Trail Running Activism…

Max King ponders environmental activism and the environmental effects of his own trail running.

By on January 2, 2013 | Comments

Outside is a great magazine; it’s got gear reviews, short stories of adventure, and it tackles some deeper subjects like the one I was reading about Bill McKibben the other day. (It also does a fashion section, which I have to say, doesn’t really do it for me. I mean, does anyone that’s outdoorsy even wear stuff like that. I don’t see too many adventurous folk wearing a J. Crew sweater in the outdoors or even down the street. They’re in their trusty light down puffy that they wore climbing that morning, their Carhartts, or at most a pair of gusseted, stretchy canvas pants for climbing that might pass as a decent pair of pants for a mid-priced restaurant. Rant over.)

Anyway, this McKibben article got me to thinking that I wished I had more fervor for activism and doing what he does. I recognize in myself the same passion and desire to change the policies in business and government that threaten the global environment but lack the time or drive to put that into practice as he has.

In short, Bill McKibben is an author turned activist after he realized that writing books wasn’t having the effect of actually effecting change in policies that drive environmental conservation. So he started in with social media and soon became adept at gathering large crowds for protests and demonstrations that, while hasn’t been all that effective, it’s already done more than his dozen or so books that he wrote.

I know I have the passion for the environment that he does since I actually find myself getting angry when I read articles or news that some politician has granted a waiver to some company that is so obviously and unnecessarily harmful to the environment that it really shouldn’t even be an option, or when a publicly traded company does some irreparable damage to the environment in the name of their shareholders’ bottom line. At some point shouldn’t there be some ethical obligation written into a shareholders’ agreement that prohibits extorting the environment for a buck?

I do see some irony in this passion for the environment as I sit on a Boeing 757 cruising through the sky to travel across the country for a running race. There might be some irony too, in the fact that I have a pretty nice house with heat and two cars in the driveway (One doesn’t go anywhere but long distance since I do at least ride my bike around town.), and work (to some extent) in an industry that is based on consumers purchasing our goods. I find myself at odds with my beliefs over some of my habits that are rooted in consuming things. I’m extremely lucky that I have the things I have and am able to do what I do, but find it hard to justify when the Earth is going to Hell in a Handbasket.

But, that’s why I do what I do to some extent. I spend my time outdoors running in stunningly beautiful places that I hope will be around forever, bringing indirect awareness to these places, hoping that people will want to visit them, then lend a hand in protecting them when the time comes. I believe that’s what we, as mountain or trail runners and other athletes that make their living exploring the outdoors, all do to some extent and even though we aren’t quite as vocal as Mr. McKibben, or as organizationally adept. We all have a deep-rooted passion for the outdoors and in preserving it using modern technology and through smart policy decisions at every level of government and business.

So, I ask you this? On some level what I do is helping the environment, on another, obviously, it is harming it. And I know most of you reading this are people who love the outdoors as much as I do and have very similar habits as well (running, travel, lifestyle) but, is there a balance that one should strive for in my case (or our case as athletes), or is being an athlete that travels to races harmful no matter how you look at it? Second, do you think spending time making small changes at home to minimize impact are more beneficial, or time trying to effect a change in policies through social media or demonstrations is more beneficial in preserving the environment?

Just curious.

Max King
Max King lives and runs in Bend, OR. He's currently "unwinding" from running 20 5k loops and has big plans for his month off.