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.