"The earth is Our Mother. What befalls the earth befalls
all sons of the earth. The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the
earth." Squamish chief Seattle 1855
Smart humans in the 20th century made astounding advances in earth sciences.
The images of the earth from the moon moved and informed everyone who saw them.
The earth as a small, bluish planet circling the sun offered a new understanding
of the human predicament. Since the Apollo flights to the moon, satellites have
proliferated, telescopes have become sophisticated monitors of the universe and
god’s view is available to all who are interested. The scientific exploration of
the earth has probed every environment. The explosion of knowledge about planet
earth and her creatures inspires those who know and care. The humans who do not
know and do not care remain locked in their group identities and anachronistic
One essence of being human is that you are an adaptable and nomadic creature.
Your innate preferences are layered like layers in sedimentary rock that allows
geologists to read the history of a place over millions of years. Your
deepest feelings come from the oldest parts of your brain that still recognize
features of an environment that appealed to early mammals and perhaps to more
ancient creatures such as reptiles and dinosaurs.
The finest of homes to this day display rock, wood and fire. Civilized humans
still cook meat over fires in kitchens, backyards and fires improvised on
beaches, feeling more peaceful and authentic on a camping trip when they are
closer to their wilder nature. When you go to a beach, you will collect stones
and shells and sometimes pieces of wood that have been sculpted by waves. You
don’t really know why you find these natural objects so attractive. You cannot
recall how your distant ancestors collected stones to make tools that were vital
to their survival and used stones to make houses, mark places, and create
monuments for deceased members of the clan.
The environment is much more than air, rocks and water. The entire planet is
occupied with living creatures large and small. Life is the most important part
of the environment for humans who are animals among animals. Humans live or die
depending on the stability and endurance of the biosphere. Humans
derive meaning from other life forms and the smartest, kindest humans study the
biosphere , bond with and protect other animals.
Humans Change and Often Destroy Environments
The planet is changing rapidly because of human activities. Humans alter and
destroy natural environments. Humans emit greenhouse gases which are causing
global warming. Warming land, ocean and air cause weather changes that cause
increasingly extreme and expensive wealth events. The harmful effects of human
activities promise increasing costs and threaten the lives of humans,
plants and animals. In 2018 human have a planet emergency and must change their
In an ideal world, everyone would seek personal health and
well-being, but at the same time would strive to restore planet health. Smart
people realize that no personal benefit will survive long in a world that is
ailing, polluted and careening toward more man-made disasters. The really sad
part of our current predicament is that all the right ideas have been around for
decades and have been clearly articulated in many forms by a host of intelligent
people. The right ideas involve unselfish and compassionate behavior. The right
ideas involve long-term planning, conservation and a deep commitment to
preserving the natural world. Without a healthy natural environment, there will
be few or no healthy humans.
The term “ecosystem” refers to living creatures interacting
with each other and with the physical features of the planet. Almost every
student learns the basics of ecosystems and can tell you that we need clean air,
clean water and food to sustain human populations. Some of these students will
take the lessons seriously and act more responsibly toward their local
environments. Most students, like most adult citizens, treat knowledge of
ecosystems as an abstract exercise and will consume, pollute and ignore the
negative environmental consequences of their actions. This is not to argue that
these are irresponsible or bad people. It is to argue that book knowledge is too
abstract and that humans only respond to locally perceived environmental
Humans adapt easily to deteriorating conditions and will
persist in following daily routines even when air pollution is severe, traffic
is congested, water and food supplies are at risk, and social order is unstable.
The tolerance for environmental destruction is ancient and human history is
littered with civilizations that failed because humans indiscriminately
exploited natural resources and spoiled their own nest. The human tendency is to
plunder and pillage nature and to move on when resources are depleted. The
solution to this tendency requires strong leadership by smart, well-educated,
compassionate humans who understand nature is divine and understand that human
survival depends on healthy ecosystems.
My bias is strong and clear. I am on the side of Nature.
When I was five years old, my family moved a new suburb on the edge of Toronto,
a typical North American city beginning its post-war growth spurt. My back yard
was a forest that led down into a river valley - still natural and full of
wonder. For a few years, I enjoyed this natural environment and made friends
with trees, flowers, birds, raccoons and fish in the river. I was never a
hunter, but I was a participant, a fellow creature among friends. I climbed
trees. I discovered peace in the natural environment. I could also ride my bicycle, just a few miles and arrive at farms with
horses, cows and fields of corn and hay. My family went for drives in the
country on Sunday afternoon and sometimes stopped at roadside stalls to buy
fresh vegetables from a farmer’s wife. My idea of a perfect world involved
preserving this relationship of city to country with natural environments
remaining in the interstices.