The New Independent Home
by Michael Potts
from chapter 16 :
At the founding of our nation, our ancestors huddling on the strands of a generous but wild land had no choice but to honor the spirits of the woods and mountains. The bravest among the settlers ventured into the woods and across thickly forested mountains alive with wildlife -- a virgin ecosystem of unexploited natural riches. The original peoples of those woods and mountains, together with their kin on the plains and deserts, were devotees of the sun, and walked in grateful awe amidst wonders: The land provided them with plenty, and by their habit and understanding they easily lived within the sustainable limits of the land's wealth. To the European eye, such wilderness begged to be conquered and put to use.|
Growing in pride as well as in population, the offspring of these explorers, our ancestors, believed that this great land was ordained by their god for the taking, and began their epic westward predation, clearing the woods, slaughtering the game, and poisoning the streams, secure in their belief that the land would be infinite. If not infinite, America proved to be immense and abundantly regenerative, and so for centuries the effects of their assault and battery was only locally and temporarily evident. As long as the prospect of virgin lands stretched westward to the horizon from the top of almost any frontier hill, our ancestors knew that profit could be taken without worrying about mistakes, which could be left behind. The land and climate were harsh at times, and settlers kept alive the pretense of man against nature, the heroic wresting of wealth out of wilderness. Who could criticize their heroism, especially when it provided riches and comfort to all willing to risk the struggle?
Those who had tracked the land before, and who took a longer, subtler view of the world, retreated or were overwhelmed.
In recent decades, we humans have raised our voices and extended our hands to clamor and grasp for more and more energy. Our reach, which is global, and our greed, for which I have no words, have led us temporarily and spectacularly astray, costing other species their lives and rightful homes, and causing death, disease, and disarray among ourselves. The Indians who had lived on the land for millennia were removed from the places that sustained them, and confined to ever poorer reservations, or assimilated, by force and by law. The land itself was subjugated, its timber taken, topsoil eroded, and mineral wealth exhumed, and the remain lands were left to be ravaged by the unabated elements. The land's greatest wealth, the fertility of its soil, now washes at unprecedented rates down the great rivers and into the sea. The Oglalla aquifer, a great reservoir of water underlying the western plains, has been pumped nearly dry. Neither the ancestral forest, with its ancient but relatively fragile web of cooperating species, nor even the mighty rivers, were safe against the onslaught, because the Euro-American, although puny in singularity, had learned to hunt as an army, in numbers great enough to defeat Nature. Having taken the easiest pickings on this continent, acquisitive developers now turn to work their evil magic on other continents, and other peoples. A culture founded on quick seizure and rapid growth now finds itself hurtling toward an inelastic wall: the end of natural abundance. We have used up Earth's easy resources and stressed her ability to recover and restore.
Along the peripheries of our cultural reach, where the roads and powerlines play out, and where we can still find a hilltop from which the vista seems limitless, the land retains its vigor, and nature's wisdom can still be sensed. We know, even as we resist such knowing with the atavistic enthusiasm of the damned, that the limits are before us. Some who settle along the fringes maintain an eschatological view: "Humanity's headlong rush to devour nature has gone too far, and the end is near." These prophets remind us that nine of every ten species ever to walk the planet have gone extinct. Because extinction is so common, the passing of the human species, like that of the dinosaurs before us, would be as ephemeral an occurrence as the wind in the trees, having no permanent importance in the larger scheme of things.
The voices in this book tell a different, more hopeful story. Explicitly, or between the lines, I hear them describing a turning of the tide. Sending that message inward from the periphery, we seek to pass back toward the center news of a regenerative partnership with the forces of nature, an appreciation for the wisdom of the land, and a plan for salvaging the future for our children. We have evolved; we have adapted ourselves and our tools to sustain an honest, joyous, and fulfilling life without damaging the fabric of nature or destroying the geological and biological wealth of our host planet. Our approach to energy cooperates with earthly processes rather than exploiting them. We thrive under a conservative approach to matter and energy, and a shared sense of the value of all life.
In chapter 5 Steven Heckeroth compared Earth's geological history to a four-and-a-half mile walk, with each mile representing a billion years. In the last few hundredths of an inch of this pilgrimage, with this sense of partnership, this vision, and these tools, we hold out a chance to transcend and survive. The vista we cherish before us is the most exciting ever seen: the possibility that we may do as California governor Jerry Brown suggested: serve the people of the world, preserve the planet and all its life forms, and go on to explore the universe.