Today we face crisis of climate change, natural destruction, and suffocating pollution. In the words of Lynn White in Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis, “With the population explosion, the carcinoma of plan-less urbanism, the now geological deposits of sewage and garbage, surely no creature other than man has ever managed to foul its nest in such short order.” The world has arrived at this moment of degradation through doing too much: is it now too little, too late? We have overpopulated, over used natural resources such as forests, water, and oil, over-consumed as materialists, over-produced, and apathetically overlooked our most daunting problems of our generation. In a vicious web, agriculture is using new technology to industrialize food production in order to keep up with growing populations of consumerist societies that are warped by the economy’s treadmill of production, all of which is supported by misguided politicians. The question posed is how did we get here?
Going back in time to when the settlers arrived in New England, they had a much different world-view than we do today exhibited through their religious, and social ideologies. Unlike the Native Americans who treated the land like a soulful living part of the universe, the settlers saw this new piece of endless land to explore and utilize under their discretion. The settler’s apathy towards the environment can be attributed to their Christian religion, which promotes the environment as a tool given to men, for men. This ideology continues throughout history as people flocked to America because of its abundant ‘untouched’ wilderness, which of course eventually ran out. The shared trait of all settlers and immigrants was to look for a better life, which requires ambition and a hunger for achievement. This collective trait is perhaps what led the USA on a technological boom far faster than any other nation.
This desire to achieve has also led us far away from nature in all outlets of life. Due to urbanization and a shift in culture less people grow up on farms, studying the environment is considered an optional subject in schooling, and there is less of an innate connection between humans and nature. However, I feel that nature is subjective to each person depending on his or her circumstance. Not everyone will be able to experience old growth forests and waterfalls, which is why people look to less authentic forms of nature for connection. I grew up in Baltimore City with a brick back yard, and a park nearby. My friends and I turned our alleyway of neighboring brick patios into a jungle, a refuge, and a raw experience. We took what we had and turned it into our version of nature. Our environmental awareness was not shaped by our early years of exposure, but instead what we learned at home or at school. I was lucky to have a great education filled with tangible natural experiences outside of the classroom. We need to continue to stress in classrooms that there are all types of nature, and that it all must be appreciated and cared for.
As a nation we are going in the direction of neo-environmentalism because it is the closest we can stay to capitalism without having to give up our ways of life. Technology is being pushed in every direction as the elixir to the health of our future, however as Orr said, “It is a mistake to think that all we need is better technology, not an ecologically literate and competent public that understands the relation between its well-being and the health of the natural systems (256).” The health our environment depends on the strength of our minds, the activism of our bodies to make a change.