Like many, I was saddened and a bit surprised to learn of Steve Irwin's sudden death last week. However, given his familiarity with the reptiles he typically handled, I always figured that if anything happened to him, one of them wouldn't be the cause.
The odd thing is reading the mixed opinions various environmentalists have of Irwin and his career. I was initially a little surprised that environmentalists would dislike him, but it makes sense on further reading.
Take the words of Germaine Greer, for example. She writes as if wildlife is supposed to be seen from a distance, and Steve Irwin's love of getting close to wildlife was harmful to it. The epitome of her rant is that "The animal world has finally taken its revenge on Irwin."
Frankly, I think Greer's opinions are a perfect example of the absurdity of a certain branch of the environmentalist movement. These are the same kinds of people whose ideal of nature is to imagine "a world without humans." That imagined world is an absurdity from a philosophical standpoint. A world without humanity would have no-one to consider it beautiful; by imagining it, we are imposing a value judgement that is human to the core. The contradictory nature of this kind of anti-human environmentalism is exactly why they so often fail to be able to even communicate with political opponents.
What Steve Irwin understood better than many leading environmentalists is that, in truth, environmentalism is a selfish endeavor. I say this not to discredit the movement, but to explain why it is truly so vital. Saving habitat, preventing global warming, preventing extinction of various species, etc. is about protecting humanity and the quality of life many of us enjoy. We can damage the environment all we would like, and it will eventually recover, in a different form; however, we would not. Environmentalism is also about beauty and our heritage, and protecting it for the same reasons we would protect the Mona Lisa. Steve Irwin understood the beauty of wildlife, and sought to share that, and instill a desire to protect it for our future, as well as for our descendants. I believe that those who portray environmentalism as an altruistic endeavor do it a disservice, turning away some who would otherwise be more sympathetic.
So, we bid farewell to Steve Irwin, a man I consider to be one of the great true environmentalists of our times. The animal world was lucky to have you as long as it did.