Affluence Shouldn’t Trump Protection of Natural Reserves

By Jacob Greenberg-Bell

Before buildings, banks, and borders, it was just nature and those living at its peril. In the current age of capitalism, the tables have turned. Even nature’s fate is in the hands of the billionaires and politicians. The trees and beaches are for sale. It is time for this to stop. More importantly than ever, we must keep public lands public and accessible, so everyone can appreciate the beauties of nature, while not emptying their wallet.

Recently at Martin’s Beach, a popular beach and surf destination just south of Half Moon Bay, Silicon Valley billionaire Vinod Khosla attempted to cordon off the beach after he bought an 89 acre property that included the only land access to the beach. Khosla attempted to turn the public beach, private, by gating off this access point. Then, after being legally challenged, he attempted to sell a path through his property towards the beach for $30 million – a figure close to the amount he paid for his whole property.

Khosla is a perfect example of terribly rich entrepreneurs feeling entitled to monetize and make profit off of beautiful and pristine nature. Khosla, a man of supreme wealth — having been valued by Forbes at $1.79 billion, got what he deserved, when the Surfrider Foundation sued him in 2013 and won. The case of Khosla and Martin’s Beach reminds us of the importance of keeping our public lands open to the public. No private entity should be able to own and monetize what was formerly a public property.

In Clark County Nevada, the beautiful Red Rock Canyon sits a stone’s throw away from the gambling mecca of Las Vegas. Recently, a huge fight has erupted regarding a developer’s plan to build more than five thousand homes near Red Rocks. Red Rocks, which is a national conservation area, has about two million visitors a year, all of whom love its biking, hiking, climbing, and beauty. The issue at hand is about keeping the integrity of our beautiful landscapes. Not only would five thousand homes change the look of Red Rocks, but it would drastically affect the feel of it. Having thousands of people commuting in and out of the area, would make it feel more like a city than the conservation area it is.

Earth is our home, and shared space should mean shared responsibility. In other words, we should all enjoy nature, but this means it’s also our duty to care for it. For this reason, it seems only fair that we all pay a small amount of money to maintain public access to nature. The trails, roads, and signs didn’t make themselves. Most likely, a park employee made that infrastructure. The wilderness has fed and nurtured humans for too long to be left behind now. Along with small donations by citizens, the men and women on Capitol Hill need to support our public lands to preserve their beauty and keep them accessible to all.

Currently in Yosemite, it costs thirty dollars for a car to enter the National Park. This price is fairly high. US Citizens are already paying taxes that should provide adequate revenue to support the national parks. Surely politicians can find the resources to maintain parks that are iconic to the United States and held dearly by its citizens — not to mention international visitors. However, for the next fiscal year, President Trump is proposing a budget cut of $1.2 billion from the Interior Department which includes the National Park Service. If this budget passes, it will likely result in massive price rises at the gates of many of our sacred national parks and beaches: Yosemite, Yellowstone, Arches, etc. A drop in visitation doesn’t just mean bad business for the parks, it would have a massive ripple effect. In 2012, Yosemite visitors generated $380 million in sales for businesses located within 6 miles of  the park. These businesses have employees and owners who depend on park visitors. Continued business in the parks means continued businesses in ‘gateway’ towns.

The Interior Department is suggesting the sale of some public lands, monuments and parks, to deal with proposed budget cuts. No entrepreneur, businessman, or venture capitalist is entitled to nature, especially for their own monetary interests. Nature will outlast us, our kids, ours kids’s kids, and on and on. We must preserve nature while keeping it public and accessible, so everyone can enjoy the beauty it has to offer for thousands of years to come. As Woody Guthrie famously sang, “This land is your land, this land is my land … this land was made for you and me.”