Environmental Dichotomy.

For many years I have sensed that there is something wrong at the heart of the environmental movement. After thinking about it for years, living in the work worls everyday, reading books, attending and giving presentations, and spending as much time as I can outside, I think I can finally articulate what has been nagging at me.

It is a cultural problem and it has to do with how we view the world and how we view ourselves in it.

From the environmental perspective, we talk about “preserving our environment” or “protecting the environment.” From a liberal perspective, we talk of being good stewards of our natural resources. Environmental organizations talk about protecting and preserving our natural resources or being good managers of wildlife habitats. Everything from trees to deer herds to trout populations are “managed” by a variety of state and federal agencies. I could go on and on with examples but what all of these statements have in common is that they reflect a basic attitude of OWNERSHIP.

We see ourselves as the species that is (and ought to be) in charge of managing every single thing on the planet from mineral to mammal. We do not seem to notice that this is the same view that has led us to where we are today. It is this same view that has led to the destruction of the natural world. This view of the world is rarely questioned. I believe that this attitude is ingrained in us through our culture and probably has its foundation in western religions. Our entire civilization is built upon this view.

If we wish to survive, it will take a shift in this attitude not solar panels.
If we want to be able to live in a way that is sustainable it will take a shift in this attitude not wind turbines.

Even if everything in our wildest “environmental movement”, dreams were to be put into practice it would not change much because our civilization would continue to run full-steam ahead devouring the planet like a swarm of locusts.

What is the shift in attitude? It is about the relationship. Forests, rivers, lakes, animals, and insects are not our friends. We don’t see them as fellow inhabitants of this planet who have just as much a right to be here as we do. If we did we would treat them much differently. We know enough about the how the natural world works but we do not “know” the natural world intimately.

So what then? Should billions of people go back and live on farms? Honestly, I don’t know. But I think a major shift in our consciousness would ignite some ideas. If millions of people suddenly realized that they do not own the world and that we are merely privileged to be traveling through it at this moment in time along with all of the other non-human inhabitants, we as people might be able to see a new way.

Wow. I'm glad I got THAT off of my chest!! It's something that has been bothering me for a while...which is tough, seeing that my entire professional career is based around these thoughts.



Memphis said...

Very well put. On my recent trip to Italy I couldn't notice how the culture there was so different than America in the sense that they use more that is needed rather than as much as they can. It's a bit of a minimalistic lifestyle there and it really makes you take stock in some of the behaviors we have here. Many people ride scooters as their primary mode of transportation and those that have cars, have smaller ones. They have smaller appliances, dry their clothes on the line rather than in a dryer that uses electricity or gas. They use gas where they can because it's cheaper and more efficient than electricity. The toilets use less water, etc, etc, etc. We as Americans are horribly spoiled and ridiculously self-indulgent. It is a culture thing much moreso than an environmental movement. To save the planet we have to change the culture and strip away this sense of entitlement that we have. It's an uphill battle for sure, but not an impossible one.

Anonymous said...

Very well said indeed. I loved what you wrote!