Identifying Social Pollution and the Erosion of Community

Following on our earlier discussion of community as a necessary myth or story for our time and the discussion in the comments about the ambivalence of tradition as both grounding and nourishing but also sometimes stifling and rigid…

Something that both “liberals” and “conservatives” can agree on is that our current American way of life is marked by extreme loss of community.  What we disagree on is who or what is to blame.  (Actually both sides like to pin the blame exactly on each other: conservatives blame the disruptive moral relativity of liberals and liberals blame the pro-business ideology of conservatives.)

I have been thinking about how traditional communities with their shared culture have been decimated around the world by the onslaught of the West with its monetized economies and emphasis on individual achievement/success over the health of the family or the community.   Western market economies (and their imitators around the world) are incredibly successful at producing consumer goods and creating material prosperity.    But it seems to me that this success has been bought at the cost of family and community coherence, not to mention environmental degradation.

We have gotten better at identifying and addressing physical pollution, (partly, it’s true, by off-shoring manufacturing), but are slower at seeing the social pollution that has eroded our communities.  We still see this social pollution as necessary and inescapable.   This is the way it is, we have been told since as long as we can remember. It is hard to see what is necessary and what is harmful. We don’t have the tools to understand and mitigate this kind of pollution yet.   And without understanding social pollution we seem to be trapped in a system that drives us to contribute to physical pollution.

For instance, many people commute long distances to work and  spent their days and energy at jobs that do not build a local community.  Instead their job will support the interests of a national chain or a multi-national corporation. Such corporations are primarily interested in communities as groups of consumers, and only distantly interested, if at all, in the health of a community.

What constitutes a healthy community?  What constitutes the unhealthy social pollution of a community?

I would argue that social structures – economic, cultural or institutional – that destroy the place-based bonds of a human and natural community are a form of pollution.   Probably there are other ways to identify what is polluting, but that is my starting point.

What has become blindingly obvious in the last few years (2016!!)  is that we live in a very socially polluted world.  Not that there ever was a social world – some perfect Golden Age – that wasn’t polluted.  Just because we don’t know what a perfectly healthy community would look like doesn’t mean that we can’t recognize the things that pollute and weaken a community and that we can’t identify beliefs and practices that are better versus worse in building community in a particular place.

What is healthy in one community might not be so for another.

Things that destroy human and natural community might include: adapting the environment to the needs of machines rather than the other way around, or the ideology of perpetual economic growth or the globalized food production and distribution system.  Community-destroying pollution also might be in the stories we tell ourselves and our children about how the world works and what success looks like.   Also in what we tell ourselves is beautiful and desirable.

What is pollution for one person might not be for another, just as a weed is just a plant that I happen not to like at this time.   Again there is no state of perfect purity that we can go back to or that it is even useful to imagine.   But maybe the idea of social pollution connects the natural and social environment in a way that might be helpful when we think about our lives and communities.

Some quiet time with the wildfire

In the last three days a wildfire has turned 800 acres of pasture on our ranch to black. It was a very dry pasture with very dry feed, hence the wildfire, but still  it was good feed, like standing grass hay. 

These fires happen periodically when it gets dry.  Every ranch around here gets their turn at this and it is no cause for despair.  But it is a painful blow to lose so much feed for our cattle when we are in a Stage Two Drought and there is no predicting the weather-patterns anymore.

I don’t know how the fire started. Probably a careless fisherman tossing away a cigarette into a clump of dry grass as he crossed our pasture on the way to or from the ocean. Maybe it was started deliberately by a local “firebug” – a person that likes to start and watch fires. It doesn’t really matter how it started.  What matters is that once it got started it was almost unstoppable.

This is a photo from the first night, when it had burned all day and eaten up about 200 acres. This is just before a bulldozer got in to cut a firebreak – a line where the brush has been scraped off, depriving the fire of fuel.   When the firebreak  was done the line of flames died out and it seemed we had the fire stopped.

But that was a vain hope.  The next day the wind picked up and the embers that had been smoldering “in the black” leapt to life, crossed over the firebreak and consumed 500 acres between 9 am and 1 pm.  More firebreaks were made and again as the wind died at dusk the flames stopped at the newly made firebreaks.  But there were smoldering piles waiting all along the line.

The next morning I decided to get to know this fire personally.  I have to admit that this is the first wildfire that I’ve taken the time to get to know face-to-face, one-on-one. During all the previous fires I’ve stayed distant while my father or brother got involved in assisting (and sometimes surreptitiously directing) the fire-fighting effort.  But for this one I decided I needed, finally, to try to understand what was happening.  Why was this fire defying the efforts of a half-dozen fire-crews and two helicopters?  How could it keep leaping the firebreak even though it was a back-burn i.e. burning against the wind?  What is the most effective way to fight a range wild-fire?

So I went down to the fire-line early before the wind picked up, before anyone else was there and watched the fire.  I didn’t bring any equipment to fight the fire.  I just wanted to be there with it for a while, to see it up close, rather than watching it from a distance or running around reacting to it or talking about it with other people.

Everything was black on the far side of the firebreak, white smoke streaming in tiny wisps from single blades of grass, or billowing extravagantly from half-burnt piles of debris that the bulldozer had pushed to the side.  A little way into the black orange flames burned in a pile of wood at the base of a brush tree. I stopped there looking at this few hundred feet of the fire-line on this, the back-burn end of the fire.

What amazed me was that the dirt seemed to be quietly on fire, reaching by slow black inexorable fingers across the fire-break.  I stuck the toe of my boot into the hot, black dirt and discovered that it was a root that was burning, the underground root of a clump of grass that had already been incinerated, and that burning root had blackened the dirt all around it.  Even with no fuel for it above ground the fire was slowly crossing the fire-break.  

The sun shone hot on the dark soil and the dark burning debris radiated heat and then the wind picked up slowly.  Out of what was smoldering and smoking emerged active orange flames, burning, reaching back against the wind to patches of fuel, flaming, reaching.  The fire was going to cross the break and there was still only me watching.  And then just as the fire crossed and orange flame burst out in a clump of grass in the unburnt side a team of firefighters arrived and doused the flame.  If they had been a minute later they would have been too late.  But this was just one spot on the mile-long line.  

After the fire-fighters arrived I went for a walk down the fire-break. Rounding a corner  down the line I saw a brown columnn of smoke and the roar of a wildfire at full-bore.  We had lost the line again after all.  I turned and walked quickly back to my truck, hearing the roar of the fire following me.  I told the fire-fighters what I had seen and evacuated behind the next fire break line.  Before long red flames were shooting into the sky very impressively and we had lost another thirty acres.

Finally, late on the third day, we got the only help that mattered, the thing that we could not ask for or requisition: a misting, then a very light drenching of rain.  It was not enough to put out the fires but it was enough to dampen the hot dirt and the hot air and discourage the fire from its willful spread.

On the fourth morning the wind did not pick up and the fire-fighters could get a handle on the fire.  Late on this, the fourth day, more rain came.  I’m pretty sure that it is over this time.

What did I learn there with the fire?  That if you want to fight a range fire with any hope of success you need to know a lot of things, such as the wind pattern for that area and the kind of vegetation there.  That timing is everything: you need to be able to think 12 hours ahead and at the same time be ready to change and react instant by instant  as the wind, the humidity, the terrain that the fire is on changes.   That you will probably not be able to beat the fire no matter what you do because when it starts burning it just wants to keep burning.

And that the world when it is burning is a very different place from when it isn’t.

A future we have yet to imagine

Ever since I read an article by George Monbiot I’ve been thinking about myths, the stories we’ve told since the beginning of time.  Monbiot writes “Stories are the means by which we navigate the world. They allow us to interpret its complex and contradictory signals. We all possess a narrative instinct: an innate disposition to listen for an account of who we are and where we stand. You cannot take away someone’s story without giving them a new one.  It is not enough to challenge an old narrative, however outdated and discredited it may be. Change happens only when you replace one story with another. When we develop the right story, and learn how to tell it, it will infect the minds of people across the political spectrum.”

In every culture, every community, every family, every generation we tell our stories.  The form of telling has changed, from spoken to written, from books to video, to computer and internet.   I was talking to my mother recently about our family history and she said, “Well, you tell a good story!”  I realized in that moment that my stories of our family are different from my mother’s.  The stories of what happened, when and most importantly why have changed as I’ve grown older but they remain a central part of me and who I identify as my ‘self’, as different from my mother and her generation.  And I wondered what stories will my children and grandchildren tell about their past, my present, and issues such as what we did or didn’t do about climate change.

The stories we tell shape our beliefs and actions.  Neoliberals on the left and Libertarians on the right have something in common, the belief that the human individual, if left to his or her own good nature, would create a just and free world.  Authoritarians, both political and religious, have taken the opposite view that humans are basically weak or sinful and without a strong leader or a God, we behave badly.  So what is the truth?  Are humans basically good, or basically bad?  Can we trust our motivation to act in time to address climate change or will we simply be forced to endure the consequences? I think the truth is we are neither one nor the other but capable of both, behaving in different ways as we mature into adulthood.

As a baby we absorb information but have no fixed identity of self, this is why babies are seen as innocent.  As children we develop our identity, our ego, our moment of narcissistic reality “I am someone”, and we become able to act.  As we develop adulthood we move beyond self-centered narcissism and begin to develop social consciousness, relating to others around us.  How far we develop as adults varies.  Some people never move beyond narcissism, clinging to the idea that they are uniquely special and acting only to benefit them selves.  Some people move a little beyond, extending their ego identity as far as their tribe, giving their allegiance to a group identity, and distrusting other groups.  Racial prejudice and bigotry are a norm for such groups of people, still acting to benefit only Us not Them.  Very few people reach the state of maturity which goes beyond human identity seeing the complex connections between all life forms, learning to respect life beyond human form.

The story I believe to be true is that humans need personal contact to evolve.  Living life through social media is stunting our growth as humans because of the absence of direct, immediate personal contact.  We need the presence of a close and loving family, a small group of people that know us well, others that we trust.  Families need a stable home, a place where we are nurtured, where we feel safe.  Home is the place we come to rest, to take sustenance, to rejuvenate.  Homes occupied by families need the continuity of community, the groups of families living near each other and sharing values, resources, a way of living and supporting each other.  As the familiar group enlarges beyond a certain size, beyond the community in which we live, we lose direct personal connection with others. In a community, norms function better than laws because it is the people themselves that enforce socially accepted behaviors. In the larger society laws and government become necessary because individuals no longer act, groups act.  Communities need stable connections to other communities, good ‘politics’ to govern our treatment of others.

We do not really know what life is like for others that live in another state, or another country, unless we visit them.  We need travelers and teachers…people who are part of our group but have knowledge of others.  Through them we come to know a larger family we call humanity.  I think Monbiot is right “We have been induced by politicians, economists and journalists to accept a vicious ideology of extreme competition and individualism that pits us against each other, encourages us to fear and mistrust each other and weakens the social bonds that make our lives worth living.  We have lost our common purpose.”  If dystopia, war and destruction are all we can imagine, then violence may be all we can expect.

The story I believe is that we are all part of this dance called life, each of us having our own way of seeing and being.  Every living creature lives in this dance, dependent upon environmental stability to fulfill its main purpose of birth, growth, reproduction, and death.  Humans are different from animals because we search for meaning in life.  And although we may see life’s purpose as different from that of a plant, an insect, another mammal, at the core we all are part of the same striving to exist.

I think finding our way forward, is seeing the value of each other in community.  We need the stodgy old English teacher that insists we learn the proper rules of writing.  We need the conservative traditionalists that keep faith with the past, so that when we go off track we know how to find our way back.  We need the scientist, explorer, radical innovator looking for new ideas because we won’t solve our problems with the same thinking that got us into this mess.  We need the mystics, writers, poets, and artists to help us imagine a world we ourselves cannot see.  And most important of all, we need to coexist with all of the life around us.  We need to listen to each other’s stories, because someone else, even some other life form, may help us find a way into a future we have yet to imagine.

Comparing Woods and Forests

The funny thing about Hawaiʻi is that we donʻt have “woods.” We have forests: dry forests, wet forests, extra-wet forests, perpetually raining forests.  (We do have the wettest spot on earth here, high on the mountain top of  Waiʻaleʻale on the island of Kauaʻi.) This is what a wet forest nearby looks like.  Mostly giant ferns and small shrubberies, with a canopy of ohiʻa lehua (Metrosideros collina).  It looks just like that pretty much all year long.

Iʻm not sure why we donʻt have woods in Hawaiʻi.  For one thing, itʻs just not a word that people use.  No one says: “Iʻm going for a walk in the woods.”  So it may be simply a linguistic peculiarity.  But it feels deeper than that.  Maybe  you need a temperate climate with its annual cycles and its interplay of animals and plants throughout the year for that feeling of a woods to develop.   Maybe itʻs because the kind of landscape that would make a woods  – a relatively open sort of forest through which one could walk at will – is both rare and non-native here.   You have to make such a landscape with either labor or pastured animals.  Maybe itʻs simply because these islands are  too young geologically (only a few million years) to have developed such a storied kind of being as a wildwood.

Guest Post: by Elizabeth West

Note:  I found this article at to resonate with so many of our themes here I emailed Elizabeth and asked if I could reproduce it.  – Michelle

On the Road to Extinction Maybe It’s Not All About Us

It is crystal clear—unlike the smoky skies where I live–to most of us who are willing to consider the facts: this summer’s ‘natural’ disasters have been seeded anthropogenically.  Wildfires in the northwestern United States and Canada, in Greenland, and in Europe are often referred to in the media as ‘unprecedented’ in size and fury. Hurricanes and monsoons, with their attendant floods and destruction, are routinely described as having a multitude of ‘record-breaking’ attributes. No one reading this is likely to need convincing that humans –our sheer numbers as well as our habits—have contributed significantly to rising planetary temperatures and thus, the plethora of somehow unexpected and catastrophic events in the natural world. I’d like to include earthquakes, particularly those in Turkey (endless) and Mexico (massive), in this discussion, and while intuition tells me that there is a connection between them and climate change, research to support this supposition is just emerging, so for the nonce I will leave the earthquakes out of it.

Our proclivity for advancing our own short-term interests has made a mess of things from the beginnings of this current iteration of civilization. Irrigating the Fertile Crescent, which was not very fertile prior to the ingenious innovation of bringing water from the mountains down into the dusty plains, opened the way for a massive increase in food production and a concomitant population rise. Cities grew and became kingdoms. After a reasonably good run, though, irrigation led to salination of the soil and ultimately left it sterile and useless (for agriculture) once again. Many people and their livestock starved or were forced to migrate in large numbers. Great idea, irrigation.

The internal combustion engine seemed a brilliant response to the need to move more commodities more efficiently as the Industrial Revolution created both increased product and demand. Though not necessarily so intended, the automobile initially offered humans wildly expanded freedom and ease. It also led to pumping the innards out of the Earth, filling the atmosphere with CO2, and oil-grabbing wars that left hundreds of thousands of people dead.  Another great idea with a few minor issues that did not get worked out ahead of time.

Plastic.  Now there is an incredible invention. Tough, pliable, lightweight, eternal…this stuff filled a myriad of needs. And conveniently, it could be produced using the fossil fuels we were already extracting for those internal combustion engines. Sadly, we never imagined it would come to microscopic plastic filaments in our drinking water, our sea salt, and even our beer. Not to mention in the bellies of just about anything that lives in the Earth’s oceans.

The list of creative inventions designed to make our lives better is long and varied, but almost inevitably, given enough time, our interference (or improvements, if you prefer) upon the natural state of things comes back to bite us.  And hard.  Fukushima could easily head up that list; most of us would have no trouble adding to the tally of follies flowing from Homo sapiens’ clever life hacks.

If you delve into the motivation behind these ‘advances’ there is generally a desire on the part of people to make life safer or more comfortable or easier in one way or another.  Maybe for themselves and their tribe, or their class, or their nation, but still—the impetus does not tend to flow from a place of malignity. We simply use our big brains to see what is adversely impacting our species (or sub-group thereof) and devise a fix for it. How could that possibly go so wrong?

Hindsight, they say, is always more acute than foresight. Could this be because we do not understand fully how our world works?  Is it possible that we lack a lot of critical information about the ways in which this planet’s life forms and forces are interwoven and connected?  Maybe our superior intelligence, while it has been billed as a powerhouse in the problem-solving department, does not really have the scope of vision that would ensure that problems—solved–stay solved?  Hmmm…might there be an issue with hubris here?  And how do we solve that?

What appear to be straightforward challenges that should yield to linear corrections are in fact predominantly multifaceted and many layered. We see only what we see—because we do have limits in terms of perception– and we act upon that. No real fault there. But you do something over and over and over and get consistent results, you keep being bitten by your brilliant solutions. Quick gains, long-term disasters: this is a pretty common human story. Are we capable of examining it? Even acknowledging it?  Of recognizing that our anthropocentrism and self-assurance may be doing us more harm than good despite (or possibly because of) our fêted cognitive capacities?

So here we are: the summer of 2017 with the arctic ice melting, the temperatures rising, the oceans rising and acidifying, our non-human companions on the planet going extinct like nobody’s business. We thought about ourselves from the get-go.  From the beginning of known human history, we wanted better lives, longer lives, happier lives. For ourselves. We used our gifts to reach for what we wanted, like toddlers, with no sense of the bigger world around us, no notion of the consequences of our actions. No awareness of the unfathomable complexity and the perfection of balance represented by the environment we inhabit.

Or, no will to act from that awareness. Because in all fairness, someone has always pointed to it. Not everyone thought situating nuclear power plants on earthquake faults was a bright idea. And no doubt there was someone back in Sumer who advised stridently against the moving of mountain waters to the fields in the valley.  But the collective, or the powers that own the collective, were not interested in anything that thwarted short-term gains.

We have careened along, from one improvement to another, many of them requiring their own fix a bit down the road.  Now we look at super-storms and mega-fires and what do we see?

Unfortunately, as is almost always the case, we see our own interests and little else.  I have been perusing reports and commentary from a wide variety of sources and there is a lot of factual information: the size of the fire, how many miles per hour the winds are blowing, how many acres are still uncontained, or in thrall to the winds and rain. Then, there are stories about losses. Photos and videos and details about homes destroyed, businesses wiped off the map, human injury and death.

But do we talk about the other life forms affected by these human-accelerated events in nature?  In nature, I repeat.  Do we read or talk or hear about the animals who die?  The trees lost? The sea life and habitat ruined? Yup, there are bits and pieces about the animals that belong to us, which are, like our houses and businesses and automobiles, more possessions.  Pets, livestock, even zoo animals are considered.  How do we shelter the cheetah at the Miami Zoo?  Or what about the Cuban dolphins airlifted out of danger to a safe place on the opposite side of the island? Heartwarming, I suppose, and good for those dolphins, but what happened to the wild ones in the sea?

Here is the thing: we helped make these disasters because we always thought about ourselves and neglected to consider the balance of life.  Because our needs were far and away more important to us than the spotted salamanders’.

And maybe that is true. Maybe our lives are more valuable than all the other lives. Who am I to say?  I too am human and subject to the same hubris and shortsightedness as everyone else.

Still…if something is not working, I ask: why keep doing it?  Even if you have no natural affinity for the pine martens who die in the fires or the sandpipers who are flung to their deaths in the monsoons, pragmatism would suggest a change in practice.

We can’t prevent the suffering and dying of wild life, and the Earth herself, when confronted by the unleashed forces of fire and water, but we can include them in our assessment of the cost. We might even grieve for them. Their losses are indeed ours, and if we do not see them or their importance to our lives, if we continue to either ignore and/or dominate all other life on this planet, it won’t be long till we join them.

This piece of writing is, in a ridiculously small way, an attempt to acknowledge those losses that have gone unseen. It isn’t much, but I invite you to join me in taking a few minutes to honor and mourn those who have died in this summer’s conflagrations and deluges. We won’t know much about most of them, but we do know that they lived and we know that they died.  And that we are all diminished by their deaths.

Elizabeth West has a lifelong interest in revolution, and in exploring the interstices where love, truth, imagination and courage meet, sometimes igniting wild transformation. Her political writing has appeared in CounterPunch and Dissident Voice. Write her at or visit her website

Everything Belongs

“When you don’t know you are connected and one, you will invariably resort to some form of violence to get the dignity and power you lack. When you can become little enough, naked enough, and honest enough, then you will ironically find that you are more than enough. At this place of poverty and freedom, you have nothing to prove and nothing to protect. Here you can connect with everything and everyone. Everything belongs.” [from Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, Monday September 18. His topic is Nonviolence]

When we think of nonviolence we usually think of how it applies to our relationship to other humans.  When we think of helping those in need we think of people suffering.   Certainly our human relationships are important to consider, but I think we also need to see that all of life on earth belongs and deserves thoughtfulness and consideration.

The soul of earth shelters us all.

The woods and sky near home

Some pictures of the woods beyond the edge of the grass that is my yard.  Sunrise is only visible when the trees are bare of leaves.  Beyond the edge of grass the earth falls away into several deep ravines, home to white tailed deer, fox, racoon, possum, rabbits, squirrels, hawks, owls, and many types of woodland birds.

I think the sky at sundown is  even more beautiful than sunrise.  Many times as I walk the dogs in the evening I see colors and textures that almost stop my breath.  To witness such splendor is one of life’s simple pleasures.  The light scattered across the clouds, the colors,  are visible only briefly.  Watching the display may last only 10 or 15 minutes.  But if we don’t go outside, or are too busy to simply look up, we miss the show!

If you stop in the woods

If you stop in the woods, or move unobtrusively, and make a point of noticing, you discover there’s a lot going on.

It takes a few minutes, like eyes adjusting to the dark, before your senses re-tune. There are birds and rustlings, and puffs of air across your skin. Your nostrils open to the cacophony of scent. After a while longer, maybe an hour, a kind of spatial synaesthesia has taken over. The area around you is abuzz with conversation. In all directions stories are unfolding, on various temporal scales. Insects whirr and trees sigh. The ripples from your presence on the scene are noted and are fed back to you, and you become aware of that too.

You experience these stimuli as intimately as if your surroundings have become an extension of your body. It feels awesome. The woods themselves are your organs of perception.  They and everything that’s in them seem to be doing the thinking for you. What’s left is a kind of heightened sixth sense. Like waking into a lighter and immeasurably more alert state.

Is that how it is for the wild ones, all of the time?

It may have been an effort at first to “notice”, but when it’s time to trudge back to normality you find it’s almost a greater effort to switch off that enveloping hum, to shut your senses down and buckle into the familiar mental harness. There’s a boundless dialogue of life going on out there and the denizens of the wildwood are all a part of it. But we, the tamed ones, mostly blunder through insensate, having fenced ourselves off mentally and physically.

Why would we do that I wonder? How much was really gained in return for all that we lost?

Monbiot and how humans still don’t know who we are

George Monbiot, the acclaimed British writer, recently wrote a review of the book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change in which he points out the many disturbing social, political, and economic trends that seem to be making us less able to deal with climate change than more so. But there is a way out, he says: “Over the past few years, there has been a convergence of findings in different sciences: psychology, anthropology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology. Research in all these fields points to the same conclusion: that human beings are, in the words of an article in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, “spectacularly unusual when compared to other animals”. This refers to our astonishing degree of altruism. We possess an unparalleled sensitivity to the needs of others, a unique level of concern about their welfare, and a peerless ability to create moral norms that generalise and enforce these tendencies.”

Now George Monbiot is a good, trying kind of person, very urbane and a fine writer, but it amazes me how he (and we in general) constantly have to pat ourselves on the back about how amazing we are. We have being doing this obsessively since the Renaissance. Can we not give it a rest already? Are are so insecure that we constantly have to pump ourselves up?

I don’t know what kind of experiments led to these findings of our extreme specialness but I can just about guarantee that they were all designed with human capacities in mind. We don’t know enough about the emotional life of other animals to begin to measure their altruism. In my experience most cows are kinder to each other than most humans. But we can barely see them as emotional beings. And this is a problem, because if we can only see ourselves we can’t see the inherent value of non-human beings.

Monbiot goes on to talk about how the way out of our downward spiral is to rebuild community and connection, and I am not arguing with that at all. Rebuilding local communities and social connections among humans is critical, but in order for it to really work we need to see beyond the purely human realm into the life of the places where we live, and all of the non-human lives that are an inherent and necessary part of those places.

Before the wind consumes us

Watching news about Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma enthralled and terrified viewers.  Part of me felt safe and secure knowing I lived far away and my family wasn’t in the path of these dangerous, record setting storms.  Part of me felt worried for those who were.  Part of me felt disgusted by voyeurism of the media prying into people’s lives asking them “How do you feel about your home being destroyed, losing all your possessions?”  It’s really sad to think that climate change only attracts our attention when it causes devastation, instead of discussing how to respond to this threat.

It has become apparent that even educated, environmentally conscious people who take climate change seriously are unwilling to make the kind of changes in their lifestyle that will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use. Some educated but less affluent Americans express an interest in sustainable living but can’t afford to make the changes: i.e. buy the energy efficient home, add the solar panels, or purchase land on which to grow food.  There are far too many people who deny climate change or deny that it is caused by humans.

Influential people that trust in the market want to “grow” the economy and maintain the status quo, because it benefits them financially to believe this.   Even the recent damage caused by Hurricane Harvey has benefited the economy by boosting car sales.  Unfortunately, the under-educated, underemployed Americans that believe fake news, voted for Trump, eat nutritionally poor food, and have terrible health problems will suffer the most from weather related disasters but have the least understanding about what is happening and how it will affect them. It seems that there are very few families educated, affluent, environmentally conscious, and willing to change their lifestyle; to be frugal, simple, and less carbon consuming/polluting.

I am reminded of the fable about the frog and the pot of water.  Put a frog in a boiling pot of water and it will jump out.  Put a frog in a cold pot of water, turn on the heat and the frog will sit in the pot until it boils to death.  When it comes to the effects of our changing climate humans appear to be sitting in a cold pot of water and thinking there’s no need to jump out!  If we are so smart, why aren’t we smart enough to see what is happening and act?  Why don’t we act before the storms, floods, and wildfires threaten us?

Human history has seen great advancement.  The development of agriculture led to human population expansion and urbanization. Urbanization led to the industrial revolution; intensive exploitation of resources due to the invention of machines powered by fossil fuels. The age of reason led to the age of science. Science, technology, and the multitude of follow on technical inventions led from the industrial revolution to the computer and information revolution. And here we are…rapidly developing self-driving cars, artificial intelligent machines, the network connected world of things, and cyber warfare. Will humanity survive the challenges we face?  Can we survive the current era of extinction?

I think the reason people are unwilling to change their lifestyle to counter climate change is because of an inability to recognize our dependence on the culture we’ve created. Like an anteater that evolved a specialized nose making them totally dependent on eating ants (thus as the ants go so goes the anteater), humans have become adept at using and depending on fossil fuels and technology. Humans are increasingly moving into urban centers, dependent on importation of food, energy, and all the other resources needed for survival. We depend on jobs to acquire money to buy goods and services.

We are totally dependent on the culture we’ve created, and our culture is totally dependent on the technology and cheap energy that maintains it. We in the West, the humans who consume the most carbon, have lost the ability to make or fix the homes in which we live. We live in buildings that are climate controlled, drive about in climate controlled automobiles, and buy the food and supplies in climate controlled stores (or increasingly shop on line). Our lifestyle is supported by a system of which we have little understanding. Our culture and technology are making us less resilient, less able to recover from the disasters we are increasingly experiencing.

The problem is that we are losing touch with the natural world we depend upon and the dangers we face from climate change. We don’t understand how our food production system works, how food is grown, processed, and shipped from distant places. We don’t understand the connection between soil, water, organic matter, microbes, and long term food production. We don’t understand the connection between the food we eat and our health problems. We don’t understand how our furnace and air conditioner work. We don’t understand how or where the energy comes from to run our furnace or air conditioner. We have very little understanding of the limits in the resources our lives depend upon.

We don’t pay attention to how our political choices affect the government we get, one that is increasingly hostile to the less fortunate, the elderly, the sick, the displaced and downtrodden.  Some of the people whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Harvey, moved to Texas after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their home.  We are losing the ability and the desire to communicate across the political and economic chasms that divide us one from each other; the powerful vs powerless, the rich vs poor, black vs white, man vs woman, etc.

Science and technology has spawned an information industry that is profiting by selling us a constant barrage of electronic mental stimulus.  We spend most of our time connected to others through electronic media that makes us less thoughtful and more reactionary.  The information technology is collecting vast amounts of information about us in order to facilitate consumerism, while stripping away the very meaning of privacy.  We are in danger of losing what it means to be humane.

Perhaps like the anteater our evolutionary path has led us down a dead end. Our neural networks, imagination, and need for social connections have turned into the path of hyper electronic connectivity, imaginary worlds, and fake or titillating news that will keep us enthralled and addicted 24/7 and unable to see the bus before it runs us over.  Perhaps its time we change, before we face the wind that consumes us.