Alone in a World of Wounds

The more a person knows about the complexity and fragility and inter-dependent webs within the living world, the more outrage and sadness and sense of powerlessness they are likely to suffer. Aldo Leopold said it well:

“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”

That alone-ness once became so intolerable that I committed to sharing my concerns, to saying more and more about the wounds. Surely everyone must care! I had thought, with more voices, we could and would change our hurtful relationships with every part of the planet we have touched with our heavy hand.

But I am uncertain now that “the world” wants to know the truth of our predicament. And the Earth-aware–those ecologists and teachers and stewards who would make Earth’s wounds visible–are being silenced and marginalized and demonized and their voices muted from the highest office.

It is an uncomfortable and lonely place—here, damned if I do or don’t, seeing no good will come from the agonized scream of environmental outrage or the barely-audible whimper of mortally wounded helplessness.

The Smaller-Hammer Approach

Don’t get me wrong: the bigger-hammer folks still prevail in the arena of strip-mining the soil for maximizing profit from monoculture-derived soy, corn, cotton and the like.

And granted, the insects and weeds still either have or are evolving the upper hand. Again.

But Monsanto-Bayer, Bosch and John Deere are seeing in this another opportunity to make a buck while seeming-GREEN. Yet again, the upper hand against an uncooperative NATURE is (wait for it): more technological fixes.

See Robots fight weeds in challenge to agrochemical giants

Meanwhile, in another sad statement of the state of affairs, natural predators are being replaced by yet another robot–a smaller hammer: a tiny mechanical spider is being developed, soon perhaps to be released in large numbers, to provide the environmental services that biological spiders and other predators could have effectively performed once upon a time.

Not to worry. We Know Better. We’ll fix whatever is broken–meaning whatever buggers with efficiency or profit. Nature is just too sloppy and slow for Modern Man in the Anthropocene. Move over, let our engineers show you how it’s done.

And I don’t think I like where this story is headed, but then I’ll only get to the middle of the book before the lights go out.

Should we, in the last chapter, do ourselves in, it wouldn’t be the first time that a major extinction was caused by the “environmental tinkering” of Earth’s creatures, though such a feat has never before been brought on by a single species. We really are something special.

See: Evidence that Earth’s first mass extinction was caused by critters not catastrophe

THE LAST STRAW of ONE Lifetime

I pledge: to never again use a new plastic straw.

I made that commitment—regrettably and only after decades of knowing about the Great Garbage Patch in the Sargasso Sea, and since, about the other floating islands the size of Texas that consist of all the plastic waste that washes down our local creeks and rivers.

This article contains ample support for why each of us needs to think about the cradle-to-grave lifespan of everything we buy—and mindlessly use once and toss. Think about where that toss sends the plastic sizzles, cup lids, twist-ties, “free” pens from the bank, styrofoam Happy Meal containers, coffee cups….

So on our recent trip, I had multiple opportunities to JUST SAY NO. We did stop one place that used paper straws. Paper or plastic: take TWO. I saved a straw found in the glove box and will reuse it for thoes rare times when driving and drinking—a fountain drink from Subway.

You can purchase re-usable straws, too. I’m thinking if I need that one more bit of STUFF.

Take It to the Limit One More Time

Planet Earth has always operated within limits–almost like an organism. But too there have been “accidents” that overwhelmed natural processes and created eons of disorder.

Runaway climate shifts of the past carried the land or sea beyond a state where life-as-usual could go on. Volcanoes erupted, continents smashed together, or a stray meteorite created a “nuclear winter” that set the state of living things back a few hundred million years.

But for the most part, long stable periods on Earth have been adequate to allow species to diverge and disperse, biomes like coral reefs and prairie and tundra to develop and forests to reach climax stability–what we would call OLD GROWTH forests today. It is almost non-existent in our times.

And for the first time in Earth’s history, we are thinking about the fact that our one species can perturb conditions in the air, soil and water sufficient to push natural resilience to and past the breaking point. And so there is growing talk about Planetary Boundaries.

Of note in the diagram, the light green is AGRICULTURE’s part in pushing the limits. Note for how many of these 9 boundaries land-care (the literal meaning of agri-culture) is a contributor.

We must change the way we wage war on the landscape, and begin to think intentionally about how we relate to and contribute to the well-being or dis-ease of the land. Margaret Meade said it well:

We won’t have a society if we destroy the environment.

And yet in our arrogance and ignorance we act as if we can push the limits–beyond the breaking point; beyond tolerance; beyond carrying capacity. Somehow our engineers and technological wizards will find a way, just in the nick of time, to cheat the odds so that we do not become yet another once-great civilization on the dust heap of environmental failures that have gone before us.

I will be looking a this soon–on February 11 at 2pm at the Floyd library. Topic will be “Living in Our Forests: From Ice Age to Anthropocene. Barbara Pleasant and Jane Cundiff will also have boots-on-the-ground information to share, along with this thirty-thousand-foot view of things.

This bit of it just bubbled up as I was looking back at my notes. Morning pages, you know.

More on Planetary Boundaries at Wikipedia.

On Walking the Talk in 2018

And so, like many of you, I struggle to find balance, courage, and focus for the coming year. And I see work (a few items listed below) that is worthy of my time—a commodity in somewhat short and uncertain supply approaching three score and ten this year.

Like you, I vacillate between the urge to scream and flail and rant and the urge to assume fetal position and be passively overtaken by the tsunami of unreason, injustice, indifference and arrogant triumphalism that confronts us with each days news. But doing nothing is a ticket to becoming a victim of our own slack-jawed, inert acquiescence to actions and tweets and attitudes and values that we abhor.

That said, what can one person do—in particular, what can I do—in 2018 that might make a difference and give voice to what I believe to be the good, the honorable, the just and the true walk with what keystrokes, minutes and synapses I have remaining?

1. I can find balance between time reading about and understanding the issues (my main focus is biological and ethical) and making time to gather those resources together in a new way that might change hearts and minds. I will strive to create a deeper and more accurate understanding of the issues and their consequences in the next decade. One generation plants the trees, another enjoys their shade. If there are no trees being planted…or if they are being turned to pellets for the monster Drax in Europe..(another story returning to Fragments soon)
2. I will support the SustainFloyd Personal Climate Pledge in whatever direction it goes in the coming year. I encourage you to read online or download the packet of information—including the printable pledge—that begins to turn our individual life choices regarding energy, food, and consumption-in-general away from the precipice of environmental overshoot. (more on this soon)
3. I will give shoe leather support actively to the campaigns of Tim Kaine and Anthony Flaccavento in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
4. Through writing I can hold up the contrasts between the policies and missions and values of Mr. Griffin versus Mr. Flaccavento for voters to gain an understanding of the consequences of the two plans and divergent philosophical foundations for the future. Again, my focus will be chiefly on what these two leaders would do to ensure a healthy future for our soil, water, forests, wildlife and agricultural systems; and to follow the money and the moral choices behind those divers money trails.
5. And (this should really be #1 but it wont happen if I give full service to #1-4) I can regain the discipline and devote the many hours to do the writing towards my personal projects, and then with a new book in my hands (and readers hands of course) speak to a wide diversity of audiences, with media including my photography, on the matters in the book that I believe matter most.

What does your can-do list look like? Have you written it down and pinned it to your refrigerator yet? Why not do that today.