Imagine! A fertile and delightful region! Wouldn't you like to live in such a place? Or at least visit one? Tourists and vacationers pay untold billions of dollars every month to do just that. Land prices shoot through the roof when "developers" find such places. We flock to these havens in droves, take pictures to show our loved ones, run around spending money we often don't have, idolize these spots in our minds, create a personal, loving relationship with them; and then, more often than not, as countless others follow suit, we humans destroy those cherished gardens. Delightful and fertile regions have become synonymous with doomed places, as anyone over 20 has surely witnessed at least once in their life.
Doom and destruction are what we have been bringing large scale to that largest garden around, the only known garden in the universe--Planet Earth--ever since we dropped or slithered from the tree tops, at an ever accelerating and now furious pace. Someone not long ago asked Jane Goodall why she thought that chimps were not as advanced as humans. Her answer, paraphrased: Actually, they're considerably more advanced, if you look at how they relate to their environment without destroying it.
Indeed. Chimps live their lives and leave no trace behind. Their environment gets passed on to their progeny in the same healthy condition that it was untold generations before themselves, and as it might be passed on for generations to come--assuming we humans don't get involved.
Bring humans on stage and what do you get? Self-multiplying bipedal wrecking machines, diligently working to fry the planet, dam rivers, destroy lakes, pollute oceans, mutilate coastlines, decimate forests, eliminate fisheries, erode and poison farmlands, build vast waste dumps, deplete resources of every description, inject chemicals into the air, do what we can to wreck our own bodies, scam one another ad infinitum, numb our brains and senses, and, as if that's not enough, do our damndest to make our progeny even dumber-as if to assure that they'll be even more incapable of saving the planet than we are.
Is there anything more we could possibly do to destroy rather than nurture the garden that has brought us into being? Ah, yes. I forgot war. We love to kill each other, don't we? The more insane among us now desperately seek to bomb Iran. Wouldn't that be fun?
Truly, we are living in a madhouse of our own creation, a full-blown insane asylum, a loony bin of global proportions. We are ravishing the earth, sucking its resources dry, destroying the very support systems that all life on the planet depends on.
How dense can people be?
We turn to morons and treat them as leaders. We allow superstitious old men, vicious, cowardly, and ignorant fools, individuals with sickly ideas, and parties with mental vacuums where there should be grand visions, to direct, manipulate and monopolize our lives.
Please! Raise your hand if you actually enjoy this!
Well, I'm glad your hand is down. And though I'm not happy to see any hands raised, at least those few with hands still up constitute a minority and have even given themselves a name. Which I'm confident you've heard: Republicans (well, ok, I don't mean to heap praise on Democrats, but at least they don't generally boast about being stupid).
Anyone not in that minority has surely asked themselves: Is there really any hope? Can we possibly find a way to nurture and cultivate the Garden of Earth, rather than continuing to plunder and bulldoze it? Is it genetically programmed that our species must bring about its own destruction, along with that of tens or hundreds of thousands (millions?) of other species?
I don't know those answers and I don't see how anyone can know without making some major assumptions. But it is surely fair to say that optimism appears to be more and more synonymous with ignorance. How can anyone look around and be aware of what's going on and perceive so much as a ray of hope? It is difficult, at best.
Still, we appear programmed to hope. Programmed to attempt to go on, as if survival really is built into our genes. So go on we must, even if only to ultimately race headlong into the wall of extinction. It is a bona fide possibility, which no one with half a brain can any longer deny.
So what do we need to do to stop bulldozing the garden? I submit six principles that we need to incorporate into our psyches, and into the psyches of our species, in the shortest possible time. These principles need not be adopted by all, but they must somehow become the blueprint of cultural norms; those who cannot or will not abide by these principles must be taken to task, ostracized, and perhaps incarcerated, if that's what it takes to make our species pay attention and save our own habitat, the Garden of Earth.
I intend to elaborate on these points in succeeding articles, but for now I will attempt to paint the broader strokes in summary fashion. I doubt that I'm telling you anything new-I hope I'm not-but maybe by consolidating my own thinking it will be of some help for others to focus as well. Awareness is the first step to change, and I am happy to report that everywhere I go I do see evidence of this awareness-my rays of hope, if you will. The awakening I see appears to be a quiet one-what else can such a phenomenon be?-without headlines, without fanfare, without Time Magazine and Faux News; yet I believe the awakening is real, and the more I look, the more I see of it.
The other evening I met a woman in a local park who just moved from London, speaks four languages, comes from Malaysia, chooses walking over driving whenever she can, and considers herself "very green"; a friend I made in Costa Rica recently is developing a five acre organic farm, as a model for others to follow; a business acquaintance in Germany has proven technology and patents to make thin film solar panels that will undercut coal-fired electricity, and is searching for $50 million to build a huge start-up production facility (I have seen enough to be convinced this is no pipe dream); a woman I met in Bocas spent two weeks volunteering to safeguard turtle eggs from poachers; a friend here in Utah has a solar water heater, switched to all energy efficient lighting and other energy saving devices around his house, as have countless individuals across the nation; a family member of mine grows about half her own food in Michigan; another friend does construction and puts the utmost care into quality and energy efficiency; a former Spanish instructor of mine devotes much of her spare time to helping youths at risk, and another one attends and gives lectures on women's rights in Central America; several teachers I know are remarkably dedicated and do a top-flight job with the kids in their care; a bus driver at Bush International Airport rants and rails about the idiot ruining our country; one of my brothers does Vermont still-life photography, bringing the beauty of nature into countless lives on a daily basis; an unfortunate and partially run-over squirrel I came across while rollerblading recently attracted the attention of about a dozen people who literally "felt its' pain," and wracked their brains on how to help it (we all grimaced while I enlisted another car to end its misery).
Of course, I'm randomly scratching the surface of what I would consider positive behaviors that I see humans engaged in. For every person mentioned, I've either met or know at least 10 others doing something constructive and positive in their own personal garden, to improve rather than destroy their immediate surroundings. And I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that you know at least 25 such folks yourself, and probably are one. The overwhelming majority of humans have no desire to harm or harass others, and they are likewise interested in making their world a better place and helping fellow humans. I believe it is correct to say that most people have a deep sense of empathy and compassion, a desire to see fairness and decency around them, a wish for more beauty in their own lives, and would very much like to have less hatred and insanity in the world.
People WANT beautiful gardens, where they live and where they visit. Just look at the magazine racks on the subject. The vast majority of people DON'T want violence, war, ignorance, or a deteriorated world for their children. Yes, we often DO things that work against our own interests, in ignorance or based on faulty understandings, out of fear or perhaps based on an absence of global vision. But I contend that these shackles to misery and self-extermination can be broken, if those of us who somehow see a little further will continue to speak out, act out, and let it be known that there are better ways for our species to relate to one another and to the world around us.
Here are six simple principles that, if we could incorporate into the cultures of the world, and into the mental landscape of humans everywhere, would turn the tide of destruction, stop the bulldozers, and convert the Garden of Earth into a sustainable, joyous, and virtually miraculous place for people everywhere. I shall merely paint what I see as the broad strokes here, with the intent of writing succeeding essays on each topic over the next few months.
1. Recognize that we are one species and that we are all related. Expand our "we" group to include all humans. Understand that our DNA is the same, that we truly are the brothers and sisters that both science and religion tell us we are. By making this simple leap of awareness and seeing the children of our "enemies" as children of our own, we just might stop killing each other, start being kind to each other, and work towards ending poverty and the extreme disparity of allocated resources.
2. Nurture the young of our species. Starting with prenatal care, where brain development is so rapid. If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, then there is no better place to begin change than with developing humans. Once born, children everywhere must have access to clean water, food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and a nurturing environment. I've worked in the classroom for twenty years, and can honestly say that I have not seen one case of a person who was born a psychopath. Reading I've done on the subject suggests the same thing (and if there are exceptions, they are so rare as to be inconsequential to society as a whole). Children learn to love or to hate; to cherish their natural curiosity or to bury it; to relate to others with empathy and understanding or to view others as objects for their own use; to be constructive in their own lives or to be a parasite on others; and so on. This is nothing new. The history of education is rife with heroes and heroines who saw this and tried to educate others about the importance of educating children. That we have degenerated to the "no child left behind" act as a guiding light is nothing short of pathetic; that this was one of the first strangleholds to issue from a sick administration, aware that educators are politically impotent, illustrates that someone understands the fundamental importance of how we educate our children. How sad that this awareness comes from those who wish to control those children in another decade or two.
3. Limit population growth. Have we forgotten The Population Bomb? Do we think that was a joke? Does anyone truly believe that a finite planet can support unlimited numbers of consumers? That our life support systems can bear further strain, when they are already collapsing? Anyone who is contemplating having a child should think long and hard about the world they are bringing that child into, and the strain that human will further place on Planet Earth.
4. Convert to sustainable living. Put a plug in the bathtub rather than running more hot water. Stop air leaks around the house. Use energy efficient lighting. Use the lightest impact transportation possible. Elect leaders who support mandates for corporations that encourage efficiency, conservation, the conversion to renewable resources.
5. Respect nature. Recognize that "Mother Nature" truly is Our Mother. That we have evolved over hundreds of millions of years in the cauldron of nature, fueled by solar energy, and that we have ties to all living things on earth. Have some understanding of the complexity of plants and animals, of water, of soil, of energy flows, of oceans, of the atmosphere. Be able to see and appreciate at least some of the intricacies of the relation of insects and flowers, of the intimate connection between bacteria and our own existence, of evolution and modern medicine, of carbon dioxide and global temperature, of clean water and healthy forests, of pollution in China and the lungs of our children. And so on.
6. Respect ideas. Let 2 + 2 = 4. When things don't add up, and someone keeps pushing the notion that they do, those people should be bounced out on their heads. As should have been done with anyone who supported the Iraq war or voted for George Bush. Ditto anyone who says global warming doesn't exist, that the Bible should be taken literally, that evolution isn't real, that corporations should have the rights but not responsibilities of persons. And so on. People who don't do their homework should not be taken seriously or given time on the airwaves.
These are not difficult concepts. Untold millions, and for all I know billions, of people around the world understand some or all of them. Ten million humans got up, got out, and marched against the war in Iraq. Seventy percent of the population of America think Bush and the Congress are failing us-that number is what the bought-out, sold-out press tells us, though I'd bet the real numbers are considerably higher. An even greater portion of the world opposes what our country is doing, if not despises it. Awareness of the lunacy is blooming, and righteous emotions are close behind, gaining momentum daily.
Sure, no one can do everything first, and no one can single-handedly save the world; but we must start where we can, however we can. Speak up, speak out; take action in some way that feels right, don't try to do it all; build awareness in whatever way you can, and if you find yourself despairing, promptly recognize that as wasted energy and turn toward the light, however dim it may seem, and let that be your guide.
I know these ideas are simple, so simple they seem not even worth saying. I've sat on this essay for probably six months for that reason. But the truth is, we have yet to begin to incorporate these ideas into our beings, and to establish them as guideposts for all that we do. I personally can't see that it matters what political party is in charge, or even what system of government we have, until we are living and breathing these concepts, since if we don't live and breathe these concepts, nothing will matter a hill of beans anyway. Until then, I'd say we need to keep repeating these thoughts, talking about them, discussing them, encouraging others to think about them, and demonstrating them in our own lives.
Conversely, once enough of us are doing just that, our politics and systems of government, along with politicians generally, are going to become less and less relevant, as the change of consciousness carries us away from self destruction and toward a nurturing and caring world, where humans and nature matter more than ideologies, mind sets, fantasies, and fanatics on the loose.