Is the World a Better Place Because You Were Born?

I was asked to speak about the state of the planet, and to do it in under five minutes. I can do it in three.

The world is being murdered, flayed alive, poisoned, gutted, dismembered.

Every biological indicator is going the wrong direction.

And it’s getting worse by the day.

Two hundred species were driven extinct today, and they were my brothers and sisters. Two hundred will go extinct tomorrow. And the day after.

There are stolid scientists who are saying the oceans could be devoid of fish in less than 35 years.

Imagine that: the murder of the oceans on this water planet.

The problems are not new. This culture has been killing the planet for 6000 to 10000 years. When we think of Iraq, is the first thing we think of cedar forests so thick the sunlight never reached the ground? That’s how it was, prior to this culture. The first written myth of this culture is Gilgamesh deforesting the hills and valleys of Iraq to make a great city. The Arabian peninsula was heavily forested. The forests of North Africa were cut to make the Egyptian and Phoenician navies. Greece was heavily forested.

Forests precede us and deserts dog our heels.

And not every culture has destroyed their landbases. The Chumash lived here for at least 13000 years, and when the Europeans arrived here, the place was an ecological paradise. Likewise where I live the Tolowa lived there for at least 12500 years, and likewise when the Europeans arrived the place was a paradise. No longer.

A dear doctor friend of mine always says that the first step toward proper treatment is diagnosis. If we refuse to diagnose the problems our actions will never resolve them.

The problems are not soluble by tweaking processes. The problems are inherent in how we perceive the world, how we interact with the world, what we value, and they are functional and inherent to this culture’s economy. What is GNP? It’s a measure of how quickly the living planet is turned into dead products. Trees into two-by-fours, living rivers into kilowatts, schools of fish into fish sticks.

This is not cognitively challenging. We would all understand this if we weren’t from early childhood inculcated into believing that the economy is more important than life, if we weren’t taught that what humans create has meaning and what the world creates does not, that humans have sentience and meaningful lives, and nonhumans and natural communities do not.

But what if this is all wrong? What if life is not a game of monopoly or risk where the point is to run the board, but rather life is a symphony, where the point is to learn your proper role, and play it at the proper time? The point is not for violin players to kill the oboe players and convert them into cash, but rather to make beautiful music together.

The only measure by which we will be judged by those humans and nonhumans who come after ­presuming any remain­ will be the health of the earth. They’re going to care about whether the earth can support life.

At this point in the murder of the planet, there is I think really only one question worth asking: is the world a better place because you were born, and because of your life and because of what you do? That is very possible to do. Think about it: how did the world get to be so glorious and beautiful and fecund in the first place? By everyone living and dying. Salmon make forests better places by living and dying. So do redwood trees and lampreys and banana slugs. That’s how life works. So, the question that the world needs for us to live is: especially given that this culture is killing the planet, how do we individually and collectively make the world a better place by our lives and deaths. By our actions. The planet, not the culture. And that is as true for any organization or corporation as it is for any of us individually. How do we make the real, physical still fecund world that is our only home, better, for hammerhead sharks, for coho salmon, for giant anteaters, for Mekong catfish, Amani flatwings, cayman islands ghost orchids, and orangutans, and the larger communities they call home.

Originally published at the DGR News Service

Filed in Essays
No Responses — Written on April 1st — Filed in Essays

Comments are closed.