Thoughts on a cold day

It is a chilly, late fall day here in North Texas as a cold air mass from the Rocky Mountains continues its collision with warm moist air from the Gulf of Mexico.  Various forms of wintry precipitation are expected over the next 24 hours, with colder than average temperatures lasting through Thanksgiving.  In short, my kind of weather.

It’s during these semi shut-in days that my mind asks questions and formulates thoughts on the future of humanity in regards to man’s “progress”; a global act on the world’s stage whose price of admission and profits made are always ecological damages.  Some people may scoff at the notion, but that’s simply due to a lack of an ecological education on their part.  This is an issue that is highly prevalent in today’s too-modern world that places politics and economics over science and ecology.

“Perhaps the most serious obstacle impeding the evolution of a land ethic”, Aldo Leopold wrote, ” is the fact that our educational and economic system is headed away from, rather than toward, an intense consciousness of the land.”

That absence of nature-based education has created a society that has instilled in its moral values a dangerous mindset of ecological apathy, and subsequently garnered itself the terminal diagnosis of nature deficit disorder.  A “consciousness of the land” is not hard for one to develop.  It only requires an open mind and a new lens to see the land, both of which are gleaned from the development of a personal land ethic and an education rich with well-rounded ecological science.

On the other hand, Leopold writes, “one of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”

When I drive the county backroads and see new oil pads and wells sprouting up like maples in a fire-starved oak forest or bull thistle in an overgrazed pasture, I can’t help but shake my head at the long-term damages done for short-term economic benefit.  When the oil boom goes bust, and it will, the scars on the land will still be there.  Initially, Mother Nature will attempt to lick her wounds with annual colonizing species like Common Sunflower and Saw-leaf Daisy, and her troposphere will begin to slowly oxidize and rust away man’s metal litter across her broken landscapes.  Wallace Stegner once wrote that the “West is the native home of hope.”  Some days I believe that, others I don’t.  There’s too many people in this world who are entirely devoid of any connection to nature, and the amount of native land remaining continues to fade away under the pressures of modern development.

Since the dawn of man, we have had an eternal ecological crisis.  Ecology has shown the damages and science has warned us aplenty, yet most of the world still turns a blind eye.  Why?  As Joy Williams points out, in Screw the Whales, Save the Shrimp, the crisis is due to man’s modern culture, questionable character, and a disdain for any kind of personal consciousness regarding plant and animal life.

Further, she explains, “the ecological crisis cannot be resolved by politics.  It is a crisis caused by culture and character, and a deep change in personal consciousness is needed.  Your fundamental attitudes toward the earth have become twisted.  You have only made brutal contact with Nature, you cannot comprehend its grace.  You must change.  Have few desires and simple pleasures.  Honor non-human life.  Control yourself, become more authentic.  Live lightly upon the earth and treat it with respect.  Redefine the word progress and dismiss the managers and masters.  Grow inwardly and with knowledge become truly wiser.  Make connections.  Think differently, behave differently.  For this is a moral issue we face and moral decisions must be made.”

While I may appear pessimistic to some, a healthy dose of pessimism is a good thing.  Having a strictly optimistic view or an equally strict pessimistic view of our world and the actions we do within it makes us miss out on the thoughts and ideas on the other side of the coin.  A mix of both states of mind make for a more well-rounded person.  E.B. White wrote eloquently about pessimism and optimism in regards to man’s impact on nature:

“I am pessimistic about the human race because it is too ingenious for its own good. Our approach to nature is to beat it into submission. We would stand a better chance of survival if we accommodated ourselves to this planet and viewed it appreciatively instead of skeptically and dictatorially.”

“I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.”

Earth is the only planet we humans have that is hospitable to us.  We are only her visitors.

About Jameson Crumpler

Drylands ecologist.
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5 Responses to Thoughts on a cold day

  1. Michael Fitts says:

    That Joy Williams quote really hits the nail on the head. I just found your blog yesterday and am really enjoying it Jameson.

  2. John Curry says:

    As much as I admire nature, I don’t understand what you seek to accomplish by suggesting that our country not drill for oil and natural gas. One look at this list of goods ( made from oil and natural gas from the department of energy will show you that short of some miraculous and unprecedented innovation, it’s impossible for us to be completely independent from energy without reversing human progress. As you can see, many products beyond just petroleum are made possible thanks to energy. Products such as computer monitors and keyboards which allow you to create your blog and read comments such as this one. With that in mind wouldn’t you rather we drill here in the United States rather than send those jobs to the Middle East and other countries? Besides, if you’re like most Americans, your daily routine likely fuels the economic demand that requires your Mother Nature to be “scarred” as you put it. Other than babbling on your blog about how much it upsets you to see what companies are doing to nature, what are you actually doing about it? If you’re not living out in the wild like Christopher McCandless without the luxuries that a 1st world country provides then, the truth is that you are not making a damn bit of a difference at all to change anything. I care about the environment, and do small things everyday to play my part such as sort and recycle over half of my trash. I’m also not a fan of huge oil companies, big pharma, and Wall St. as I too have my own grievances against corporate greed. That being said, I, as a progressive know bullshit when I see it. Despite your own scoffs directed at those who are ecologically “uneducated.” The truth is that it’s elitist uneducated pricks like you who have no true grasp of science (other than your ability to use the actual word “science” as a buzzword in conversation to validate your point), logic, or reality that continue to spread this dumb environmental agenda BS all while judging others when the truth is you yourself are as guilty as anyone for these “sins.”


    • RTC says:

      Hello Johny,

      Your argument fails from two fundamental flaws. First, you present your argument in economic terms and then accuse Jameson of faulty scientific reasoning; it’s like blaming someone for not understanding quantum physics because they don’t know European history. I’m curious to know where you think Jameson is mistaken in his discussion of “science”. Maybe it’s just the notion of ethics, or more pertinently, how science can inform society’s more ethical treatment of the land in it’s development of natural resources.

      Second, your argument suffers from binary thinking, specifically, that either we drill in the U.S. or all our oil will come from the Middle East. In fact, most of the worlds oil supply will continue to come from the Middle East, no matter how much we extract from American sources. Further more, in pure economic terms, we could pump every drop of oil in North America, tar sands included, and it won’t affect prices on the global market one bit. In case you’re wondering why, I’ll give you a hint: it’s because the price oil is controlled by a secret cartel that goes by the name of OPEC. So, it doesn’t matter how much the U.S., or Canada, Russia, Argentina, or the Netherlands produce, the price of oil will remain an artificial value.

      Similarly, your argument falls in your implication that drilling here in America cannot or should not be done in a more environmentally responsible manner. In fact, there are a number of strategies that companies can take to ensuring greater ecological protection, like preventing broken pipelines, which lead to oil spills, and routing those pipelines around ecologically sensitive areas. Oh, and having a clean-up plan might also help.

      I don’t understand the argument that we have to exploit oil and gas resources without enforcing rules to ensure other resources, like water, are not impacted. I take it you don’t live in Michigan, where an Enbridge pipeline burst and virtually killed a river system, which cost over a billion dollars to clean up and still remains too toxic to supply drinking water or support wildlife. That same company, building on its singular lack of success, is planning on routing oil sands across the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

      It was Nixon who observed that oil is like heroin, in that we are addicted to it. At some point, we must kick that addiction. Nobody is suggesting that we go cold turkey, but taking steps to reduce our dependence would seem prudent. In the mean time, we must extract these resources more safely, if only to ensure the health of future generations.

    • Howdy John,

      Thanks for stopping by. You have completely missed the point of the post. Congratulations!

      Now, let’s clarify some things for you:

      1. I never said, suggested, or otherwise implied the United States of America cease all oil and gas drilling. That’s ludicrous to think we can, would (oil is addictive, ya know?), or even should, and it is equally ludicrous to suggest that was the main idea of my post.

      2. I am well aware of the products we get from our finite fossil fuels, and I use them like anyone else.

      3. I’m fully grounded in the reality of the modern world. As for Chris McCandless, he had a very romantic and unrealistic view of wilderness and minimalism and was totally unprepared for what he walked into in Alaska.

      4. When I use the word uneducated on my blog posts, I simply mean a lack of education in certain fields – in this case, ecology. I do not mean dumb or stupid or nincompoop.

      5. Your somewhat well-written response was made wholly ineffective and worthless by your use of unwarranted name calling and hostility.

      6. This post contains my thoughts on man vs. ecology as a whole. You are free to disagree and you are equally free to not read my blog if what I say bothers you so much. In short, you don’t have a clue who I am, but nice try anyway.

      Thinking before you comment will (hopefully) serve you well in your future blog commenting endeavors and improve upon your reading comprehension skills.

      Have a great day.

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