Friday, April 23, 2010

Earth Day 2010

Aldo Leopold, considered by many to be the creator of the land ethic, wrote these words in 1948 in the foreword to his classic A Sand County Almanac:

There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.

... Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher 'standard of living' is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free. For us in the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to see a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech.

These wild things, I admit, had little human value until mechanization assured us a good breakfast, and until science disclosed the drama of where they come from and how they live. The whole conflict thus boils down to a question of degree. We of the minority see a law of diminishing returns in progress, our opponents do not.

Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized man, nor for us to reap from it the esthetic harvest it is capable, under science, of contributing to culture.

... But wherever the truth may lie, this much is crystal-clear: our bigger-and-better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to be healthy. The whole world is so greedy for more bathtubs that it has lost the stability necessary to build them, or even turn off the tap. Nothing could be salutary at this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings.
Perhaps such a shift in values can be achieved by reappraising things unnatural, tame and confined in terms of things natural, wild and free.

I can't help but ponder what Leopold would say about the "progress" humanity has made since 1948. The duality of more protected land and better environmental laws contrasting with our new obsessions and expanded pursuit of wealth.

I read this to my environmental science students and we discussed the possibilities of shifting from a nation of consumers to a nation of producers who creatively work to support other people that are not beholden only to corporations, but to their communities and to the land. Some of my students have "aha" moments in the classroom and some of them are cynical. I tell them, "How can you can be so cynical when you're only seventeen?" They tell me, "We're New Yorkers."

I took all of my classes to the Nature Study Woods to hike and to clean up litter. One of my earth science students made Earth cupcakes and I read them The Lorax by Dr. Suess. My environmental science students read poems that they wrote or found. My favorite part of being in the woods with my students is when they make their own observations about nature and start to have their own connection to the place.

Happy Earth day!

Finding a Jack-in-the Pulpit flower for the first time.


shirley said...

If you were my teacher I would love your class. Happy Earth Day honey!!! love Mom

Nanimal said...

wow... geez Carmen, this is beautiful!

sunnywave said...

wow Carmen, i am just blown away--those kids are so lucky to have you! and we *love* the lorax over here at the f-quadrupled household--one of the squirrel's faves! she particularly likes the phrases "gloppity glop" and "schloppity schlop"--and is very concerned that the brown barbaloots, have to go away...