Yosemite, Yellowstone, the creek down the street from your house – these are all majestic and beautiful places that are quickly dying. Yosemite is the site of millions of visitors each year who visit not for the experience of the majesty of nature (though many do enjoy nature who go there), but in my perspective, for the ownership of the experience. Being an outdoorsman (or woman) is a big part of the commodification of nature. We now purchase our experiences of the outdoors through purchasing fancy shoes, fashionable clothes, and expensive hotel stays. We mediate our experience through the viewfinder of an expensive digital camera.
Sure, we can spark interest in going green through offering tax breaks, grants, and green loans, but what difference are these things going to really make if we're still treating nature like something to own and have dominion over? While Thomas Friedman espoused some great ideas a couple of years ago in his work, Hot, Flat and Crowded it doesn't feel as though we've come that far.
It's not enough to sit around and wish for more sustainable actions on the parts of other people. We have to work to make people feel it's vital to care about the environment they live in – for more reasons than just the financial. Sure, it's great to get a large tax refund, but isn't it even greater to work together in your community to clean up your local creek? If your answer is "But I'm so busy," you're reflecting a paradigm shared by many.
We are just too busy trying to make ends meet to care about our environment as it dies around us.
Think about that statement. Take it in. Close your eyes and think about your childhood. Did you climb a tree as kid? Did you go wading in a creek? Many of us used rope swings to jump into rivers. Now, that tree is gone. It's gone because we were all too busy to take care of it. The creek has dried up. It's dried up because we were too busy manufacturing things that sit on shelves and collect dust to notice that the stuff we were sending up in the air was leading to climate change. That river? It's too polluted to jump into now. It's polluted because we were too busy to make sure we understood the chemicals we were creating, and now it's too late.
Many Native American tribes had a different paradigm. Before they made a big decision, they would consider how that would affect the tribe – generations in the future.
Our paradigm is the "now" paradigm. We need it now. Cut down the trees so we can print 10,000 copies of a book now that will sell 10 copies. We'll put the rest into a dumpster somewhere when they don't sell at the bargain price. Harvest the mine now so we can have a bunch of sparkly gems to sell. When they don't sell, well then what happens to them? Engineer that corn so that it grows now so that we can feed lots of people and cows – and so that much of the food we harvest can rot in the grocery store and be put into a dumpster when it's not purchased.
We are owned by the word, "now." We need to do work now. We need that report now. We cannot go out to fix the dying Earth, because there are so many things we have to do "now."
The Wake up Call
We have been so busy doing things "now" that we've totally neglected the thing that allows us all to live here on this planet – our environment. What a wonderful thing our planet is. Think about it. Of all the planets in our solar system, how many have life on them? Just one. Our planet is the only one with life on it (that we know of currently). Setting aside all theology, would it not be a tragedy if we wound up killing the one planet in our solar system with intelligent life? Shakespeare was one of the best writers in history. He wrote tragedies. Each involved the downfall of the main character because that character had a fatal flaw. How Shakespearean of us to be killing ourselves by giving into the "now" paradigm.
Right now either you're nodding your head in agreement or you're so offended that you are surprised you've read the article to this point. Think about your reaction. If you're nodding your head, obviously you're someone for whom reading this article "now" was very important. You may even belong to the Sierra Club. If you're wanting to reach through the screen and strangle me, it's very likely that you think that these aren't real problems. I may be just off the ball completely, but it seems that this dichotomy – either knowing there's a problem or denying there's a problem comes with its own tragic fate: Instead of spending energy going out there and doing something, we're arguing amongst ourselves. We're too busy pointing fingers now to clean up that creek, to take care of the tree, to make sure our kids can jump in the same river we did when we were kids. In fact, we're so busy now, that we're going to take our kids to that river "someday."
Someday Never Comes
You should realize this. How many of the tasks in your "someday" file have you actually ever come back to? Let me venture a guess. If you're anything like me, and you've put the label "someday" on something, it's as good as gone. Those are little nagging hopes that you intend to get to "someday," but not right now. What's in that file? Taking the kids to Yosemite? Going on a hike? Volunteering on a cleanup crew? Projects you've bought things for that you've never completed?
Someday never comes because we get so caught up in the "now." While Buddhists advise "Be here now," this is hardly what they meant by this phrase. We're too busy putting out fires because we're afraid our boss will fire us, our client will drop us, or our kids will disown us. Being here now means being present. How much of what you do is a reaction to something else? How much of your life has been spent on autopilot? How often have you thought "I'll donate to this cause because I don't have time to do anything about it?" How many times have you left your computer on over night so you don't have to wait "now" for it to boot up?
Facing the Hard Truth
All the things we purchase "now" for immediate gratification – think about those. How many of those were really necessary? How many have taken up residence in a permanent "someday" pile. It's really hard to face the truth about these things. If we wait for someday to come around to solve these problems, then we might not have a world left to sit in. At least, we won't have a world that has trees, rivers, blue skies, and flowers. We certainly won't have a world showing the complexity of life we have now. And if we really mess up big time? If we continue to make wrong choices? We might have a world left that looks similar to our neighboring, lifeless, planets.
So, what are you going to do right now to make sure that doesn't happen?
- Friedman, T. (2008) Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution – And How it Can Renew America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
- Image courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1205416