Friday, December 14, 2012

Time for a new Environmentalism?

Charmlee Wilderness Park in Malibu, California

That is the question being asked in a popular article over on Slate.com. It seems that “eco-pragmatists” (aka “modernist greens”) are asserting that it is at best illogical and unhelpful to assume that pristine habitats are the only definition of “natural.” At least one even lauds GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and nuclear power as essentially to the continued success of our species. Others think invasive species are not all that bad. I believe the truth lies somewhere between the modern movement and the old guard that still clings to the belief the only good wilderness is….well, wilderness.

Here are the fundamentals that I believe we must collectively address if we are to move forward for a better planet:

  • Recognize that Homo sapiens is itself an animal. That’s right, we continue to ignore that we are animals, subject to the same drives and instincts as any other animal species. We seek to reproduce, limit mortality factors, and accumulate resources. We are also subject to adversity like any other animal: competition, predation, parasitism, natural disaster, etc. Increasingly, as we conquer our natural enemies, we replace them with others of our own species who act as competitors, predators, and parasites in both the literal and economic sense.
  • Agree that Earth’s climate is changing. What else do I need to say? It should be obvious by now, but we must continue seeking changes in natural resource extraction (like slowly eliminating it), and embrace any and all potential, sustainable solutions. We can have wind power without excessive avian fatalities. We simply need the will and the flexibility to follow new innovations, even if we find ourselves already producing some other device.
  • Curb rampant consumerism. Our Western culture must cease to aspire to material wealth. We must revolt against advertising that attempts to convince us we need product such-and-such for our well-being or self-improvement. Self-improvement will come when we downsize our existing material possessions, share what we have left, and focus on physical and mental health. We can raise world standards of living by lowering our own at the extreme end of the spectrum.
  • Assign higher value to all living organisms. We should hold living things in higher esteem than anything else, especially financial profit. We need to properly revere those organisms we rely on for food, and protect diversity above all else. There is a reason there are so many other species on the planet. We just don’t always know the “why” of it. We must also remember that we are living organisms ourselves, and treat labor and consumers accordingly.
  • Establish a spectrum of ecosystems and habitats. Our national parks, for example, should have a mandate to reflect the historical natural spectrum of our lands. Re-introducing species that formerly occupied an area is in keeping with this philosophy. Eliminating invasive species from such areas is equally important. Meanwhile, creating parks at the national, state, county, or city level should reflect habitats that may not be pristine, but have varying degrees of human alteration.
  • Remove barriers to local agriculture. It is appalling that there are still ordinances in some places preventing the erection of community gardens, backyard farms, and other means of self-sufficient food production. Our government has no responsibility to protect agri-business at the expense of the citizenry. Most of our future advancements in agriculture will come through experimentation at a smaller scale. Meanwhile, local agriculture may buffer us from the impact of large scale droughts and disasters on much larger farms (if one can still call agri-business enterprises “farms.”).
  • Reduce federal budgets for weaponry. Homo sapiens has proved again and again that its greatest capacity is for destruction. We no longer have the luxury of invading other countries, in any sense. See “assign higher value to all living organisms” above. Yes, there may be need to deploy troops to make peace in places of conflict, but we have to eliminate all nuclear weapons at the least. I would gladly pay more in taxes for DISarmament.
  • Cease an “Americentric” approach to domestic problems. The U.S. has an enormous ego problem. We can no longer dismiss the successes of other nations in solving common problems like unemployment and substance abuse. “Our way or the highway” is an attitude that leads to failure. There is no shame in adopting the ways of others when those solutions are demonstrably successful.

Perhaps one of the good things that will come from rising fuel prices (as a result of dwindling oil supplies) is that people will be forced to look at their immediate surroundings and lifestyle and realize that they need to appreciate what is close to home. I hope it doesn’t come to rationing and other extreme measures before we come to our senses, though. I truly believe that biodiversity begins at home. So does conservation, sustainability, and environmentalism.

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