The End of the Dream?

Copyright 1999 Bob Persons
September 10, 1999

I was sitting on a rock at Spring Harbor Beach, watching the placid Lake Mendota float an unusually few ducks, when I saw a weed-cutting machine floating silently across the lake, spewing white water from the paddlewheel. This machine was cutting weeds in the middle of the lake! I wondered: Have we lost? Is our lake doomed?

We have inherited a planet that provides all our needs. We are destroying that planet - at least so far as to make it unlivable for ourselves and for other animals, birds, fish, insects, and plant life. Such idiots we are! Such a blessing we are flushing down the toilet! All we will be left with, is the toilet.

I apologized to the ducks.

I know the arguments that say we have the means to allow growth and protect the environment at the same time. But I wonder.

How can that argument ignore the fact that the human population of the world when I was a boy was 2.5 billion, with various projections when it would hit 3 billion; and that now we have 6 billion people on this planet; and that in another 30 years we will have 12 billion?

How can that argument ignore the fact that the ozone layer is not getting better; that if it's not getting worse it's at best holding its own - but that level is still a destruction?

How can that argument prevent the destruction of tropical forests, when it was unable to prevent the destruction of 80% of old-growth forests in industrialized nations?

How can that argument avoid the inevitability of running out of oil, space for trash, and room for development for the hordes of future human beings?

How can that argument begin to approach the need to monitor nuclear wastes for thousands of years, when we can't get our act together enough to monitor pollution of our rivers and soil and air?

How can that argument account for the inevitability of accidents or carelessness that produces destruction (e.g., tankers splitting open in the ocean, airplanes falling into the sea while carrying nuclear materials, farm and mine runoff seeping into rivers) even if punishment procedures are in place and carried out? Punishments do not preserve the earth; they only punish someone for not preserving the earth, and that goes on all the time.

How can that argument prevent the tremendous destruction associated with warfare? War seems to be a natural function of human beings, and when it happens the primary goal, by its nature, is destruction.

How can that argument account for the strong individuality we have cultivated in this country? How can you expect to tell people to limit the use of their cars, to walk, to not drive their SUVs off-trail in the wilderness, to not use large engines in boats? How do you restrict private property ownership rights? How do you convince vendors to not appeal to the destructive natures of their customers (e.g., driving your pickup truck through swamps and deserts because it has the power to do it)?

How can that argument shrug off the clamor of third-world nations to have a piece of the rich pie we have had all along, before it disappears?

If we accept this argument, do we foolishly believe that if humans are smart enough to build all the glorious structures we have, we are also smart enough to avoid the destructive fallout of all that building? We are smart enough, but we are not disciplined enough. We will not be disciplined enough, until we all agree - as a race - that the only way to start, is to stop destroying our planet now, sit back and plan, so that we can begin to recover, under these principles or something like them:

We stop any further destruction to the environment.

This includes increased everything - intentional or careless pollution of the earth, waters, and air; exploiting non-renewable resources (trees from old forest are not renewable); reserving more land space for trash; and any other destructive activities.

We don't tolerate activities that will only increase the devastation by a 'small amount'.

From here on out, there are no small amounts. We begin to think of how we can restore devastated elements. We have to be careful here, because the same agency that created the destruction (the human race) may not be objective enough to plan a true recovery.

We put systems in place to ensure that the destructive activities will not begin anew.

This, too, will be difficult because today's humans generally have the attention span and foresight of a gnat. The people as a whole have to be committed to it.

We don't yield to the illusion that we are saving the planet.

We are doing no such thing; to the contrary, we are destroying it, and like the alcoholic we need to admit that. The best we can do is stop destroying and start to keep the preservation of the earth in mind as we pursue our activities.

We have isolated ourselves as much as we could from the terrors of the wild, but in successfully doing so we have increased the time devoted to pleasure and have ransacked the environment for the resources to do it. It's time to stop the destruction and allow the earth to heal itself. Recycling programs, buying up of wild lands to prevent development, cleaning up polluted sites - all are fine programs; but they are small band-aids on a gaping, planet-threatening wound. At some point we have to realize that all our short-term solutions provide only short-term relief, and that ultimately our putting off of real solutions will catch up to us - perhaps too late to stop the destruction. We need to get off our high horse and admit we need to direct our energies to preserving our home, our source of life.

We also have to realize that we share this planet with billions of creatures, with plant life, even with algae and bacteria. Our primary concern may be for ourselves (that's the natural inclination), but we have the wits to realize that we have a profound affect on other living beings and should take the responsibility of making sure we do not have a devastating effect on them. In this, so far, we have failed miserably.

The irony is this. My generation's parents suffered through the Depression, and life was a struggle for most. They vowed that their children would have it better than they did. Well, we do have it 'better', if you think in terms of material goods and recreation. But I anticipate their great-grandchildren having to tell their kids that they will have to tighten their belts and struggle for a living, because the previous generations used it all up - and screwed it all up.

We need a global effort. The powerful nations, the powerful economic agencies (businesses, banks, etc.), the moral forces (churches, environmental groups, etc.) must take the lead and set an example. The human population as a whole must come to the realization that we all need to work together to prevent the destruction.

 


I'm not the only one. See what Phil Wylie had to say 40+ years ago, in The End of the Dream.


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