We older folks are leaving an ecological mess for our younger generations.
While thoroughly enjoying my senior years, I have experienced a profound internal struggle as I try to understand why we older folks are leaving an ecological mess for our younger generations.
As a scientist and conservationist, I see this process of “Nature denial” taking place. I see the everyday activities of ordinary people impairing important ecosystems with activities as simple as dog walking in legally restricted or prohibited areas where dogs have a negative impact on important ecosystems. Warning signs created by knowledgeable ecologists are completely ignored by some members of the adult public. When a dog walker is approached by a smiling and polite steward of Nature who is also a member of the local community, tension ensues. In many cases, the dog walker continues on with the dog without leaving the area. No amount of courteous and compassionate dialog will sway the dog walker because he or she believes that the dog has a “right” to be there. Where I live, this interchange happens often.
This kind of thing is happening by seemingly responsible adults at all levels, from walking dogs to climate denial. One does not have to dig very deep to discover that the human world is facing some major environmental crises unless some real changes take place in humanity’s worldviews about Nature. I feel this very deeply because my current group of students, and their offspring, will be the first generation to experience some pretty awful things as they reach middle age. I feel for this generation of young people, aged 25 years and younger, as I face them in the classroom every week. I accept my share of the responsibility because I am part of their problem.
Thinking that there is an infinite supply of goods available to us in our garden of Eden, the members of my generation have fueled over-consumption that has resulted in straining the finite resources of Earth. We have seen ourselves as separate from Nature instead of being dependent upon Her. We have erroneously believed that our technology can control Nature and will offer miracles that will prevent the bad things from happening.. And, we adults have failed to see that the relationships and interactions between things are far more important than the things themselves. We have failed to realize that we humans need Nature but that Nature does not need us.
Inside of me, I find myself silently dealing with a growing anger for some people’s total disregard for the environment upon which all of our lives depend. I find myself trying to understand what is going on. But, most of all, I seek solutions to offer my students. I see brightness in a group of adult heroes who are positive exceptions within my generation. These folks are environmental educators, thought leaders, and scientists. These people are bringing the truth of the near term future to our young people and offering solutions.
My discomfort has driven me to do a lot of reading as I seek the perspectives of some great thought leaders of our time. I have come to realize that the climate change problem and the dog walking problem are the same problem, They both call for the same solution. Among many, I am particularly grateful for the persuasive thinking of thought integrator Jeremy Lent, environmental and political activist George Monbiot, philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore, speaker and writer on themes of human cultural evolution Charles Eisenstein, environmental educator David W. Orr, and the father of modern systems thinking Fritjof Capra. At the end of this essay, I offer online references for each of these thinkers.
The one basic idea expressed by every one of these people is that of a misguided and misinformed human culture that has driven us to a point in our Earth’s history where we all feel separated from Nature. We feel separated from our very source of life. If we can understand that actions by humans are motivated by separation, we may have a chance at helping our youth forge a new pathway to both survival and happiness. For, it is through our youth that we humans have a chance of saving our race.
ClimateHealers describes this story of separation:
“This story of separation is the core story that is truly failing us. With the technological strides we have made in the last two centuries, most of us live in concrete jungles with little to no exposure to the terrestrial biodiversity on Earth. Other than our pets, we rarely meet any other animal species in our daily lives except in zoos and circuses or packaged as meat in supermarkets.”
Some people have concluded that we are separated from Creation in an unconscious enactment of the Old Testament story. In Genesis 1: 26 of the Bible (KJV), we are told that humans have dominion over the Earth:
“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
“In civilization, what you are is a discrete, separate individual, among other individuals, in an external universe that is separate from you. In religion, you are a soul encased in flesh. In psychology, you are a mind encased in flesh. In biology, you are the expression of DNA serving to maximize your reproductive self-interest and greed. And that conception of self has basically poisoned our planet, because we treat the planet as if it were an other. That is, not only are we separated from Creation, but we are separated from each other. While climate change is a symptom of the fever that our Earth has contracted, the underlying disease is the disconnection from Creation that plagues human societies throughout the Earth.
While this story of our separation justifies and drives many of our daily actions, it is in fact a story of human exceptionalism, the idea that we are somehow different from and better than other species. It is based on the false notion that while other species all have to live in harmony with Nature, we are somehow exempt from that requirement since we can fashion our own environment.
This notion is patently false. The cascading environmental crises are signals from Nature that there are no such exceptions in the family of Life. We have no choice but to live in harmony with Nature because we are a part of Nature.
This story of separation is closely aligned with ‘speciesism’, which is discrimination and exploitation on the basis of species identity. It is due to speciesism that we consider the murder of humans to be wrong, but the hunting of other animals to be sport, concentration camps to be evil, but slaughterhouses to be humane, jails to be avoided, but zoos to be toured.”
We are entering a story of Reunion
Throughout all of this human created chaos, Charles Eisenstein sees hope. He says that:
“Individually and collectively, we are on a journey from a story of Separation to a new yet ancient story of Reunion: ecology, interdependence, and interbeing.”
Indeed Eisenstein’s words define the pathway of this Reunion which is the solution to the climate problem, the dog problem, and other human created environmental problems. We must take the Reunion pathway if we are going to empower our youth by creating a new human consciousness of our interdependence with Nature in the minds and hearts of our current and future generations. A consciousness for interbeing among all things in Nature.
Interbeing means to inter-dependently co-exist. The meaning of interbeing recognizes the dependence of any one person on all other people and objects. Not only is no man an island, but rather his interbeing is shared with the plants and animals he eats, the people who make his clothes and food, the people who populate his home, country and the very world he perceives, the insects that pollinate the trees that yield his fruit, shade him from the sun, and provide lumber for his house.
This essay begins a series of essays that describe some of the ideas that are expressed by current thought leaders regarding the human role in resolving the current ecological crisis and bringing we humans back into a Reunion with Nature. Some of the subjects that this essay series will address include:
- The Necessity of Our Interbeing With Nature
- Empowering Our Youth
- The Danger of Fundamentalism
- The Vital Importance of Systems Thinking By Humans (Our Earth’s Living Systems)
- The Power of Legacy
Here are references to each of the thought leaders who I have mentioned:
For Your Further Consideration
This essay is part of a series of essays that present ideas to environmental educators and all stewards of Nature about ecoliteracy and legacy. The emphasis is on two key ideas:
- Our earth is a living system that transports and transforms energy. The key to an active ecoliteracy that results in a healthy environment for all life on earth is the building of a systems view of life into the minds and hearts of humanity, This worldview includes the fact that all of Nature is interconnected and interdependent.
- Environmental education is not simply offering facts. Environmental education must be hands-on and place-based if ideas, facts, and effective conservation strategies are to become a consciousness in the minds and hearts of our youth. Environmental education must include the the passing of this consciousness to future generations.
Why Do I Write These Essays?
Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.
If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.
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