The future we want begins when we find and pursue the greater good for each other, other living things, and future generations in place, in the small pockets of belonging, in the rural and urban places of America. My place is Floyd County, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. This essay was part of SustainFloyd’s annual report for 2017, and it seems fitting to offer it more widely at a time when we need hope and vision.
Our place is a good place to live. As a well-aged biology watcher and twenty year resident, I explain that by supposing that all who live here — human oddfellows, forests of trees, fields of cattle, rivers of fish and the sky above with at least a few surviving songbirds — partake together of a generally and relatively healthy ecology.
Ecology is a science that came of age on my watch. It sounds fancy, but in the end, it is just the sum of all the ways that creatures and their living places interact. It is the story of all the nutrients and energy that flows between a growing field of cabbage and the rodents, insects, birds and humans that eat it, and then the microbes that ultimately decompose both the eaten and the eaters.
A healthy web of inter-relationship is what gives nature its resilience. And we very much are part of and influence, for good or ill, the workings of that web in this adopted or chosen place in the world where we live.
As I have watched the planet change since the first Earth Day in 1970, healthy web inter-relationships have been broken by pollution, by excesses in taking beyond what oceans and soils and groundwater can replenish, and by an indifference to the role individuals like you and I play by our choices that press the accelerator and not the brake in this rush to disaster. We leave a damaging footprint on the future.
The bottom line is: neither humans or non-humans can live healthy lives on an unhealthy planet. We cannot achieve a shared ecology of wellbeing if our personal ecologies contribute to the depletion and ruin of the planets living systems.
The choices we make in our homes, on our travels, by our diets, and our through our purchases move the needle — either towards living within our resource budget or living beyond our means, outside the limits of the planets biocapacity. There are 7.6 billion of us demanding food, water and living space. The excess of demand beyond earth systems’ ability to supply does not bode well for the coming decade for many of Earth’s natural systems or the creatures they have supported.
At present, human demands use 1.7 Earths in a calendar year. You and I are in profound overdraft on our accounts of resources we use to keep us (at least temporarily) happy. If our personal budgets were run like this, we would be long-ago have been bankrupt.
You life and mine are woven into the fabric of the larger web of relationships by our own individual, personal ecologies. There are no edges between us and nature, no sharp boundaries to a personal ecology. All holds to all else, me to we, in a continuum of being that encompasses far more than just human lives and the built environment around us. Each gives and takes from every. “We have, all, one breath” Ecclesiastes tells us. And I wonder:
Can we work together, through and across our differences and our fears, for the improving health of sustainable and regenerative forests and fields, soil, air and water that we share together? We must.
Will we amend our failed relationships with nature and with each other while there is time? By definition, no unsustainable process, movement or culture survives.
Can we promote a just and equitable ecology of well being, even while the planets beleaguered waters, soils and even the very atmosphere stands at certain risk of increasing disorder and chaos if we relentlessly pursue business as usual?
Each of us must find the moral will and courage to examine our personal role in the whole of Earths ecology, and from that, to become true stewards in and of our small part of the planet in 2018 and far beyond.
One healthy community effectively working together, from the literal ground, up, can surely model an ecology of wellbeing that looks far ahead towards a recovered planet and a truly sustainable future.