Beyond the Crag!

Not long ago, I posted an informal survey asking our readers if they thought that people in the climbing community were more eco-friendly than the average citizen.  A biased survey if ever there was one, most dihedral readers affirmed that people in the climbing community are indeed more eco-friendly than the average citizen.  However, there were some who disavowed that notion.  This got me wondering how and why some believe that the climbing community is no more environmentally affable than the average Jane.

The more I thought about the naysayer’s stance, the more I began constructing arguments that could support their position.  It’s difficult to deny that climbers lead a more eco-friendly lifestyle, but that’s different than saying they are more eco-friendly.  An analogous example can be illustrated through one of my students.  Each morning this student shows up with a large can of Monster Energy Drink, and after every class as he’s walking away I see him toss the can into the recycle bin.  When I commended him on his recycling efforts, he insisted that my breath was being wasted, as he only uses the recycling bin because the trash bin is on the other side of the hall.  That is an eco-friendly lifestyle.  He is not eco-friendly.  Climbers, especially dirtbags undoubtedly live an eco-friendly lifestyle, however; this does not allow us to conclude that they are more eco-friendly.  In other words, motives can’t be derived from actions.

But climbers take care of their spot!  Leave-No-Trace is a mantra that is embraced in the climbing community almost religiously. Climbers consistently have “Clean-Up” days where local coalitions spend their time and money improving trails and surrounding areas of the local crag…this goes beyond Leave-No-Trace, and into Eliminate-The-Trace.  The work being done by non-profits like Access Fund have done wonders to improve the conditions of so many crags around the globe.  Does the average citizen go out of their way to promote movements like Leave-No-Trace or Eliminate-The-Trace…unlikely!

And while we have to commend the Leave-No-Trace and Eliminate-The-Trace ideals embraced by climbers, it doesn’t necessarily tip the scales in favor of their position regarding the eco-friendly face-off with the average citizen.

While climbing spots are among the most well maintained high-traffic areas in the wilderness, we must recognize there is a difference between being friendly to your environment and being friendly to THE environment.  There is no doubt that climbers do great work in protecting their environment, their crags, and their walls, sometimes to the point of being vigilant.  But isn’t that how most people treat places they assume ownership of?  If we scale down for a model comparison, someone may keep a very clean home and yard, but that doesn’t mean they are exceptionally eco-friendly.  It’s just uncivil to shit where you eat.

Climbers have a personal connection to crags, and, walls, and trails, and camps, but to see if climbers can truly be consider as more eco-friendly, we have to step away from the local crag, and evaluate their impact on THE environment at large.

This is where the waters get murky…

Most climbers spend a disproportionate amount of time in climbing gyms as opposed to crags.  And it absolutely seems as though the eco-friendly urgency wanes the moment a climber walks through the doors of their local climbing gym.  I spend a lot of time in gyms, and the push to protect is almost non-existent.  Not only is the push non-existent, the presence of a simple recycling bin is often non-existent.  A majority of modern climbing gyms have a pro-shop, but the environmental impact of climbing gear from textiles to metals is outrageous. Yet when there is a new piece of gear, so many climbers salivate to get that me first feeling.  Aside from the carbon footprint left from the production of new clothes and equipment, the packaging that goes along with this gear is regularly tossed in a garbage bin as opposed to a recycle bin (recycling is an operation cost, that too many gym owners aren’t willing to pay, and most gym climbers aren’t willing to demand).  This habit is anything but eco-friendly.

The Ownership Argument stated above may be the reason climbers are less adamant about a Leave-No-Trace mentality when it comes to gyms.  Most gyms are not owned by the climbers!  What right do climbers have to demand how someone else spends their money? And even if we did have that right, what would the demands even look like?

It makes sense to talk about what those demands look like, but that’s another topic for another day.

The point here is whether or not we should consider rock climbers as eco-superior to their non-climbing counterparts.

Generally speaking, it does seem as though climbers are a more environmentally benevolent group, but there are some reasons to doubt this.  Or, at least enough reason to suggest that the gap between how eco-friendly climbers are in comparison to how eco-friendly average citizens are is not as wide as some might suppose.

Regardless of bragging rights it’s easy to see that no matter who stands the moral high ground, we can all do better, we can all do more.

BUT HOW?  Click Here for some ideas that could help tip the scales.

Carrot (Co-writer)

10 Replies to “Beyond the Crag!”

  1. I like your logic. I guess the terms “eco-friendly” and “average citizen” would need to be defined. “Average citizen” might include people like birders, bicyclists, and canoeists who also may be thought of as eco-friendly. Of course, many people who say they are eco-friendly buy water from plastic bottles and (like myself, I’ll admit) drive or fly long distances in gas-powered vehicles to get to their birding, bicycling, and canoeing destinations. It’s a conundrum.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It really is a conundrum…I struggle with decisions all the time when it comes to doing more, or having a better eye for doing more. Thanks for being part of the conversation, I like to think that is where it all starts.


  2. Hey thanks for sharing this thoughtful look at the motivations behind eco-activities! You raised some points I had never considered. Fortunately, I think there is a lot of potential for the community to really embrace the eco movement, as it does seem to fit in really well with the ‘climber identify’ that has been crafted and many people proudly wear.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, it was an eye opener that some of my climbing friends thought otherwise, it was fun to try and understand what their arguments could look like.


  3. If climbers (even rock climbers vs. gym climbers) are more eco-friendly, or have more eco-friendly lifestyles, then why is Everest absolutely covered in filth? Literally tons of refuse. (My cousin’s husband is a climber, and has climbed Everest, and I still think he’s a cool guy; I have nothing against climbers– just pointing out a bit of food for thought here).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is a good discussion in and of itself Julia… the situation on Everest is maddening. Can you even imagine what people like Hillary would think when it comes to the Vertical Tourism going on at Everest? Food for thought indeed!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s good to hear a serious view of what eco-friendly really means. I’ve always been impressed by the fact that “eco” comes from the Greek word for house, as in world-house! (and thanks for visiting my site and essay)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m not a climber, but long distance hiker. I also live in a really cool spot, right near a national park and extensive crown land that is covered in natural bushland. Generally speaking I think people are pigs. People come to the bushland near where I live to camp and enjoy nature, but will cut down trees that are protecting the unstable landscape from eroding. They leave behind their rubbish, including soiled nappies and sanitary items and don’t even bother burying their bodily waste and associated toilet paper, let alone taking it back out with them. The people who live here do so because they love living so close to nature, but they will take their old fridges, microwaves, greenwaste and even old cars and trucks into the bushland and just dump it there. I can’t understand this at all, especially considering that the council tip is free to dump metal items and greenwaste. In my experience, people love to go “blah, blah, blah.” But they don’t actually do blah blah blah. At hikers camps there is often rubbish left behind. It’s nearly always empty tins (why a hiker would take tins on a hike is anyone’s guess), even sometimes beer and wine bottles. I’ve pretty much lost all faith in humanity as far as caring for the environment goes. The little I do in my own life makes not one shred of difference if I’m really honest and it’s certainly hard to keep caring when I can’t see how it even makes any difference. I don’t think any one group of people is more likely to care about the environment more than any other.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I relate so much to this. It really is hard to justify our sacrifices when it really makes no difference at all. The small impact we make is nothing in comparison to corporate pollution, and it’s frustrating to hear governments just ignore the plea for a cleaner safer environment. I like to tell myself and hope that we can lead by example, and others will do the same? That is probably an ignorant stance to take, but I suppose it helps me stay consistent from thought to action. Change usually happens slowly, so for now baby steps it is.

      Liked by 1 person

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