People now regard real estate as more than just a dwelling place or a spot to park their assets. They want a dab of garden, several healthy trees with birds at a feeder, a breeze and grass to mow and put lawn furniture on – which is a fancy way of lying on the ground as we once did. They want low blood pressure, no acid reflux or palpitations, want longevity. Politically, in the grabbing phase we are living in, this impulse does not take the form of wanting to preserve nature as a public domain. Rather than that, we tend to hire a backhoes to dig private mini-ponds and plant nursery plants after chopping down whatever vegetation had grown there naturally in the first place.
People want muscle cars and a swatch of land to play land designer on. I heard of one man that made such a pond and then poisoned “his” frogs int he springtime because they sang when they mated. He wanted silent water in his pond!
Several big stores are being built along a road that parallels the Canadian border. The land there is farm and logging lands that are gradually being filled up. Wind turbines are beginning to dot the ridgelines where majestic trees once grew.
One of the more flabbergasting changes that is taking place is the mowing of the vegetation in the Amazon area to be used to produce ethanol. The idea of growing more corn in Iowa to produce fuel to drive cars is disturbing to me. Conservationists are dumbfounded and hard put to express the feelings they have.
John Muir could save Yosemite Valley by his pleading, but that was a pop-gun battle compared to the changes that are now under way. Many years ago when the great west still awaited settlement, David Thoreau proposed that each American town should set aside a square mile of natural area and then people could build whatever they chose on the rest of the land. But what could Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, or John Muir do to stop the crashing catastrophes that are happening today? Being aghast won’t do it.
Not just honeybees and chimpanzees are disappearing, but uncountable numbers of species that have not been discovered are being destroyed. Wails of rage are heard when historic buildings and cathedrals are destroyed, but no cries are made when the pristine view that Muir saw are destroyed.
There is a belief that heaven is on earth—there need be none further. However, we are stripping, dicing, and deforming the landscapes, souring and poisoning the oceans, and filling the skies with soot. We are not just wiping out animals and fish, whales and trees, but undermining our very lives and even our afterlives.
There seems to be no stopping, as if we are in free fall. And conservation, which used to take in national parks and forests, wild rivers and the like, has blurred into a new term – environmentalism – that is concerned with petroleum efficiency, ground water quality, ozone statistics, sea-level maintenance, trade winds pollutions, recycling and climate stabilization. People want mobility, yet look for a hideaway out of the rat race. They want to have a heart muscle of a hunter-gatherer by getting it in a gym, yet live in practically cyberspace and try to touch the earthly things through yoga. The pace of destruction is paralyzing, as is our indifference.
The so-called robber-barons in their day also had the advantage of public indifference, but their was an era of plenty, of surplus. Always before, we’ve had mountains unnamed, reaches of prairie untilled, oceans unfished, scarcely sailed. I’m hearing, however, a continuous down-curve of volume of birdsongs every spring. Wood thrushes, like wood turtles, are rarer now. The poet Chaucer said, “the bittern boometh” but for long?
By Ed Payne
4 August 2007
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