“…a land ethic that holds at its core an appreciation for the community, not just the commodity, of your property,”
John Marzluff, Subirdia
Studies have reported that approximately three percent of the earth’s land surface is urbanized and the ‘human footprint’ is felt on up to 83%. A third of our land is devoted to agriculture. Healthy ecosystems, such as forests, coral reefs, grassland, mangroves, rivers and lakes, provide services crucial to our quality of life, if not our very existence.
Given the anticipated growth in human population, our presence and our impact on these and other ecosystems must be managed if we are to retain their services. Recognizing that humans are integral to the natural world, our role as members of the larger community comes with responsibilities. This will require preservation and sensible development of natural land, responsible management of lands we use, and reclamation of lands we have disturbed.
There are efforts worldwide to preserve natural places and sensitive species. These areas and creatures are valuable in their own right, but may be the wellspring for conditions and systems that are needed to replenish disturbed areas in the future and offset damage to other areas.
We’re gradually learning some things about how to properly manage the lands we use, becoming aware of both the need to integrate nature into our developed places and to integrate humans into natural settings. We are not separate.
J.H. Kunstler refers to ‘nature bandaids’ as the remedy for mutilated urbanism. Reclamation can occur through enhancing the natural attributes of the places we occupy, restoration of natural systems disturbed by human use, and remediation of human-caused problems. “Our task is to make cities function more like natural landscapes.” (Mark Tercek and Johnathan Adams, Nature’s Fortune)
In his book The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi describes a world where the rich live in “archologies” – giant self-contained structures that provide all the necessities of life. The poor and unfortunate live in the surrounding desert and wastelands, struggling against all odds to exist. Similar to Mad Max and other movies, this apocalyptic view of the world represents the failure of our species to integrate into the world. We may exist, but is it an existence we want to experience?
We may never totally eradicate war, pestilence, famine and death, but we are capable of mitigating the conditions that lead down those pathways. Climate change, whether man-made or not, and population growth create conflicts for resources among us. Poverty may be the single most important factor in poor health, and is often derived from the lack or unbalanced distribution of natural resources. Armed conflicts are often triggered by the need to secure natural resources, whether they be water, oil or productive land. Our use and abuse of natural systems and resources makes us complicit in these events.
Nations argue about world-wide issues, and countries and states look to regional solutions. While individuals can contribute to these efforts, there are many ways that we can improve things through our own efforts. If we think of ourselves as part of a given community – the place we live, the place we work, and the places we visit – then we can feel a sense of responsibility for keeping it nice or making it nicer.
We can do small things like cleaning up trash, planting the appropriate vegetation, composting, recycling, improving our energy efficiency or fostering our own nature- and human-friendly environment. We can do moderately larger things like work towards a local sustainable community, encourage and implement smart energy uses and sources, support improved efficiency of transportation systems, support community recycling and composting, or create education processes for our communities.
It’s okay to save the whales and pandas, but most of us can only provide financial or emotional support for those efforts. To the extent viable, we should provide that support, but it is too easy to be overcome with emotional fatigue and lose interest in such overwhelming issues. When that happens, refocus on local and personal efforts. Lao-tzu realized that in order to get anywhere, you had to begin small, “The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet.”
If you can keep your feet on the grass and dirt more than on the carpet, concrete and asphalt, you’ll be happier and the world will be a better place.
“If your knees aren’t green by the end of the day, you ought to seriously re-examine your life.”
– Calvin, Calvin and Hobbes