treasures.

    How do the optics look as far as our culture is concerned, in the mess left behind by those visitors to our National Parks that if anything, would tend to lean left?

    What did that person who saw an overflowing trash can think when they tried to make an offer they couldn’t refuse, and left it on the ground instead, I mean there was no way they could just leave it in the car until they got to a trash can in town here, 20 miles from the Sherman Tree?

    I think it’s an interesting litmus test, where rules and decorum were largely taken away in a similar manner, to getting rid of lane dividers on the 405 freeway for 3 weeks.

    We’d turn into barbarians quickly if basic services went away in a widespread manner across the country.

  5. Mattski

    I appreciate the lucid comments , any comments at all. This only leaves me with a sense of sputtering fear.

  6. Annieb

    Kudos to the volunteers in Joshua Tree. No doubt they feel disgusted, as I do, by the spectacle of their fellow citizens who, freed of inhibiting Park rangers, take the opportunity to wreck havoc in a beautiful natural environment. What is wrong with people?

    1. WobblyTelomeres

      Can imagine Gaia shaking her head, muttering, “Well, the monkeys aren’t working. What else we got?”

    2. Harry

      My suggestion is a new tax bracket for those caught doing this kind of vandalism. Its the only language they understand.

      1. JTMcPhee

        Only works if there’s “enforcement,” you know? And where is “government” to help regulate human (mis)conduct, any more? “Gone to bribery, every one — when will we ever learn, when will we ever learn?”

        As for what is wrong with people, well, demonostrably, over ages, we are unfortunately “people.” (Did the Vandals actually “vandalize?” .)

        1. Harry

          Re Vandals, not really. Not at least after they first settled down. Apparently the local ladies were to their taste, and the North African environment very civilized. They assimilated quite quickly. Im not surprised. Germans have always loved the sun.

  7. crittermom

    I was hesitant to even read this article, as I knew it would leave me heartbroken & disgusted.
    I was right.

    When I worked for a subcontractor maintaining campgrounds for the forest service, I saw much that infuriated me in the reckless disregard & destruction of nature. (Not uncommon to find living trees cut for a campfire when there was plenty of slash around. Duh? Green trees don’t burn well, idiots!)

    Off-roading, cutting trees, painting rocks…
    It sickens me & always has.

    My cowgirl hat is off to those volunteers.

    1. crittermom

      I failed to mention my distaste for ATV’s.
      Thankfully, I rarely saw them in the twenty years I spent high in the Colorado Rockies.

      Here in New Mexico, however, they seem to be very popular.

      I have suggestions for those who think it’s a good way to see nature (including those who use their 4X4 vehicles to break new trails):

      #1 The obnoxious noise emitted from them will drive away any fauna long before you appear. Hike, instead.

      #2 Trying to take in the beautiful views while digging your tires thru trees & over rocks will result in injuries to your person if you’re admiring the views rather than looking for obstacles directly in front of you. Hike.

      #3 If you want to test your skills racing over hills while digging ruts at breakneck speeds, go to a race track!

      1. Carolinian

        No offense to any here who disagree but some of us feel the same way about mountain bikes–a bad bike ride combined with a bad nature outing. You are unlikely appreciate those delicate fall colors while scanning the ground in front of you to make sure you don’t go flying over the handlebars due to a big rock or root. Mtn bikes have become controversial out west due to their proponents penchant for cutting off the books trails and doing some damage to the existing ones.

        And here the problem is lack of noise. As a hiker you are apt to be flattened before you hear a bike coming. Since they often like to ride fast this can be a problem.

        1. Jeremy Grimm

          One consolation — The first accident by males on downward mountain bikes might eliminate their genes from the larger pool.

      2. ChiGal in Carolina

        I always feel that way about motor boats. As I recall from canoe tripping in provincial parks in Canada, there were many lakes that didn’t allow them: loud, nasty things polluting pristine water.

  8. Pat K California

    The national parks aren’t the only places that get vandalized when supervision is inadequate. Look at most of our older, historic cemeteries … where there is no supervision whatsoever. Gangs of teens and older drunks think absolutely nothing of going to these places at night to push over the old upright tombstones, or steal plot fencing, or shatter statuary. Then, due to lack of money, the damage just sits there and is never repaired.

    So, no, the bad behavior in our national parks comes as no surprise to me at all. People who don’t respect their cemeteries will have no respect for a national park either.

    1. ChiGal in Carolina

      It’s probably not just teens and addicts if there is wrought iron fencing and statuary to be had. That stuff is expensive and there is a market for it–and unlike in the art world, nobody is checking the provenance.

      1. polecat

        The plebes, however, uh, misguided they be, are only aping the ethos of our Empiric endeavors .. relics gone missing, as per Iraq !!
        So, what’s a little missing wrought iron and statuary amongst miscreants … big or small.

    2. Sanxi

      As the post goes to the state of mind of people destroying that which they shouldn’t. The extent of problem is worse than you can imagine: ever hear if ‘treasure hunting’? Whereby, graves are dug up, even in maintained cemeteries, to collect anything of ‘value’. This is pretty base behavior.

    3. JEHR

      All that trashing can be seen in many aspects of life: take the banks who trashed the mortgage market with sub-prime mortgage fraud then when bankruptcy approached after derivatives failed, they got bailed out while the home owners were foreclosed on. Then the banks bought the empty houses that were foreclosed on! Nice neat circular effect. Talk about trashing things! I’m sure there are other examples too.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        Be that as I may, I’m not satisfied that examples of bad behavior by our ‘betters’ fully explains the trashing and manifest disrespect evident in our National Parks.

    4. everydayjoe

      False equivalency. Dead dont feel pain.On the contrary National park house living things that actually do and these need the protections of the govt from mankind.

  9. DJG

    Yves Smith: Thanks for posting. You mention being an old codger who is upset about the mores of the young’uns. I think that, instead, we have to determine if the U.S. ever had much social capital. Consider that slavery was designed to break down solidarity in the South, which means that you have the legacy of the white people with the same economic interests opposing black advancement. So maybe social solidarity broke down in 1830? Then you have the general disdain for labor, which means that unionization and worker solidarity–great sources of social capital in countries like Germany, France, and Italy–have been in a shambles for years. Decline in social capital after 1940? (In short, what you observe may not be generational so much as systemic.)

    [People wonder how the Gilets Jaunes get it done and why Americans cannot do the same. Well, there is still social capital in France.]

    I have been cranky in the comments section at times about the layer of disposables that covers the lawns and sidewalks (along with the occasional pool of vomit) in my middle / upper-middle class neighborhood of Chicago. And these are the smart people! They hang around in Starbucks, that factory for trash.

    So Americans now bring trash with them everywhere they do. Also, I have noticed deliberate damage of trees, especially in the last few years. Someone, for no good reason, recently ripped a large branch off the linden tree just outside the window of my office / workshop. Because trees are living creatures, I am wondering if we keep overrating humanity. The slogan may be, Kindness Is Everything. Well, show me.

    Sorry: I wasn’t surprised at all to read these articles about people destroying trees.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Sorry — I cannot share your reasonable but I think inadequate concerns about the meaning of the defacing of our National Parks. I believe this is more than a matter of declining social capital as Yves framed the matter. There is something sinister in the defacement ongoing in our National Parks. There is effort expended in the defacement that goes past simple desire to cut down a Joshua tree to open a path. There are already plenty of paths for ATVs without tearing up Joshua trees. This is not a wanton vandalism but a very deliberate act of destruction. Why? I don’t think declining social capital is a sufficient answer.

      1. Darius

        When I was a young fuddy duddy I used to marvel at the enjoyment other boys derived from vandalism and the work they would put into it. Especially shattering any glass they could get away with.

  10. Utah

    I’d like to say I’m shocked at this behavior, but as a Utahn (we have 5 national parks and ~60% of our land is federal wilderness), this happens frequently even when public parks are staffed. Last year somebody wrote their handle (twitter or instagram, I’m not really sure) on a rock in Zion National Park.
    An elected official led an ATV protest through protected lands because they thought they should have that right. And the right to loot native artifacts.
    Our society has no respect for the value of natural lands, and have a mine mine mine attitude about it. It makes me so sad to see their destruction. I have great respect for the NPS workers, and the other interior department workers, who maintain our wild lands.
    I’m grateful to the volunteers who are trying to get a handle on the trash. I’m also disappointed that people aren’t packing their garbage out with them since there is nobody to maintain that during the shutdown. What I think is common sense is probably not to most people, though, since I also wouldn’t have ridden an ATV through protected lands on endangered crypto soil– which Joshua Tree National Park has a lot of.

    1. Carolinian

      Interestingly at least one of our National Monuments–El Moro in New Mexico–is where people go to visit graffiti that was left by 19th cent and earlier travelers. Somehow I doubt, however, that there will be future National Parks devoted to looking at 21st century gang tags.

  11. Alfred

    When I read this article, last night, the association that flashed into my mind was to Ayn Rand’s “Virtue of Selfishness.”

  12. nick

    When I was still in college in 2008, I visited a friend I made in Arabic language school who was studying in Jordan. We travelled to Syria and I insisted we go to the Crac du Chevalier because I am castle nut. We were the only ones there besides a guard at the front (it was January). In spite of the lack of supervision, we managed not to trash the place and stick to the paths. We also visited Palmyra. During the civil war a few years later, the Crac was shelled and Isis demolished parts of Palmyra.

    I experienced the same feelings of hurt and anger and despair when I read about the destruction at Joshua Tree. My sister and I visited two years ago and I went again with friends last year. The high desert is so enchanting. I am so glad we visited. As the world continues to break down, I can only rededicate myself to the mission of travelling and experiencing our shared cultural and ecological heritage.

    I don’t really have a point here besides sharing my sadness. I’m just so upset by what has happened and it is only a taste of more to come. What a weight for us to carry.

  13. Phacops

    Those of us living near National Parks, in my case the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, easily observe the lack of care by many visitors, sometimes abetted by local commercial interests. Here people have the expectation that they may behave in disruptive ways that would not be tolerated in their home communities and so the party crowd massively overruns areas, shutting out access to people who may wish to enjoy the park in a sustainable manner. The local paddle club frequently cleans up stretches of popular rivers here but there seems to be an endless supply of trash.

    But here, I seem to see people misuse parks precisely because there is no barrier to entry because the greater community promotes a thoughtless use devoid of informed skills. Then we wonder at the abuse of the park’s resources and silent-sports opportunities. Time to reflect what Joseph Sax expounds in his book “Mountains Without Handrails”:
    1. The Parks Are Places Where Recreation Reflects the Aspirations of a Free and Independent People
    2. The Parks Are an Object Lesson for a World of Limited Resources
    The key is intensity of experience and those who chop down Joshua trees in order to run roughshod over the land are confusing this with intensity of use programmed by our consumerist overlords.

    1. ChiGal in Carolina

      You are so lucky in your location! How is the Bear faring in the shutdown?

      I go tent camping there every year at the park’s Platte River campground in the hike-in section. Never been on the river though and tend toward the less-traveled dune hikes down to the beaches at SB and Pyramid Points.

      Glad to say I don’t see much abuse though I do note how much more algae is filling the bays, not a good sign. Was much clearer 40 years ago when I started going.

      A yearly dose keeps me sane though I wish I could go more often.

    2. Jeremy Grimm

      I focused on your assertion “Here people have the expectation that they may behave in disruptive ways that would not be tolerated in their home communities…” and what troubles me is why anyone would want to behave in disruptive ways.

  14. georgieboy

    Social cohesion has been largely a function of real and perceived kinship throughout human history. Not much surprise that a decline in social cohesion in the US is accompanying a decline in real and perceived kinship here.

    For a look at the grim consequences of the break-up of multi-ethnic states, take a look at The Vanquished, Why the First World War Failed to End, by Robert Gerwarth.

    In a recent talk Gerwarth estimated that ~5 million were killed between 1918 and 1923, approximately half the number killed during the formal war of 1914-1918. Some class battles first, as in Germany, but eventually kinship battles dominated once the lid of old ‘legitimate governments’ was fully blown off.

    The Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and German empires collapse led to what he calls “ existential conflicts that sought to annihilate the enemy, be they ethnic or class enemies — a genocidal logic that would subsequently become dominant in much of Europe between 1939 and 1945.”

    Prologue, not to be repeated, of course, but sadly may someday rhyme real hard.

    US Dems and Deplorables just getting started on the kinship battles, while the class-oriented left and right throw in a punch or two (in pursuit of economic justice and privilege-protection) from the perimeter, and social cohesion (ie, respect for strangers) gets slowly shredded in all directions.

    In the meantime, keep rockin’ those Balenciagas if you can afford them !

    1. jrs

      I thought social cohesion was shredded by the rich stealing everything. Of course they have always behaved that way, but there was a time it was moderated by some safety net.

  15. David

    The National Park System, as of Sept. 30, 2017, has over $11B in deferred maintenance costs. (Source)

    Joshua Tree National Park has almost $47M in deferred maintenance costs, $5M of that is for critical systems (trails, unpaved roads, buildings, etc.) (Source)

    One might be inclined to think that the system was designed to collapse when the butterfly flies by.

    1. Tony Wright

      And instead somebody wants to spend billions on a wall.
      Roosevelt will be spinning in his grave

  16. Tony Wright

    This is just like the barbarism displayed in the Roman colosseums and that shown by the colonial British with their love of big game hunting during the late 19th century. Along with the ignorant nascissistic destruction of what precious little wilderness remains as described above by Yves – all are the signs of successful “civilisations” (and I use that term very loosely) showing the apparently inevitable early symptoms of spiritual, moral and intellectual decay.
    And history shows that what follows will be social and economic decay.

    1. Tony Wright

      And that probably explains why American billionaires have been building luxury bolt holes in relatively pristine parts of New Zealand – until recently when PM Jacinta Ardern wisely put a stop to it

      1. jeremy Grimm

        I suspect someone will go around and weld the billionares into their bolt-holes in memory of Sartre’s play “No Exit”.

  17. Alex Cox

    When I was little people dumped trash everywhere. Then in the 1960s Britain and the US embarked on national campaigns to educate people to respect public and open spaces, and to be more careful with their garbage. The Keep Britain Tidy campaign and Lady Bird Johnson’s efforts as figurehead of a similar campaign in the US actually made a difference.

    It seems that respect for the environment doesn’t pass from one generation to another, so perhaps such campaigns will be forever necessary…

    1. MichaelSF

      Yes “Don’t be a litterbug” was something we were taught in and out of school in the 1960s.

      A couple days ago I went to the grocery store and was dismayed to see a big pile of cigarette butts in the parking lot where someone had emptied their car ash tray. It has been a long time since I’ve seen that, and I’d forgotten how annoying it is. But then I’ve stood waiting for a street car and seen people standing right next to a garbage can (easy arm’s reach) just drop their trash on the ground instead. Some people could use a dose of slapthology administered by Diva Touche Flambe (“Cathartic Comics”, cartoons by Rupert Kinnard, worth checking out).

    2. ChiGal in Carolina

      Totally, I was more shocked by the littering than the violence when I started working on the south side of Chicago.

      Very effective programming.

  18. anon in so cal

    We sometimes drive up California Highway 2 to the Angeles National Forest for weekend hikes.

    It’s been the case for decades that the beautiful campgrounds along the road have been vandalized. One of the campgrounds was especially beautiful, with stone benches, stairs, etc. that were constructed by the CCC. Historic. The campgrounds were closed at one point, with the sign stating that until vandalism stopped, there was no public admittance.

    It’s a shame about Joshua Tree. (We camped there once many years ago and in the evening the place was alive with Jack Rabbits hopping all over). What about “leave only footprints”?

    We live in a depraved culture. Somewhat off topic but I read somewhere recently that children are becoming increasingly detached from nature with the advent of tablets, etc.

  19. anon in so cal

    PS: More and more people are realizing we have only the thinnest veneer of civilization. There are famous quotes about this. It would descend to dog-eat-dog incredibly quickly.

    Somewhat relatedly: there have been articles (perhaps posted on this site?) about coastals from Silicon Valley and elsewhere preparing for the apocalypse. They’ve got bolt holes lined up, suitcases packed.

  20. David in Santa Cruz

    old farts bemoan the decline in morays of the young

    Come to think of it Yves, the mores of our society have come to reflect those a pack of Morays. The naked, cold, selfish, and voracious appetites of eels…

  21. roxan

    Years ago, I hired a couple high school age teens to help me move. They were city kids, but not Inner City–I lived on the edge of the city near a large park. This was long before cellphones and internet took over, so their ignorance could not be blamed on screen time.
    They were terrified as soon as I drove beyond the immediate city limits, and as the sun began to set in a blaze of orange, they both stared, google-eyed. Finally, one said to me, “What is that? Some kind of explosion?”
    The other one said, “It’s cool, though, isn’t it? Nice colors!”
    It took me a moment to realize they meant the sunset, so I asked, ‘Didn’t you ever see a sunset before?”
    They both shook their heads. One said, ‘The only thing I saw that looked like that was in The Lion King.”

  22. Bob Simmons

    When you have a society built on self-gratification and decadence, you will get this type of behavior. Dopamine release at all costs.

    Then you wonder why we have so many “addicts”.

  23. samhill

    Hmm, maybe time for a NYS style “Forever Wild” protection in the US constitution for the national parks? Millions of good people out there left, right, rich, poor, would get behind an amendment like this just like people did 100 years ago to create the parks, there was seemingly insurmountable opposition then too. Bernie, Warren, AOC listening? It would be a winner IMO, get the youth vote back on board the sinking Democratic Party, might even get them to stay there for more than one election.

  24. flora

    Living in a college town, these stories dismay but do not surprise me.

    I wonder how libertarians slot this destructive behavior into their ‘end govt or make the govt small enough to drown it in a bathtub’ ideology. Maybe someone could ask Prof. Hoppe.

    Also, I have to toss in this story about one group, among many, to show all is not lost and humanity isn’t on the road to perdition now anymore than it has ever been. Having functioning democratic governments, and people who remember the point of democratic governments in times of stress, is a good thing, imo.

  25. KFritz

    In the case of Joshua Tree, chopping down the trees and riding in protected areas are probably the work of the social cohesive off road riding community. Their belief is that the entire desert exists for them to enjoy the thrill of “speed on sand.” The can, perhaps, be thought of as an extreme analog of our national romance with automobiles on the open road, or as an analog of the Hellz Angelz*, a social cohesive gathering of anti-social types.
    *miss spelled to avoid trademark issues (-;

    1. MichaelSF

      As someone who raced dirt bikes (closed course or OHV parks) for 45 years starting in 1971 I’ll have to pipe up with “not all off-roaders”. Just as with many groups, it is the bad apples that give the responsible people a bad name. There are off-road riding groups (2/3/4 wheel) that maintain trails, do clean-ups, work with the rangers and report those abusing the riding areas.

      It would be easy for me to opine about irresponsible dog owners (my wife and I have had several much too-close calls that left us very concerned for our safety), and would it be fair for me to generalize that all dog owners should have their animals seized and put down because they believe that the entire planet exists for their canine pack killers to enjoy the thrill of roaming free and threatening everyone else?

      Just as there are responsible hunters/gun owners or dog/cat/horse owners, and there’s a good likelihood that they are in the majority, there are plenty of off-road riders who ride in designated off-road areas and stick to the maintained trails so as not to damage the rest of the terrain.

      However, I will admit that I am dismayed when I see people with a “that would show those greenies/tree-huggers” attitude who give the appearance of being willing to deliberately make a mess/damage things (think of the “coal rolling” diesel truck owners). But then there seems to be a lot of people these days who have that kind of attitude about “insert disliked group name here”.

      We can all probably come up with examples of people who have no respect for others and show it by making a mess in public/workplace restrooms. The world is full of jerks, and that seems to have been true for a looooooong time.

      1. flora

        “Just as with many groups, it is the bad apples that give the responsible people a bad name. ”

        True. I’m going to start thinking of libertarians as “the bad apples.”

    2. The Rev Kev

      The off-road riding community did it? Not likely as a bike would swerve around a tree – probably for fun. Chopping down a tree for a road indicates something larger – like a four wheel drive vehicle.

  26. Jeremy Grimm

    As disturbing as the Grist post is I am far more concerned by Yves introduction to this post. I hope she might elaborate her insights in the future in one of her genuinely treasured independent posts. The “decay in social capital” she mentions deeply troubles me as i contemplate various scenarios for the ‘Jackpot’. I want to survive and I want my children to survive past the ‘Jackpot” … and I want our Culture but especially our Knowledge to survive into the future. If our Knowledge is lost, the future human civilizations if any, will never surpass our present age — an age I fear is an age of greatness and great darkness.

    Our age is built on the bounties of petroleum energy. That bounty is a bounty of one-time — once squandered — forever lost.

    1. The Rev Kev

      If the greatness of our civilization depends on how far we have pushed our technology using petroleum energy then that is a valid point. Imagine this however. Think of a future civilization that has reverted, due to lack of fossil fuels, back to an 1890 style of living but that still retains many modern lines of thought and attitudes. With more time to spend developing the human spirit and experimenting with different ways of living in spite of the constraints if living due to the technology available, who is to say which civilization may prove to be the greatest?

      1. LyonNightroad

        Sounds nice, but that world only has the carrying capacity for maybe 1 out of 100 of us that are already here. Not much you can do but accept that you’re just part of the churn. Any attempt to to prepare to survive is just an illusion of control.

        1. The Rev Kev

          I was actually being polite here. This would be the likely future after human numbers are reduced to what the earth can actually support which I believe to be 500 million to one billion. Remember too that half the key to surviving is actually making the attempt. We ourselves are descended from survivors going from the Younger Dryas Event 12,000 years ago when the human race nearly went away to such events as the Black Death of the 1300s and other such catastrophes. We are descended from these survivors and our genes tell the story. If they could tell us anything it would be to never give up – ever.

          1. Tony Wright

            You’ve hit the nail on the head Kev – Too Many People is the fundamental problem, along with an economic system that is addicted to growth. And too many of them are useless f…… Drongoes who really should be recycled into fertiliser.
            What we really need is some kind of lethal virus that strictly selects for humans who have no empathy for other species. As it stands we are heading for a planet which is uninhabitable for most forms of life.
            The Age of Cockroaches? Pesticide, herbicide and radiation resistant of course.

              1. Tony Wright

                Thanks for the tip Kev (hits screenshot button).
                And belatedly, Happy New Year to you and all NC contributors.

            1. Lambert Strether

              > Too Many People is the fundamental problem, along with an economic system that is addicted to growth.

              As we mobilize, maybe focus on the economic system first, before gleefully consigning billions of humans to the slaughter? Just a thought.

              1. Jeremy Grimm

                As you suggest the order should be reversed: An economic system driven toward growth is the fundamental problem, and the resulting Too Many People and the growing numbers of people has driven quick or easy solutions out of reach — or something to that effect.

                But I think we ordinary souls have neither capacity for large scale mobilizing nor gleefully consigning billions of humans to the slaughter. That power lies in the hands of our Elites who control our economic system. I believe our Elites are blindly driving Society toward a cliff where billions of humans will die and any mobilization will be an afterthought of those who survive the ‘Jackpot’. I am trying to figure out how to best survive the ‘Jackpot’ and what I can do to preserve and carry forward what Wisdom I can to help in the times after. I believe there must be some way to avoid a Dark Age following the ‘Jackpot’.

                1. Lambert Strether

                  > I believe our Elites are blindly driving Society toward a cliff where billions of humans will die

                  I don’t know how “blindly” it is. Certainly the elites show little concern for anyone outside their class and the preparations for robots and AI make me think that a world with far fewer useless eaters workers “is being” prepared. (See also falling life expectancy and falling birth rates.) And a focus on “tribes” of worthy and dis-worthied individuals based on ascriptive identity also enables, as it has always enabled, a selection process.

                  Of course, “the most persistent principles of the universe were accident and error” (Dune), so it doesn’t do to become any more conspiratorial than to think of the elites as a hive mind and not especially competent at that. (Robots and AI will not work, and will not become the new slave class the more noxious of our elites wish they already had.)

                  But I strongly believe that the focus needs to be on saving as many as possible, not as few. And I don’t want people on the “few” side making the judgments. Progressives also have a very ugly history of affinity for eugenics, at least back in Woodrow Wilson’s day; Obama’s statement on “bitter”/”cling to”, Romney’s 47%, and Clinton’s “desplorables” are all very, very ugly harbingers. (“Now, we need a good mix of university degrees for the rocket ship to Mars….”)

                  1. Jeremy Grimm

                    “But I strongly believe that the focus needs to be on saving as many as possible, not as few.” I see two themes in your comment: save as many as possible, and do so without applying some hair-brained eugenics. As far as the latter is concerned the only eugenics I propose is remembering those who brought us over the edge and pushed. I can’t imagine a more fitting end for them than putting them all in close quarters with each other. They will kill each other and the victors will be found drooling over the decaying remains of the losers in their plush luxury bolt holes. Weld them into their bolt holes.

                    Saving as many as possible is far more problematic. That is a work for large organizations, governments, and they are run by an Elite who views the coming disasters as profit opportunities. I am a coward but I don’t see much point in peaceful demonstrations or violent demonstrations. I believe the police and security apparatus are not like old time police and security. Many of those advocating people should be demonstrating in the streets, an American version of the yellow jackets, seem to think that the police might someday recognize their kinship with the protestors and their grievances. I am not sure that would happen. I think too many of our police come with prior training in one of our many horrific foreign wars. I avoid reading of the Yellow Jackets because I keep recalling images from the movie the “Battle of Algiers” and worry that those images may find reality in French streets.

                    Saving as many as possible is a problem for now — not some distant future. There are islands and whole countries destined to disappear into the seas. There is already hunger and thirst around the world birthing waves of future disasters. There are whole regions of the Earth we know with all too much certainty will become fatally inhospitable to humans. Overpopulation may be a large problem now but if we continue doing nothing the problem will grow much much worse. Feeding the hungry and nursing the sick didn’t have to grow populations as they have. That was a result of deliberate policies and deliberate actions, and of course wanton lack of caring. Birth control and social security for the old are simple measures. Feeding the hungry and nursing were policy tools for larger goals of Power and Wealth.

                    I am very afraid saving as many as possible will be a task that falls to individuals and small communities. In spite of this post on the wanton destruction of our national parks, I still have faith that the basic instinct of most humans is to help others. I see little evidence for that instinct in our Corporations, our government, or our ‘Elites’.

                2. drumlin woodchuckles

                  Figure out what eco-viable living might be and live eco-viably now in full view of neighbors and strangers; in hopes that some of them might be influenced to do likewise. Or at least as eco-viably as is feasibly possible in an anti-eco civilization designed to maximize viability-prevention.

              2. Tony Wright

                I can assure you that there is no glee in my assessment of our parlous situation, rather an ecologically based opinion as to what has become necessary.
                I see precious little evidence of necessary rebuilding of our economic “systems”, only the usual mantra of “growth will fix things” ,or words to that effect. However growth has become the problem, not the solution.
                Basic ecological theory, supported by many and various examples, dictates that overpopulation of any species is curtailed sooner or later by disease, famine or intraspecific conflict (for humans this means wars). With modern medicine , industrialisation and factory farming agricultural techniques we have success fully kicked the ecological can down the road for centuries now, so war now looks like the most likely ecological “remedy”. However modern wars are incredibly ecologically destructive to the ecosystems that support all life, hence my preference for a solution involving a pathogen which only targets the problem species -us. It would simply be the least worst option within the realms of ecological possibility.
                And of course, anthropogenic climate change simply acts like a pressure cooker, accelerating the likelihood, incidence and severity of famine, disease and war.

      2. Jeremy Grimm

        I agree I should revise my statements and broaden ‘petroleum’ energy to ‘fossil fuel’ energy: => Our age is built on the bounties of fossil fuel energy. That bounty is a bounty of one-time — once squandered — forever lost.

        Consider how much of the 1890 style of living was based on fossil fuels. I believe coal was of no small importance to the steam ships and locomotives of that time. I also believe products like the cast iron, moderate amounts of steel, and glass used in many iconic 1890 buildings were very much dependent on coal. For lighting there were whale oil lamps, gas lamps, kerosene lamps and candles all of which either depend on fossil fuels or animal fats. What fueled the furnaces that made bricks? If not coal, then charcoal or wood. How are today’s forests holding up — could they take up the slack as coal runs short? [I’m not sure I believe we still have 500 years of coal left in the ground as has oft been asserted.] Maybe solar or wind power might fill in for some of these uses of energy — but we need to get more enthusiastic about deploying them and as suggested by your later comment we might have to accept their application on a much smaller scale if we hope to succeed at attaining an approach to an 1890 style of living.

        While a population 7 or 8 times smaller than the present could make retaining an 1890 standard of living easier but how many of those lucky few will enjoy more time to spend developing the human spirit and experimenting with different ways of living in spite of the constraints of living — due to the technology available [I assume you mean the greater technology and knowledge we have now]. Somehow we never enjoyed those ‘happy times developing the human spirit and experimenting” at a time like now when we are still unconstrained by limits to the technology we have available.

        I believe our current level of science and technology — which is clearly not the same as civilization or culture — could not have been reached except through the efforts of a relatively large number of talented people. If talented people are a proportion of the population a relatively large number of them requires a correspondingly large population. Having a large population of talented people is not enough though. There must be enough excess production in Society to feed, house, and cloth them, provide them with the resources they need for their work as well as the time they need to pursue their studies and researches. So I return to a dependence on some form of “found” and readily usable ‘free’ energy. I believe we have reached a high point of scence and technology which might be built upon by future generations … but once lost … may never be replicated.

    2. flora

      re: Yves introducton.
      Jan and Feb in the northern hemisphere are difficult (sunlight deprivation and possible attendant depressive thoughts) for writers in the northern hemisphere. etc. Not to suggest that Yves or NC commentators suffer from this sunlight deprivation – seasonal affective disorder – malady.

      1. Tony Wright

        So we should all chug back happy pills and all of the problems and destuctive, uncaring and unthinking mindsets which underpin them would go away?
        I think not. If this wall related shutdown was to occur midsummer, northern hemisphere time, the consequences would almost certainly be worse because more people would be on holiday. And the reactions of NC contributors above would be equally saddened, distraught and vehement.
        And by the way, I live in the southern hemisphere.

          1. Tony Wright

            No, you did not say that specifically, however your comment did imply that the opinions of various contributors on this stream may have been more negative due to SAD.
            I don’t agree, as stated above. My apologies for any offence resulting from my perhaps OTT sarcastic tone.

      2. Jeremy Grimm

        I absolutely wilt in the Summer time and the bright light hurts my eyes. I have felt a growing dread through seasons and through years. My depressive thoughts started in the late 1970s. They have only grown stronger as I watched a country I loved, at least the image I had of it, become ever more horrible and grotesque like the image of Dorian Gray in his magic painting.

  27. Yellopig

    We aren’t dead yet if there are still people who feel moved to clean up after themselves (and others). Would it maybe be helpful if that were the headline story? There are always plenty of jerks and slobs…

    And LOL,
    “…morays of the young…”
    Probably meant mores:
    Sounds the same, but less fishy.

  28. everydayjoe

    Man is the most evil of all animals. Further, mob mentality sets in when the first stone is thrown at the window pane and others follow. Studies have shown this is how riots, genocide and mass uprisings start.
    We need leadership and constant public awareness measures to educate people on the importance of national parks. The oldest surviving wolf that survived the worst wild fires and drout , I think in Yosemite ,was felled by a hunter’s bullet just last week. Atrocious.
    People react to leadership. Good leaders bring out the good in fellow human beings and alternatively can bring the worst as well.

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