Friday, July 20, 2007

Just What is a Natural Landscape?

Just finished reading Charles Mann's book 1491 and am still ruminating over the implications of the ideas expressed in the book. It is a long story of an alterante version of history than we were taught in school--certainly more balanced and believable. History of civilization in the Americas starting from first contact between the native 'Indians' and westerners and going backward to redraw what we assumed and were taught up until now. But more than that it is really a history of the planet, with man as just another creature who plays a part in nature, rather than as humans as somehow separate from the natural cycle of things (often above if you believe the bible). Mann debunks the idea that there can be a more 'pristine' version of nature if humans would just keep their hands off, garbage out of, saws away from, etc. This destruction as part of the natural cycle as global warming is, if in fact your respect the fact that we are part of nature, not separate from it. His final few paragraphs are worth quoting here as they seem to summarize his position better than I ever could:
Understanding that nature is not normative does not mean that anything
goes. The fears come from the mistaken identification of wildness with the
forest itself. Instead the landscape is an arena for the interaction of natural
and social forces, a kind of display, and one that like all displays is not
fully under the control of its authors.

Native americans ran the continent as they saw fit. Modern nations must do
the same. If they want to return as much of the landscape as possible to its
state of 1491, they will have to create the world's largest gardens.

Gardens are fashioned for many purposes with many different tools,
but all are collaborations with natural forces. Rarely do their makers claim to be restoring or rebuilding anything from the past; and they are never in full control of the results. Instead, using the best tools they have and the knowledge that they can gather, they work to create future

If there is a lesson it is that to think like the original inhabitants of
these lands we should not set our sights on rebuilding an environment from the
past but concentrate on shaping a world to live in for the future.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

In and Absurd world, the good news can be found in the garden

The avalanche is upon us. Suddenly global warming is being taken seriously. But I feel like I've known it was real all along. The country is finally upset about Iraq. I didn't think we should've gone to war in the first place. The oceans of the world are in peril, and aquaculture is quickly adding to the toll, but I'd been convinced of this more than ten years ago. I should feel vindicated and ahead of the curve, instead it sickens me that it's taken this long for it to sink in. I just read about a common psychological assumption that most people believe everyone knows what they know...well that's for damn sure in my case. I'm still in a state of shock about this. It's not that all the ideas about environmental degradation were mine--I happen to live in the world and notice things, and do a fair amount of mostly main-stream reading. Here's a choice little tidbit from TEN years ago by Paul Hawken, it's slightly dated, but still holds up easily against the drivel printed in the mainstream press on global warming and where we stand today. Put 2+2 together and you can't miss the conclusion.

Now comes the question of what to do about it. Having left my job in a classically wasteful mail-order retail house, I've taken the first step. Raising a child with an awareness of our environmental predicament helps too, but it's not enough. Bio diesel for the car would help, not driving a car at all would be even better. All nice, but really the world needs to change on an industrial and universal level if we are going to save ourselves. The garden gives lots of solace, and a few answers helping remind us that over time we can build a relationship with nature to benefit both. I find the number of creatures that visit my modest plot astounding, and the numbers seems to be growing--hummers, butterflies, ladybugs, jays, finches, as if I've maybe improved the environment in my own little way.

Having just read cradle to cradle, I feel like I've finally stumbled upon someone who is thinking in a way that is way beyond conservation, into a direction of universal symbiosis with nature--on an industrial level. This is finally what I've been waiting to hear, not that any of his ideas were ones that had occurred to me as viable, but he somehow has proven himself, so people are listening. It is so simple it's astounding, but it takes starting over our thinking about everything we currently assume and the way we do things. It's about time.