Where Do You Find Motivation to Be an Activist?

by Patrick Donnelly

Editor's note: This letter was one of the responses to the questions posed in the article by Birgitta Jansen. Because of its length, it is being printed separately.

Thanks for writing and thinking of me. And I’m grateful for your continued dedication to the desert. I’d be happy to answer your questions…

I got started in this work in earnest in 2004, as an intern with the Student Conservation Association’s Desert Restoration Corps. We were contracted with BLM to restore desert tortoise habitat impacted by off-highway vehicles. I spent 9 months working 10-4 schedules, camping in the desert for 10 days at a clip. The winter of 2004-2005 was one for the record books, with torrential rains leading to one of the most remarkable wildflower seasons in memory. While the phrase is overused these days, spring of 2005 was a true “superbloom.” And I fell in love. Days spent working hard under the desert sun, surrounded by fields and fields of wildflowers. That spring, I was hooked, and now 17 years later, I haven’t left.

Things are grim. Very grim. The drought which started in 2020 and is still ongoing has wrought the most devastating impacts I’ve ever seen to the desert. Worse than OHVs. Worse than solar. Worse than mining. Because literally everything has been affected. I’ve seen fields, acre upon acre, of dead creosote. Dried up springs. Decreased wildlife abundance. Desiccation of wetlands. It’s absolutely devastating and it affects every plant and animal across the whole landscape. And it’s because of climate change. It is pervasive, and no matter how much we rein in OHV abuse or, ironically, solar development, climate will still get us in the end.

I’m not sure I really do cope very well. Ironically, the one way I do cope, by hiking, has become so very grim during the drought, because it’s inescapable. Everywhere ones goes, there’s death and destruction.

But… Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” Dylan Thomas said, “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” I am functionally powerless to stop climate change. That’s not even my realm of expertise. But what I can do is fight like hell for what we have left in the desert. To fight the miners and the OHVers and the groundwater pumpers and yes, the renewable energy developers, to save our precious desert. Is it hopeless? I don’t know. Climate will get us in the end. But in the meantime, I intend to keep raging against the dying of the light as long as I still have breath. I see no alternative.

Don’t know if that’s what you’re looking for but that’s what came to mind. Thanks again for thinking of me!