An Evening with Al Gore and Ed Abbey in Moab, Utahby ExperiencePlus! - Tuesday, July 27, 2010
An Evening with Al Gore and Ed Abbey in Moab, Utah
by Rick Price
“Just because it never happened doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”
Ken Keasey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
“When I went into the maze for the first time I didn’t have a clue where I was headed,” said the bearded fellow with the deep desert sunburn. He was talking with a clean shaven, baby faced fellow a little younger than he at the table next to me at Eddie McStiff’s brew pub in downtown Moab, Utah. McStiff’s is the best place in central Utah to get a good rib-eye steak so I was there alone for dinner one evening waiting for my hiking tour to take off the next day. I’d always been curious about the “Maze” the westernmost part of Canyonlands National Park, more than a hundred miles by road from Moab. The maze is characterized by those who’ve been there as not only “hard to get to” but “hard to get out of.” So I listened as this conversation unfolded.
“Yes,” said the clean shaven fellow, “when I entered the maze for the first time, I got so baffled and turned around I couldn’t for the life of me find my way out. My companions abandoned me, a storm swept in, I got soaked, and nearly died of hypothermia.”
They sat in silence for so long I did a double-take to be sure one or both hadn’t fallen asleep. Just as I was about to lose interest the bearded fellow said, “yah, we had asked directions of a mechanic here in town. He drew a map in the sand in front of his shop and showed us where to go. We followed those directions to the end of the trail. They turned out to be as correct as they were precise. He was even right when he said ‘from the trail’s end you could use wings.”
“Gosh, isn’t that the truth,” said the younger fellow. “When I got lost in that maze I sure could have used wings. Why, do you know that in Florida, the destruction of the Everglades is being actively subsidized by taxpayers and consumers through artificial price supports for sugarcane – a crop that otherwise would never be grown in that area. In fact, I myself have supported sugar price supports and have always voted for them without appreciating the full consequences of my vote.”
The older, bearded fellow glanced slowly at him as if to say, “you are lucky you got out of that maze. What are you talking about?”
The younger fellow – I started to think of him as Al – continued: “I was introduced to the idea of a global environmental threat as a young student when one of my college professors, Roger Revelle, was the first person in the world to monitor carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Professor Revelle explained that higher levels of CO2 would create what he called the greenhouse effect, which would cause the earth to grow warmer.”
The desert rat – Ed, I began to call him – glowered at Al. After the longest pause, he said, “why is the Park Service generally so anxious to accommodate the indolent millions born on wheels and suckled on gasoline, who expect and demand paved highways to lead them in comfort, ease and safety into every nook and corner of the national parks?”
Al leaned forward and almost became animated as he said, “that’s the whole point! As we continue to burn fossil fuels, the CO2 that gathers in the atmosphere forms a shield that traps heat, causing average global temperatures to rise. That’s what’s causing the Antarctic and Greenland ice caps to melt and the weather to change so much!”
Their periodic lapses into silence suggested that this was going to be a long evening if I wanted to hear them out. I was just about ready to walk out when the bearded fellow replied: “A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourist can in a hundred miles.” Then he added, “better to idle through one park in two weeks than try to race through a dozen in the same amount of time.”
Says Al Gore: “The twentieth century has not been kind to the constant human striving for a sense of purpose in life. Two world wars, the Holocaust, the invention of nuclear weapons, and now the global environmental crisis have led many of us to wonder if survival – much less enlightened, joyous, and hopeful living – is possible.”
Ed Abbey paused, took a long breath and launched into his longest discourse of the evening: “Whether we live or die is a matter of absolutely no concern whatsoever to the desert. Let men in their madness blast every city on earth into black rubble and envelope the entire planet in a cloud of lethal gas – the canyons and the hills, the springs and rocks will still be here, the sunlight will filter through, water will form and no matter how long, somewhere, living things will emerge and join and stand once again, this time perhaps to take a different and better course.”
Al was shocked. He stammered, but, but “the choice is ours; the earth is in the balance.”
“Yes,” said Ed, as he got up. “Feet on earth. Knock on wood. Touch stone. Good luck to all.”
With that he shook hands with the younger man and headed for the door. As he passed me, he stopped, leaned down and said quietly, “allow me to offer a modest proposal for a solution to your town’s disgusting, exasperating, nerve-wracking traffic problem – I mean bicycles! And bicycle streets! There are many thousands of us in that mad, fungoid city who’d be happy to ride bicycles to work each day if only we didn’t have to fear being knocked into surgery, intensive care and wheelchairs by some marginal humanoid with a . . . problem driving his double-barreled eight-cylinder tractor-wheeled 4×4 high-rider up and down the city streets. Reserve at least a few streets for human-powered traffic only, and at no expense whatever to us taxpayers; with vast reduction in private expenses, at great benefit to the public air and the public health and the public treasury and the public equanimity, we could make your town once more what it once was – a decent, clean and pleasant town for full-grown human beings. With its balmy, arid climate and gently rolling terrain, our city offers the perfect outdoor laboratory for such a simple and worthy experiment.”
With that he extended his hand, I shook it, and he walked out.
Al Gore came up to me right after and asked, “what did he say to you?”
"He said we should ride bikes,” I answered.
Note to the reader:
If you’d like to read more, this essay is based on the writings of Al Gore and Edward Abbey, primarily in the following books:
If you search for most (not all) of these quotations in Google with quotation marks around the quote you’ll go right to the original text and context.