Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sinking Baselines

One of the most depressing ideas I've encountered recently (and for someone who follows environmental issues that's saying something) was in Endgame by Derrick Jensen.

When dire predictions about the deterioration of the environment come true, you'd at least like to be able to say "I told you so", in hopes that people might learn a lesson. But it doesn't work that way. Each generation takes the current conditions as their "baseline" to compare things to. In an abstract way we might be vaguely aware that there used to be millions of buffalo or carrier pigeons. But we never saw them and we don't dwell overly on their loss. We might notice that the pristine lake we knew as children is now ringed by huge "cottages" and plagued by jet skis and power boats. But our kids have never known it any different and have no idea what's already been lost.

We go to East Africa (or anywhere else) and marvel at the wildebeest and zebra, elephant and giraffe (or whatever wildlife is left), not thinking about how they're a sad fraction of what they used to be. Each generation sees incremental loss, but few see the total cumulative effect.

And so we destroy our environment, the ecosystem that we forget supports us even in our high tech "civilization", until it's too late and all we have left is old stories of the Eden we once had.

"It was here that I first clearly realized that land is an organism, that all my life I had only seen sick land ...

"In short, twenty years of "progress" have brought the average citizen a vote, a national anthem, a Ford, a bank account, and a high opinion of himself, but not the capacity to live in high density without befouling and denuding his environment, nor a conviction that such capacity ... is the true test of whether he is civilized.

- Aldo Leopoldo, 1933

No comments:

Post a Comment