Many of us in some quiet moment ask ourselves whether our life has had meaning or what our life has meant to this point. We are capable of looking back at our past and projecting our possible futures. This is a very human process. The search for meaning is an ongoing process. Some may look to books like Dr. Victor Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning. A Book that may provide a few answers to some. Even in the last year of my seventh decade I still don’t have any solid answers to these questions.
One thing that appears certain, whatever the meaning of life, is that in all of life’s many forms the greatest drive is the continuation of the species. While the human species is also driven to reproduce, we also seem to be driven to destroy ourselves and the life around us. Our actions and our actions alone now pose a threat to the future of our species and many of our fellow creatures. Through a combination of our ignorance, greed, thoughtlessness, selfishness, and laziness the life on this planet has entered the planet’s sixth major extinction period.
Ignorance of this fact is no excuse for not acting to protect future generations of our own kind and all other life forms. Life forms on which we are absolutely dependent. We are not the creators of life and have no right to be the cause of life’s destruction. We have developed a culture whose only goal seems to be the acquisition of more and more of everything. Our drive to acquire appears to be insatiable. We take no notice of the destruction that results from the production of ever more stuff in our personal quest of acquisition. We are busily laying up treasures which moth and rust corrupt. Chris Hedges has written
If I were to ask which has more value, a pound of gold or a pound of good soil, the probable choice of most would be the gold. Yet we can live and thrive without gold but life for us would be impossible without good soil. We are now heedlessly supporting a system of agriculture and economics which is destroying the planet’s fertility. Our country has already lost over a third of its topsoil. Every bushel of corn grown by this system results is the loss of forty-four pounds of top soil. We take fertile ground and bury under asphalt. Our industrial agriculture’s only goal is profit, not the long term health of the land. We us pesticides and herbicides so liberally that much runs off to poison or lakes and streams. Billions of pounds of animal waste adds to this toxic brew. We have created vast dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
We not only poison the soil with our vast array of readily available chemicals, we poison our own bodies. There is much debate over abortion in this country, but those fighting to end all abortions seem to be unconcerned about the toxic substances that enter these same embryos and fetuses. With little thought or testing we now subject the life of our planet with over 80,000 man-made chemicals.
Our corporations are amoral entities that pursue profits by externalizing as many costs as possible. They fight any attempt to prevent their polluting our air and water. If corporations really were people, they would be classified as psychopaths. They never feel guilt or remorse for their destructive actions. They do all they can to absolve themselves of responsibility. Ever hear any Wall Street bankers apologize for collapsing the economy? Monsanto now produces seeds for plants are really pesticides. We are all lab rats in the experiment on the safety of GMO’s. Chris Hedges has written “the mania for ceaseless economic expansion and exploitation has become a curse, a death sentence.”
It is a matter of observable fact that life is rapidly vanishing from the planet as a direct result of our actions. This is not speculation or a matter of opinion. It is an observable fact. It is we who are clearcutting the great rainforests on earth and the greatest diversity of life on the planet. We value cheap hamburgers more than life’s diversity. It is we who are stripping the oceans of the world of life far faster than they can recover. It is we who are causing desertification around the world. Our demand for every more beef has caused the destruction of hundreds of thousands rangeland acres.
The mere fact that there are environmental organizations makes a statement about the nature of our civilization and culture. Why would a sane culture need them? Environmental groups though they win a battle here and there are losing the fight to protect the planet. What I find most disturbing about the “big green” groups, many of which I am a member, is their failure to take on directly our type of capitalistic economic system which feels free to pollute and destroy the planet and is based on ever more consumption. These groups nibble around the edges but don’t want to offend any of their members by taking on the system.
Sooner or later the majority of the population may demand that we deal with climate change and all the other environmental issues we face. But will it be too late? Will we have passed so many tipping points so that we will not be able to stop the freight train of climate change, species loss, soil degradation, contamination of land and water, and the changing of the composition of our atmosphere?
I am asking you to take on the fight to preserve our biosphere and our species. I ask because I believe we have a moral obligation to posterity. The founding fathers often talked about posterity, but is something seldom heard from today’s politicians. They and our corporate leaders are only fixed on the next quarter’s profits and the latest stock market index. They only care about the accumulation of more wealth by the wealthy. A wealth accumulated by the exploitation of the planet and most of its people. Are we too comfortable with our life to take up this fight? Are we too concerned with the accumulation of more stuff? Are we too comfortable hiding in ignorance and denial?
I certainly don’t know the answers to questions for each individual, but it is clear where most of in our society stand. Unless there is a general demand from the population for action to protect our grandchildren and their grandchildren, our political leaders won’t act. They are too wedded to the powerful who are consumed with their wealth and power.
Edward Everett Hale wrote “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. ” Henry Thoreau wrote that we are a society of one, and so we can change our society of one now, we don’t have to wait for the whole society to change. So it is up to us to begin the change needed to protect the life of the planet and in so doing hope to change the society as a whole. We can take contentment in knowing that we have chosen to act, not in a selfish way, but in a way which is true and moral. We can think beyond ourselves and to those who will follow us.
To the deniers I leave you with a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a leader of the underground church in Nazi Germany. “Folly is a more dangerous enemy to the good than evil. One can protest against evil; it can be unmasked and, if need be, prevented by force. Evil always carries the seeds of its own destruction, as it makes people, at the least, uncomfortable. Against folly we have no defense. Neither protests nor force can touch it; reasoning is no use; facts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved- indeed the fool can counter by criticizing them, and if they are undeniable, they can just be pushed aside as trivial exceptions. So the fool, as distinct from the scoundrel, is completely self-satisfied; in fact, he can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make him aggressive.”