A long time ago, near the beginning of my short tenure on this whirling chunk of rock, Ed Abbey discovered that we humans are in deep shit. He saw, in the desert and elsewhere, the effects of a global megamachine on the rampage, uncontrolled and uncontrollable, laying waste to the neighborhood, and the neighbors, eating living things and non-living habitat, excreting greed, consumerism, acquisitiveness, folly and deceit, fueled by an economy conceived in a fantasy of infinite resources, rolling along on wheels of cultural distraction and deception.
Fifty years on, things are worse than Ed ever knew. The United States of America is controlled by a fascist corporate cabal, with a demented puppet at the steering wheel, and no pretense of dissociation between government and its corporate controllers. The people of the United States, supposedly the heirs of democracy and the rulers of this democratic nation, are disenfranchised, dispirited, distracted and disinterested. This is no accident, as the new rulers of the corporate oligarchy have worked for decades to get us to the point we find ourselves in today.
This is bad enough culturally, the loss of a brilliant human ideal, a glowing promise of freedom and liberty in a land where each human could work toward his or her greatest development. What’s so much worse is that this evil imperialist empire lays waste to the non-human world in its pursuit of human gain. If our own species is bent on driving over the edge of the abyss, pedal to the metal, so be it and good riddance. Unfortunately for the rest of life, our car is hitched to everything else living, and we’re dragging it all over the edge with us.
Fortunately, Mother Nature is far cleverer than Dick Cheney or even Carl Rove. It turns out that everything really is hitched to everything else, and we’ve found, and some of us have even admitted, that there is a limit beyond which even “Homo sapiens” cannot go, and we long ago exceeded that limit. Geological processes grind slowly and they grind exceedingly fine. Once put into motion, they take a long time to wind up their flywheels, but once moving they cannot be easily stopped.
The flywheel of climate change has been pushed into faster motion by the industrial excess of human consumptive society. No use arguing about it, it’s real, cannot be denied with any credibility. And, as disappointing as it is to the Sahara Club and Foes of the Earth, there’s nothing humans can do to stop it. A hundred years from now, a short breath in the life of the Earth, this place will be much hotter than it is now, and billions of life forms, including humans, will have died a premature death. More importantly, far fewer life forms, including humans, will survive to replace them.
This doesn’t mean that Life is threatened on Earth. Life is far tougher and more resilient that that. Life will continue on its merry way, until the Earth cools down again, 10,000 years from now or so, an eyeblink in geologic time scales. And some form of life, perhaps different, perhaps old Homo sap hisself, will rise to ascendancy.
So, having received this death sentence for “Civilization, if that’s what it is, which I doubt, what’s a body to do?
Most of us alive now reading these scintillating photons will live to see some of the coming changes. Our children, if we have any, will live to see the beginning of the great die-off and may or may not survive to see human population reduced to a reasonable level. Our grandchildren, if any, will live in a world completely different from that we enjoy today. They’ll live at more northern latitudes or at higher altitudes. They’ll live simply, with technologies closely attuned to the places where they live. They won’t know a “global economy” except as legend. They probably won’t even know about some mythical White Castle in the East where the evil Oval One lives and casts his net over the land. They’ll know the place where they live and how to live in it.
Or they won’t be alive at all.
What we do now is get real and stop pretending that life will continue as it has for the past fifty years, and start preparing for real life bearing down on us like the Titanic on an iceberg.
Forget about saving the wilderness. It’s gone. It’s history. There’s no place on Earth that’s not irretrievably changed by human endeavor. Wilderness exists only in the human mind. What we have to save is the wild, both outside and inside of us, the future inhabitants of the New Wild, our true home.
I’m not talking survivalism here. That’s another fantasy that leads to madness. I’m talking about Living in Place, reinhabitory strategies, relearning to live in the places we inhabit, not on them. This is the way our descendants, if any, will live of necessity. We might as well start practicing now and avoid the rush.
Start off by reading “Good News,” and take it serious. Then dip into Gary Snyder, Peter Berg, and, of course, more Abbey. Wouldn’t hurt to read James Lovelock and Ernest Callenbach, too, just to see what the possibilities are.
Then, get busy, learn about the places where you live. Forget about desert hiking and river running. Soon, you’ll have more desert than anyone can use and most rivers will be dry or piddling little streams.
Or, you can fritter away your remaining days pretending none of this is true. It doesn’t matter. We will all die in our time and take our right places in the earth to feed the future inheritors of our folly.
I just hope I live long enough to see Hiway 1 clogged with dead SUVs… all six lanes.
Bwthyn Lleuad Bae