There have been a few moments over the years when playboy has encouraged discussion around conservationist principles, but for the most part this has not been an issue upon which the Rabbit has taken a strong or permanent position. Delving into the archive to explore our history on the subject, I recently came across a 1983 Playboy Interview with famed American photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams—one of the last interviews he participated in before he passed away. In this particular piece, Adams was asked a question about his environmental priorities. His point of view on what concerned him most at that moment was crystal clear.
PLAYBOY: What is the most critical fight now?
ADAMS: To save the entire environment: wilderness protection, proper use of parks, breakdown of federal operation of the parks in favor of private interests, acquiring new park and wilderness land, unrestrained oil drilling and mining on land and off shore, etc.… Only 2.5 percent of the land in this country is protected. Not only are we being fought in trying to extend that 2.5 percent to include other important and fragile areas, but we are having to fight to protect that small 2.5 percent. It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save our environment.
More than 30 years later progress has been made, and Adams would be pleased with it, I’m sure. For one, roughly 20 percent of American land is now protected by the federal government. But other concerns Adams and his fellow activists raised in the 1980s suggest a state of the union that’s eerily similar to the Trump administration’s stance on green policy today.
Global news was made when President Trump announced that the United States would be departing the Paris Agreement, one of the most profound international pacts constructed to regulate and combat greenhouse gas emissions. A number of other situations that have found their way into the news cycle—like a federal court ordering Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency to enforce Obama-era pollution limits for the oil and gas industry—have shown how the executive branch and other elected officials plan to manage their relationship with climate policy in Washington. Republican legislators seem comfortable remaining quiet during a time when leadership is desperately needed. And while some government agencies share valuable research and insight, climate deniers leading all the way to the Oval Office prefer to politicize the environment.
NASA and the EPA, among many other credible domestic and global scientific agencies, have confidently outlined the negative impact specific industries are having on planet Earth. NASA, paraphrasing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says: “Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” Still, the agency publicizes its research while remaining nonpartisan—and nonpartisan seems to be the position millions of individuals have taken when considering how climate change will impact the planet. Actually, “complacent” may be a more appropriate description. Many of us have a clear point of view on the subject, but research shows that very few of us do much about it. One way or another, the tragic truth surrounding climate change must wash in to awaken all of us who are privileged with first-world comforts.
The current fetishism of climate denial by the U.S. executive and legislative branches will impact our lives, but you and I won’t be the only ones; it will make its mark on our children as well as generations following. Individuals who are not protected by first-world infrastructures and small countries continuing to develop stronger domestic economies will encounter most of the chaos. We know this because it is already happening.
Regions of South Asia are seeing extreme flooding, impacting the lives of millions. The World Bank reported in 2015 that, by 2030, the effect of climate change on agriculture may drive tens of millions into poverty. Many of these people will be from countries that don’t have the financial means to combat this issue and protect their citizens. And even as we grasp that these changes won’t hit home in the same way, we’re seeing arguably intensified weather events like Harvey and Irma destroy lives in the United States as well.
As scientists gather new data and continue researching the impacts of our carbon footprint, we must personally accept the responsibilities of sacrifice while demanding legislation that protects not only us but our neighbors outside the United States as well. Doing all this successfully begins with a comprehensive shift in mind-set—an acknowledgement that we are willing to live substantially different lives than the ones we live today. For us, that starts with open debate, one that we will very much begin promoting in the pages of our magazine.
This debate is a delicate and complicated one, as much of our country’s workforce and economy depend on oil and other carbon-rich industries, but radical change will never be seen if we do not encourage communication and, more important, objective science over toxic political gain. This is now playboy’s fight as well.
It’s time we let go of some of the comforts that we are accustomed to today in order to build a better tomorrow. As Adams stated, “It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save our environment.” True, but one of the magnificent qualities of living in the United States is that the voice of the many matters as much as those of the officials we elect. Let us confidently state that we are all environmentalists and work together to advance this cause—whether or not the government is on our side.