April 28, 2011

The Green Revolution?

Morning dew, Grand-Sault, New Brunswick.
As the seasons change along with my recreation opportunities, I would like to step back from trip reporting for a bit and delve into some of the more philosophical issues that tend to divert my attention from time to time, and I would like to share some random photographs from my collection that show the various moods of nature that I have witnessed on my travels.  With last week’s celebration of Mother Earth Day and my involvement in my employer’s sustainability initiative, my mind has been awash with thoughts of the condition of the natural environment and the recent “green” revolution.  It seems that every media outlet is touting some new “green” product and governments are promising major leaps in renewable energy and transportation alternatives.  Closer to home, my office has been making efforts to reduce consumption of paper goods and electricity in the name of sustainability, and I have been attempting to ride my bicycle to work to save on a little gasoline here and there.

Moonrise on the Riga Plateau, New York.
This notion of sustainability is part of a spreading environmental awareness that has emerged in popular culture in the last few years; all of which is a step in the right direction, but I have this feeling that something is missing.  Our culture, despite the “greening” pastures, still seems hell bent on following the consumer model that has become entrenched in the last 50 or 60 years.  You should have an idea of what I’m talking about – the conspicuous consumption of petroleum and disposable retail goods, our reliance on an agricultural system based on chemical fertilizers and monoculture, and sprawling suburbs that leave automobiles as the sole transportation choice.  Perhaps you’ve heard the saying that if each of Earth’s citizens lived an American lifestyle we would need something like five or six more planets to accommodate everyone’s needs.  This hardly sounds like sustainability and brings to light the myriad environmental injustices being perpetrated around the world in the name of profit and convenience.  When I ponder this, the pessimist in me starts to think that the whole "green" revolution is pile of smug shit that lets us, on a mental level, continue to live our wasteful lifestyles while believing we're doing something good for the environment.

Graham's Harbor, San Salvador, Bahamas.
The optimist in me, however, takes heart in that factions of the younger generations are recognizing the folly of the mass consumption model and are making an attempt to return to a simpler lifestyle for reasons both economic and environmental.  I see a renewed interest in planting gardens to supplement store-bought food, and people are choosing to live closer to the workplace to avoid long commutes.  Interestingly, I also see a weakening of the  of "work hard and sacrifice and you might be rewarded" corporate mentality (at least among employees, not necessarily employers).  Instead, I see a shift towards scaling back lifestyles so as to minimize reliance on the daily grind.  Obviously, though, there is a long path to walk in this respect, but every long journey begins with a single step.  Thoreau was on that right path, back in 1845 in his cabin by the pond...

Na Pali coast of Kauai.
I wonder, though, how the current cohort of environmentally-minded pioneers will fare as they progress in their careers and begin earning the money that makes the consumer lifestyle more attractive.  Take a look at the Baby Boomers, who sparked the first nationwide environmental movement in the 1960's and 1970's and then moved on to become the most voracious consumers in American history.  I am hopeful that younger Americans may stay true to their ideals of simplicity, self-reliance, and environmental stewardship because the future of the American economy may require it.  Let's face it, the glory days of booming manufacturing and cheap raw materials are waning and we may have no choice but to return to regional economies in which foods and goods are produced locally and wasteful consumption becomes unaffordable.

Connecticut River south of Enfield, Connecticut.
When I think about conscious lifestyles, I look back to my grandparents' generation, often referred to as the Great Generation; those born in the raucous 1920's, raised in the lean times of the Great Depression, and seasoned on the lethal shores of France and Iwo Jima or in the aisles of a factory at home.  In my mind, these people knew how to stretch a dollar because they had no other option, and they learned how to go without.  They grew gardens, walked to work, and hung clothes on the line not because of the environment, but because of economy.  (Not The Economy, as pitched by the media and stumped upon by politicians, but economy as in living within means; Thoreau's notion of economy).  But come to find out, what was good for economy was good for the environment, and vice versa. 

Hammonasset State Park, Connecticut.
So, as the "green" tide pushes further and further inland into the consciousness of American society, we need look only a few generations back to get a sense of what our future may hold.  The next few decades may prove to be a shock to our collective systems as we forge on with finding innovative ways to power our homes and feed our bodies, but as long as we develop a grasp on true economy and don't allow The Economy to pillage the environment and our souls, we just might make some progress as a human species.

1 comment:

  1. This is an areeable rant against the prevailing consumer culture. I grew up reading my Ranger Rick magazines and feeling sick every time I saw someone throw a cigarette butt out their car window. My husband comes froma European country where capitalism is just staring to take hold, and it is ugly. People have stopped raising chickens and gardening, and are carting home big screen TVs on wagons with 2 bad wheels, but goddamn, they have a big screen TV!

    It does seem to be easier to find a like-minded group of people to hang with or correspond with these days with the internet. We do our part, by being part of a local CSA, buying raw milk and free ranged chicken eggs from the next town over, and by foraging the land around us for food. We hope our daughter can appreciate these efforts later in her life, she's only 6 now.