“Love it or lose it!” We must “love it,” treat the Earth well, or we lose it.
The Earth’s health depends on its ideological and economic systems. The health of the Earth (or lack, thereof) is the most serious existential problem we all face today. It is in danger, more so than ever before, from challenges by our current national government.
For this essay, I consulted, among others, Mr. Warren D. Harden, Norman, Oklahoma, a naturalist by spirit and avocation (also a former college professor and social worker for the State). This interview presents some of his ideas for your consideration. (Full disclosure: Warren is my cousin and has had a great influence on my life.)
Warren was, as I am, grandson of Samuel Houston Mounce, who staked his claim on a farm in Oklahoma, during the famous “race” in the Cherokee Strip. We third generation kids only found out later the land had been stolen from Native Americans. Our interest in the environment started way back on our Grandfather’s 160 acres. We “raced” water-bugs taken from the horse tank; listened to the guinea fowl chatter as they warned us of invasion by snakes or foxes; played in Bois d’arc creek (contracting poison ivy as our reward for our adventure).
Warren was a Boy Scout. My family was too poor and lived in the country, too far away, to attend meetings or camps. But my cousin shared his survivalist knowledge – tying knots, healing wounds, knowledge of native flora and fauna. I already had, as a country boy, the necessary respect for nature. Farm work was hard (plowing, scooping wheat and other fragrant things). Times were tough and government help was essential.
Lincoln began with aid for agricultural education, funding my alma mater, Oklahoma A&M. Then, title to the farm, signed by Teddy Roosevelt. Later, other federal help–electricity arrived through the Rural Electrification Act (REA), allowing our farmhouse to have a “Fridge,” not an “ice box,” a radio not run by our “wind charger.” Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson are to be thanked. FDR helped with protection of crop prices through his “New Deal.” But times changed. The family farm could no longer sustain the family. Current political realities (domination by one party tied to one president not committed to preserving the environment) overturned this scenario of government aid to survival. This grim reality leads me back to my cousin and to the reason for this interview.
Warren initially declined writing a book, or even this article. He felt it was too late: “attacking the problem from the environmental side is useless. Everything is controlled by big money and the kakistocracy.” (I had to look that one up, but it’s a real word; just google.) As a naturalist, he has led environmental tours over forty different countries and fifty-five oceanic islands. He loves the beauty of the natural world—grasslands, deserts, arctic tundra, mountains and trees, the flora and fauna. ”I would not enjoy life without all of this.” he acknowledges.
Warren laments the proven damage to the world-wide environment: “It is depressing. When I first went to the Galapagos fifty years ago, trails were marked by colored ribbons. Now some of the trails are so wide and barren, animals can’t see across them to mate with those on the other side.” Fragile ecosystems are neglected by governments and spoiled by private companies searching for a larger bottom line profit. One major example: burning of the Amazon forests, which are the “lungs” of our own hemisphere. Warren warned: “our planet has no Plan B. This is the only planet we have.”
But Warren persists; he presently works with an important project in Oklahoma, planning and building for the preservation of several species of birds. He has seen some progress. But Warren’s hopes are diminishing rapidly. So are the famous “Snows of Kilimanjaro;” so are the ice caps – both Arctic and Antarctic – as are the vast, sparkling ice caves I explored inside Mount Rainier, when hiking there over fifty years ago. Harden prefaces his accounts of small successes with a less optimistic, macro-cosmic philosophy.
Warren—a “just-like-you” Everyman–connects the dots and sees the fusion of the environment with our economic system. The major culprit, as he sees it, is capitalism. He means, as Adam Smith (Wealth of Nations) feared, a rampant, greedy capitalism, a type not tempered by science or moral concerns. Human degradation of our environmental support system started many decades—even centuries—ago, but has sped up drastically in recent years. Coral reefs are dying; storms are more frequent and destructive; glaciers, permafrost and ice caps are melting; sea levels are rising (Underwater: Implications for U.S. Coastal Real Estate, Union of Concerned Scientists, 2018). Warren has personally “witnessed all these things.”
He notes southeast Florida has a plan for millions to move when sea levels drive humans out of that area (Regional Climate Action Plan, 2017). He fears southeast Texas does not have such a plan, although the percentage of land under sea level is similar. Where will the one million people of Brownsville/Matamoros go when salty seawater pollutes rivers and freshwater aquifers? Warren cautions:” This is coming. Not if, but when.”
Primary causes are “greenhouse gas emissions” (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2014). The cause behind the cause? rampant capitalism, dependence on fossil fuels. The irony is, of course, capitalism, socialism or any economic system ultimately depends on the Earth, on its elements—its minerals, but also its winds and waters, its flora and fauna, for survival. That dependency matters, even for capitalistic profits, if another system to replace them cannot be devised.
Our planet Earth has had five major environmental changes, each resulting in mass extinction of a majority of living species. Each was caused by natural events. Now, for the first time, the Earth is reacting to an unnatural change created by humans (the global economic system dominating the world – capitalism). “This Anthropocene (human geological) epoch, is facing a sixth, mass extinction. Our planet is like the human body; if it is treated badly, it will not support life” (Harden, 2018).
My cousin, Warren, and I learned those lessons long ago, back on the farm, even before the Boy Scouts, even before his environmental travels and research. The lessons continued with religious teachings in our church, built by our Grandfather: “Ye shall not defile the land in which you live . . . for I, the Lord, dwell in the midst of the people . . . “(Genesis 2:15). Put more inelegantly: “Don’t spit in your own soup.” Or, put in an even less biblical way: “Don’t s . . . where you eat.” If you do, something most unpleasant will come back to haunt you, sooner than later.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows students wearing masks in New Delhi, India, one of the most polluted cities in the world.