Well, since most of my columns here are DIY suggestions for greener living, I figured that in honor of The L
’s DIY Issue I’d actually take a step back from the practical stuff and talk a bit about the importance of reconnecting with the natural world. It is, after all, a beautiful time of year to be outside.
Last week I was reading Affluenza
by John De Graaf, David Wann and Thomas H. Naylor, an interesting look at the crisis of overconsumption in this country. The book is a tie-in to a PBS TV series of the same name, and while slightly dated (it was published in 2000), has a lot to say about the (environmental, fiscal, social) crises that have been visited upon us by our addictions to consumer goods.
One of the proposed remedies for the “disease” of consumerism is nature. The authors of Affluenza
suggest that one of our problems is our lack of exposure to the great outdoors, and as I was reading I told myself I should write a column urging everyone to get outdoors. But the book’s pro-nature suggestions gave way to an even more interesting point: not only are we not spending enough (any) time outdoors, unplugged from our possessions, devices and vehicles, we actually don’t have a clue about what happens out there.
Like it or not, we are dependent on nature. We need air, water and food, all of which are provided for us by the natural world. Sure, we manipulate the crap out of everything, from a vegetable’s genes to a chicken’s egg-laying capacity, but at the end of the day, that chicken is still an independent organism, subject to disease, needing plants to eat and water to drink. And that water comes from nature, as do the plants that feed the chicken, which eventually feeds us.
Two hundred years ago you would have had to be a particularly dim-witted aristocrat not to know where (exactly) your food, your beverages and the materials that built your house and made up your clothing came from. These days we’re barely able to pronounce the ingredients in our food and personal-care products, let alone have the slightest idea what they were made from, or how and where.
reprints some questions from another book, Deep Ecology
, to illustrate how disconnected we’ve become from our surroundings and natural processes. Can you answer any of them?
- Trace your drinking water from rain to tap.
- Describe the soil around your home.
- Where does your garbage go?
- Name five resident birds in your area.
- Name five edible plants in your bioregion, and their seasons of availability.
Ok, I know it seems terribly high school, but I’m sad and embarrassed that I know Apple’s entire product line, but my answer to the first question would be “Rain falls in reservoirs upstate and then travels through big pipes to get here.” Because I’m a gardener I have a sense of the soil in these parts, and since I started feeding birds last year I know about sparrows, pigeons, mourning doves and cardinals — and I heard some crows this morning. (Go crows!)
Last fall I was watching Law and Order
, and the cool cops were trying to find a body that had been carted away in a garbage truck, and they ended up in this giant shed on the waterfront where garbage trucks backed up to the edge of a pier and dumped their loads into an epically huge barge. They weren’t going to find that body, no way, no how. It was like a football field covered in 50-foot-deep trash; one of those great real-New York shots that are the reason I watch the show in the first place. And I thought, holy CRAP, I knew our trash problem was big, but every person in New York City should have to see one of those barges in person, just so that they get it. Really get it.
Which is all to say, take a look around. Not at stores, or restaurants, or mass media, but at nature, and what we’re doing to it. The weather, plants and animals. If we are going to “save” the “environment” we have to relearn it, appreciate it and understand it. By which I mean, understand how cool it is, how beautiful and how finite.