Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Environmental Inactivism

For the natural mechanisms of the world to work, large areas of the world need to be left alone. That means we shouldn't build out every square inch that looks available.

This wisdom either falls on deaf ears or sparks acrimonious debate over whether you might be "on the side of humans or on the side of animals and trees." Yes. It's about taking sides and fighting. That's the automatic human analysis of most situations.

One winter day in 1986 I was riding in a car, coming out of Shenandoah National Park after a weekend backpacking trip. With snow on the mountains and a good view down the valley with the leaves off, I was suddenly very aware of the shape of the land. All the actions that had shaped it looked obvious and immediate. At that moment I went on geological time. I'm afraid I've been there ever since.

The switch to geological time has not improved my already lackluster performance in pursuit of human success, but I contend the problem is in the definition of success.

We can mess up the climate. We can foul the air and water. We can create such a poisonous, disease-ridden environment that we sicken most or all of the higher life forms on the planet. That's our right, and apparently our intention. But when it's over, geology goes on. The mountains we reshaped to gouge the coal out from beneath them, the rivers we dammed, the wetlands we drained will simply reform as the impersonal forces of gravity and weather compel them to.

A few more years or a few more centuries of self-induced, squalid human suffering won't make a difference in the long run.

Some would say this releases us to pursue our individual and collective greed without limit, because the rock is everlasting. I prefer to say that each person's individual span is such a nanosecond in geological time that we should show more concern for how each of us gets to spend that brief flicker and, in doing so, accidentally create a more sustainable pace compatible with the placid rocks.

But those are just my sediments.

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