Cut off from our biology, nature shocks us-our arrogance could be our downfall

Posted August 21st, 2011 in Blog, Featured 1 Comment »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

We are biological beings. We come from nature. Everything in our bodies and all around us burst forth in the Big Bang moment of creation. Nature is not only in our DNA, it IS our DNA. Even consciousness itself is a form of energy manifesting through the actual workings of our brains and hearts and nerve endings. Everything we do has an impact on everything around us, as everything around us has an impact on us.

Why is this so hard to understand? Why do we resist the implications of something this obvious? How did we manage to come to such an experience of alienation from nature that we could actually think ourselves not subject to the exigencies, realities, limits, and wonders of the natural world?

Back on the last day of July, this NY Times headline really struck a chord for me:

In Flood Zone, But Astonished By High Water

Folks live in a flood zone, and then they are astonished when there is a flood in the flood zone. Check out how this article begins:

DAKOTA DUNES, S.D. — Some skeptical locals offered a warning when developers transformed this mostly barren peninsula at the intersection of two rivers into an exclusive planned community, complete with million-dollar homes and a private golf course designed by Arnold Palmer.

They call it “the Dunes” for a reason, the warning went — the rivers put the sand there, and the rivers could sweep it away. But, much like the developers, the new residents were not worried. A few even paid a premium to be closest to the flowing water of the Missouri and the Big Sioux.

Now, a little more than two decades later, the stately homes on Spyglass Circle and Pebble Beach Drive have been evacuated and the 18th hole is under six feet of water, as miles of newly built levees strain to keep this community from surrendering to a historic flood.

Really, what is wrong with us? How did this happen? “Hey, we are humans; we are superior beings. If we build it, the waters will not come.” I wrote about this in my book, too, [see sidebar] in Chapter One, Of Earthquakes and Hurricanes, or, Learning to Face Disaster. After historic floods along the Mississippi in 1993, thousands of acres of land right smack in the inundated floodplains were later developed. You have to wonder about us. You have to wonder about our sanity.

And our lack of humility.

I write and speak about this often because this attitude of ours scares me when I think about the many ecological and economic crises facing this generation. It is an attitude that could be our downfall. It is Western and capitalist and rationalist and mechanistic. It is product of philosophies and religiosities that elevate the mind or the spirit above and beyond and separate from nature, rather than acknowledge that mind like all other things is embedded within it, an integral part, aspect, expression of it.

‘Move nature out of the way, here we come!’ That’s the attitude with which we ‘settled’ the frontier, massacred savages, enslaved those we saw as less-than-human, slaughtered animals and big fish into near-extinction, conquered and paved over forests, prairies, and wetlands, sucked up water from aquifers until they face depletion in our lifetimes. We will simply command nature to bend to our will and give us what we want for our gain and pleasure. Nature is not the sacred stuff of life on this planet, it is a vast array of resources for our use.

Until we use it all up, until we bake the climate, until catastrophe knocks at door after door. In Texas, the town of Robert Lee is about to run out of water.

Ranchers in pickup trucks here stop to ladle up puddles of street water after underground pipes crack, and wilting trees are quenched with dirty bathwater hauled from tubs to front yards…The worst Texas drought since the 1950s has this ranching town of nearly 1,110 residents, and a handful of other cities, facing a prospect they’ve never encountered before: running out of water. One city outside Dallas, Kemp, already experienced a dress rehearsal this month when every faucet was shut off for two days to fix pipes bursting in the shifting and hardening soil.

Many lakes and reservoirs across the state are badly depleted after more than a month of 100-degree temperatures and less than 1 inch of rain. Robert Lee’s water supply lake is fast becoming a mud hole. The worst-off communities are already trying to run pipes to distant water lines, drilling emergency wells and banning water use for virtually anything beyond drinking, bathing and keeping businesses working.

Parts of Texas will soon no longer be viable. The rain is not falling. The state is drying out. This is not the usual drought. This is a process of aridification and it is occurring across the U.S. Southwest. I linked to this article once before, but here it is again, by Alex Prud’homme, Drought – A Creeping Disaster.

Growing population has increased the burden on our water supply. There are more people on earth than ever, and in many places we are using water at unsustainable rates. Cultural shifts contribute to subtle, far-reaching effects on water supplies. In 2008, for the first time, more people lived in cities than in rural communities worldwide, and water is becoming urbanized. Yet some of the world’s biggest cities — Melbourne, Australia; Barcelona, Spain; and Mexico City — have already suffered drought emergencies. Further drying could lead to new kinds of disasters. Consider Perth, Australia: its population has surpassed 1.7 million while precipitation has decreased. City planners worry that unless drastic action is taken, Perth could become the world’s first “ghost city” — a modern metropolis abandoned for lack of water.

Similar fates may await America’s booming desert cities: Las Vegas, Phoenix or Los Angeles.

I also like to stress this point. Climate change is not the only ecological crisis upon us. As Prud’homme writes, climatologists differ some in interpreting the drying of the Southwest, even though it fits climate change models. Yet, climate change is not the only factor here. The fundamental issue, the one underlying all the others including climate change is our arrogant, unsustainable, voracious use and manipulation of nature and its ecosystems to suit the desires of human beings.

And that is what is now coming back to bite us big time. We are going to learn humility and our place within nature the hard way. Frightening in its implications is this little question: how much of the habitat upon which we depend for life, for all that is good in this world, will be destroyed, depleted, contaminated, used up, before we come to that realization? And will we have enough resilience left within the dymanisms of nature, of the era of evolution from which we emerged, that life can regenerate and still hold the human within it?

Our future, my friends, absolutely depends upon us re-finding our place. It absolutely depends upon our rediscovering humility. It absolutely depends upon us giving up the voracious appetite of our economics of growth, to actually stop producing unsustainably and destructively out of the earth and dumping from the waste of the production back into the earth, if we are to survive. Unless we ramp down our consumption of everything we need for life, unless we move towards anti-growth and come closer to our roots in the natural world, we have a very painful future ahead of us – and possibly a short one.

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One Response

  1. Steven Earl Salmony

    If only the global predicament, the ominously looming and enlarging threat to everything that really matters was a laughing matter, that would be the best thing. If only the human family was not primary inducers and drivers of this colossal predicament, and therefore principally responsible for it; if only the many too many leaders who understand precisely what it is that we are discussing now here did not willfully deny science and consciously choose silence over speech. That too, would be the best thing.

    Thanks to all for speaking out, and for your willingness to consider the ideas that are presented here. More than ever before and most of all, I fear that the silence instilled in many too many by the greedmongers who rule the world in our time is leading to the destruction of everything each one of us is striving somehow, in any way at all, to protect and preserve.