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For the week of May 28 - June 3, 2003

Opinion Columns

If humans were simply to disappear

—Commentary by DICK DORWORTH

"If humans were simply to disappear from the face of the earth, the planet would re-order itself, as it does after a forest fire, a volcano eruption, or after being hit by an asteroid. Many global disasters have befallen the earth and it continues to regenerate itself … You can look at the destruction of nature and see it as the self-inflicted wounds of the human race. It’s all human created and it can only be solved by humans. But there needs to be a fundamental change in our consciousness about nature if we are to transform our actions. Legislation is a possibility. But most legislators don’t directly appreciate what is going on. They are insulated and manipulated."

—John Daido Loori

Loori’s perspective and comments about the earth and humanity’s relationship with it are neither revolutionary nor new, but they are not much discussed in the general populace, covered in depth through the mainstream media, or, as mentioned, appreciated by most legislators, who are, as he points out, "insulated and manipulated."

While it is commendable that Loori has the hope of a possible solution through legislation, it is a slim, anorexic or even bulimic possibility. Certainly not all of it, but the preponderance of the ongoing destruction of nature has occurred with the blessing of most legislators. That is, from water pollution to global warming, from accelerated rates of species extinction and desertification, to holes in the ozone layer of the atmosphere, to the overgrazed wastelands of the American West, the demolition of nature’s systems has been carried out legally, systematically and knowingly. This is true at local, state, national and international legislative levels. It is true under democracies, theocracies, dictatorships and communes. It is true with capitalism, communism, socialism and anarchism. The degradation of the waters of the Snake River of Idaho and those of the Aral Sea of Kazakhstan, the pollution of the air in Mexico City and Los Angeles and Calcutta, the radiation poisoning of the land in Yucca Flats, Nevada, and Lop Nor in the Taklamakan desert of western China, and the elimination of grizzly bears from California and white storks from China have all occurred under very different forms of government with diverse cultural values.

The philosophical/activist environmental movement known as "deep ecology" makes a distinction between "shallow ecology," which sees only the utilitarian value in the environment--the most good for the most people--and "deep ecology" which recognizes the intrinsic value of all life, wherever it is found." The fundamental change in human consciousness that Loori calls for includes and perhaps starts with a shift from the values of shallow to those of deep ecology. It is surely a more substantial shift than changing channels from FOX to CNN.

In terms of the destruction of nature, there is no axis of evil within the human community to hold responsible for its self-inflicted wounds. Nor are there are any cowboys in white hats astride white steeds who will appear stage left at sunrise, accompanied by the sounds of the William Tell Overture, to outsmart the evil ones and save the day. (And there are definitely no drugstore cowboys in flight helmets astride jets landing on aircraft carriers from stage far right who will save anything more substantial than a photo op.)

No, Loori’s comparison of humanity’s effect on earth to that of a forest fire, a volcano eruption or the impact of an asteroid is all encompassing. It is not just the multi-national corporations, small third-world countries with no environmental laws, extractive industries, reckless developers with the ecological sensitivities and ethics of a bulldozer or the legislators they all help to insulate and manipulate who are answerable for our global environmental disaster. The emphasis on the previous sentence is on "our." We are all complicit, you and me and everyone we know and love and hate and trust and fear.

Each and every one of us is culpable to some degree for the unraveling of the natural world. This is probably more so in America, where manipulation and insulation are major industries to which we all contribute, than in any other country.

American poet, essayist and deep ecologist Gary Snyder probably expressed it best: "We are fouling our air and water and living in noise and filth that no ‘animal’ would tolerate, while advertising and politicians try to tell us we’ve never had it so good." Which brings up a question worth spending some time with: Which is more likely to reflect reality and illustrate truth: an advertisement, a politician or your own natural senses?

Snyder and Loori are saying the same thing. Loori says that "there needs to be a fundamental change in our consciousness about nature if we are to transform our actions." The implicit message is that the actions of humanity as they now take place will eventually lead to humans disappearing from the face of the earth. Snyder is saying that "animals" already have that consciousness.

On the occasion of the first Earth Day in 1971, Pogo speaking to Porkypine while viewing the forest primeval turned into a garbage dump, most famously stated the situation: "Yep, son, we have met the enemy and he is us."

Who in his right mind wants to be earth’s enemy?



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