“Human beings must learn again how to adapt themselves to the natural order of the life sphere or their inventions may carry them and all other organisms to extinction.” This is a maxim that I read some time ago while walking through the Coyote Point Environmental Museum, now known as CuriOdyssey. It always comes to mind on Earth Day. And since yesterday was Earth Day, you may have been thinking, “What would have to change about attitudes, values and lifestyles to prevent environmental disaster? Is there any way this headlong thrust into catastrophe could, at least be slowed?”
Possibly. But it might not be what you want to hear. A great many of us would need to lead a lifestyle based on political activism and voluntary simplicity that arises from the belief that being is much more conductive to our well-being than having. It is letting our legislators know that we do not consider putting environmental issues to committee for study forever, passing laws that are not enforced and looking the other way when the environment is decimated by industrial, corporate and technological practices that should be regulated and controlled.
We must let them know that instead of merely attempting to alleviate the damage of toxic pollutants after they have become part of the environment, they must demand prevention such as Barry Commoner described some years ago: “sweeping changes in the major systems of production, agriculture, industry, power production and transportation undertaken for a social purpose: environmental improvement.” We must begin living by a new set of values based on a theology of humanity instead of the religion of technology.
“In our civilization, we have modified our environment to such an extent during this cultural evolution that we have lost touch with our biological and ecological base more than any other culture and any other civilization in the past. This separation manifests itself in a striking disparity between the development of intellectual power, scientific knowledge and technological skills on the one hand, and of wisdom, spirituality and ethics on the other.” — Frizof Capra, “The Turning Point.”
If we live a life of voluntary simplicity we will act, not for our own selfish interests, but according to what is best for all. Seemingly paradoxical, we will do this best by developing our own inner resources and building a feeling of self-worth so that we are free from our protections and addictions. We will be aware at all times that everything we do will either contribute to our own and society’s growth or destruction and try to live accordingly. As a result, we will thoughtfully consume, resist artificially created “needs” — always sensitive to the effect our consuming practices can have on our natural environment.
We will be concerned with living our lives in harmony with the universe, growing and evolving, as we learn to trust our gut feelings and intuition. Our attitude will be one of cooperation, not competition, reverence for nature and life, not rapaciousness. We will sense our oneness with all life. We will no longer buy into the idea that we must conquer, subdue, exploit and destroy nature, but encourage the understanding of and cooperation with nature.
We will become involved in something larger than our own life — a social issue, a political movement, a cultural concern and environmental issue — and through our commitment to one or more of these will find a sense of purpose that helps fill the spiritual void that we may have tried to fill with the accumulation of things, experiences and/or mindless activity.
“We can continue to follow the path” (we have set for ourselves) “blocking out our feelings or frustration, anxiety and powerlessness through the isolated pursuit of pleasure and make the predictions of gloom a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or we can begin to transform ourselves from a selfish culture characterized by avaricious distrust of the self and others into a self-directed culture, one on which by virtue of depending on our own resources and finding satisfaction in them, we find even greater fulfillment by sharing our resources with others and concerning ourselves with the ‘common good.’” — Maxine Schnall, “Limits.”
There will be very little inroad into the environmental dilemma until many more of us restructure our values and learn how our consuming habits poison our environment and ultimately ourselves. We must learn to find satisfaction in life from other than material accumulation. We must commemorate Earth Day every day.
“For the first time in history, the physical survival of the human race depends on a radical change of the human heart.” — Erich Fromm, “To Have or to Be.”
Since 1984, Dorothy Dimitre has written more than 700 columns for various local newspapers. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.