The Unsustainable Outdoors

COVID has, so I hear, brought new levels of antisocial behaviour into the Outdoors: stories about irresponsible campers seem to appear daily in the news, and a petition asking for curbing of rights to camp has been lodged with the Scottish Parliament.

Yet, what surprises me most about this is the surprise itself, for there is nothing new here: the abandoned camping equipment and human faeces have plagued our outdoors for years, as have the endless fire pits and disposable barbecues, the chopping down of trees for fuel. These issues have long been widespread, just ask any bothy maintainer. Nor are the problems around the idiocy that is NC500 new, they have always been there.

The only thing that has changed is scale; I have discussed the unsustainability of contemporary outdoor practices at mass scale elsewhere, so won’t go into it again. The Pandemic has brought out a new spawn of Adventurers, folk who have no relationship with the outdoors and no emotional affinity with nature. But, and this is the crux of the matter, their attitudes are representative of our society’s general attitudes to nature and the environment: ‘Let Someone Else Clean it Up’ and ‘Carpe Diem’ are the mantras we have been living by for a long time.

In other words, this is what mass participation in the outdoors looks like and no amount of platitudes, sloganry or codes of practice will fix it. This isn’t a few bad apples, this is the real us. And to be frank, I don’t see how things could possibly change for better in my lifetime. You don’t have to dig very deep to see that the environmental crisis of our time, in all its shapes and forms, has a single root -- consumerism. And, unfortunately, consumerism has become the economic foundation of our world.

To the multi-billion Outdoor Industry I want to say this: screw your philanthropy and your environmental funds; for a generation now you have been ruthlessly and unashamedly pursuing the consumerisation of the outdoors while hiding behind the superficial etiquette of Leave No Trace® and the like. Well you have succeeded. What did you think was going to happen when the weekend camping kit costs less than a tank of fuel? To the ‘Influencers’ and ‘Ambassadors’, I hope the 30 pieces of silver were worth it, alas sales of souls are final.

The above mentioned petition will have caused lot of unease among the established outdoor practitioners, there will be concerns over the erosion of our hard won access rights. Those are entirely justified; there is very little doubt in my mind that it’s the landed lobbies that are pulling the strings on this in the background. But that said, an Iceland style country-wide ban on car camping outside of official campsites is long overdue, tent and camper van alike, for the latter are as much, if not more, of a problem as the former.