09 September 2006

Ecological Nostalgia

Ecology was a catchword at the time I was growing up in suburbia. It was the 1970s and all of the teachers were talking about recycling, backyard science, and saving the planet. I did school projects on solar power and learned to identify different types of rocks and minerals. In the summer my Mom gave me general science books like Linda Allison's The Reasons for Seasons, where I learned to think about the Earth as one of many planets moving through space. I could do my own experiments with light bulbs or house plants. Some of the more "way out" teachers even talked about Gaia--the idea that the Earth was a living organism. It was the time of the great gasoline crunch, with cars lined up around the block just to refuel. The anti-pollution ad campaign featuring Chief Iron Eyes Cody made me hate litter.

Is it any wonder that with such an upbringing I was drawn to such deep concern for the environment?

While I discarded my dream of becoming a geologist when I learned that my high school math scores were nowhere-near in the ballpark for getting into a decent college program, I have an abiding need to study and preserve nature.

I wonder where the enthusiasm about environmentalism, so vital in the 1960s and 1970s, has gone. The baby boomers still talk about it as they drive around the gas-gorging SUVs and sip their Starbucks from paper cups. The child in me sometimes feels a bit betrayed that all of those people who cared so much about the Earth have long forgotten what they taught me. The adult in me knows only too well that human nature is what it is. People talk, but they often don't listen--even to themselves.

How to keep that ecological sense alive is the problem I'm turning over in my brain today. How would I teach a generation of kids who only know iPods and downloads to unplug themselves long enough to sit embraced in the roots of a tree or notice the salty smell of the marshes on a summer's day? Sometimes I think the people around me rely so much on technology and on an environment created solely by humans that they forgotten about the real environment. The Earth is the only environment we have. If it goes, no technology will save us.

I'm as fascinated by technology as much as anyone, I suppose. I'm sure that many things I do are harmful to the planet's health. But I often stop to think about what life was like before all of the networking capabilities made it possible to easily shut out the Nature in our lives or to simply pollute without thinking about any cause and effect. It's the lack of consciousness that concerns me most. You can't realize you are doing harm if you are oblivious.

Maybe my problem is that I happened to be naive enough to believe what my teachers taught me in elementary school, even if they didn't believe it themselves.

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