Saturday, April 5, 2008

Just diving right in...

There seems to be a problem with discourse about the environment these days, born of polarized politics, the onslaught of irony and technology, historical foundations of race, class, religion, gender and place, and the urbanization and suburbanization of our nation. The very words used to describe humans' actions in this world are hijacked by political innuendo, religious and social connotations.

Our current social climate places strict constraints on the nature of people's views about the environment. We are forced into one of a few rigid schools of thought, and we are often bound by other political affiliations that have little to do with nature's reality. One school of thought believes in the environment effectively as a stand-alone entity, where people can and should "leave no trace", where animals have rights akin to the political rights of people, where humans presence is almost always a sin. Another camp believes in humanity's divine right to dominion over nature, its flora and fauna to be processed and managed into usable products and services for people, its threats to be completely eliminated. A third camp sees the environment as a medium through which one class' excesses and hatred are borne by an underclass, in the form of air and water pollution, toxic wastes, landfills and ports.

But, by far the largest group are those who know little and therefore care little for whatever the environment may be. To them, it is a place beyond them, one they may visit to look at from time to time for entertainment, like a theme park or the mall, or perhaps the best analogy, a television set. It has no real value to them beyond this. They never feel an interactive attachment to this place; it is "outside", it is somewhere they go to see, not some place in which they live.

This was not always so. From the turn of the century through to the early 60's, there grew an amazing, nuanced, clear-eyed view of the environment and humanity's place in it. At the same time the masses marched toward the suburbs, and automated production developed near-unimaginable (and unmanageable) capacities, a small, thoughtful group of people struggled to understand and develop an ethic towards nature. These observations, set down through the writings and actions of people like George Grinnell, Aldo Leopold, and Margaret and Olaus Murie, illuminate truths about humanity in nature, our creations of illusions like "urban" and "rural", the profound interconnectedness of our actions and places.

This blog will attempt to be one small voice for continuing the tradition of honestly looking at humanity's place in the physical world, and our responsibilities toward it.

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