COMMENTARY: Our Flat Earth

A Call for Environmental Sanity

Always there have been hot days, so I can't vouch for global warming but I'd lay money on the fact the world is getting flat. It takes a few times passing through my Ripon, Wisconsin neighborhood but eventually I see it; something has changed, the sky is closer, things are opened up to heat and glare. It is astonishing how adept we are at taking away from our natural environment. New homes and businesses are a subtraction, cement flattens, power lines expose with belligerence what is green and living, garbage spreads ugliness, trees are cut down for no other reason than that a land owner is tired of raking up leaves and acorns, or a half-a-hundred of them are lost at once when a road is improved, areas are shorn of tall grass and flowers on a cutting schedule.

Living things are not valued in the language of the market place.
© Getty Images

The sound of a chainsaw makes me painfully conscious of loss. Early American Indians were astonished and dismayed by the level of destruction we brought upon the land. 160 years ago, native species such as American buffalo were being eradicated, forests leveled for mining and farming to make way for trains and roads and towns, timber disappeared from around waterways to provide wood for steamboats. Evidence of an industrial revolution was in full swing then but now damage is infinitely more pronounced.

To the Indians, it was a clear message: the earth was suffering and the Great Spirit dying. The rest of us may at last be catching on. Oh, sure, a small percentage of scientists talk of weather cycles and advocate business as usual but this minority clearly works another agenda. From what I see in my community and elsewhere this philosophy is dangerous, even criminal. It points to basic values uprooted and tossed on the burn pile where short-term financial gain is the only consideration.

I react to development not as a homeowner or breadwinner with an eye toward economic opportunity but as a steward of nature. Development in the language of the natural world is destruction. It is obvious we need an environmental revolution, a time of change to rival the renaissance. We will have to change our habits and perhaps our very natures to survive. But how will we stop the dirty tricks when we have been at them for so long? The robber barons make treaties with us now. It always was a question of land and who profits from it. And even at this critical time it is hard to speak up.

Living things are not valued in the language of the market place, not like a dollar, an opportunity, a deal to be made. I am a tree hugger, an idealist and my argument is riddled with anthropomorphic sentimentality. But I know the world is getting flat. I sense it. We have combed over nature with an ever more fine-toothed comb, until the loss of even one more tree or field of wildflowers becomes an important event. How do we stop ourselves? How do we kick the money changers out of the temple at last?

We need to heal this planet of ours one yard and one neighborhood at a time. We will almost certainly continue to eat at McDonald's and drive cars to work but many of us would gladly sacrifice whatever is necessary to bring forth a vision of environmental ascendancy. I am a craver but not so selfish I cannot change. I cut my grass with a rotary push mower now, ride my bike to work when I can, carry buckets of water from dehumidifier and shower to washing machine, use canvas bags at the grocery store, recycle, conserve, pick up garbage, support energy initiatives and environmental groups. I plant trees on my property, even though it is a small yard.

I think sometimes it would be much easier to not feel this compulsion to respond and try to make a difference. I heard someone interviewed on the radio: "Let Al Gore worry about global warming" they said. "I've got to get my groceries in the door". Another: "I"m not driving one of those little cars and getting myself run over".

Oh, to be so blissfully unencumbered by the ravages of environmental conscience! To throw garbage out my car window, to never slacken the pace or pattern of my consumption, to use up and not replenish, to give no thought to tigers and polar bears nearly gone, to fill up my SUV and chop down a walnut tree, to widen my driveway once again. These days not even this tiny act of environmental degradation is meaningless. The world is getting flat. Get out and look around. It's hard to miss. Perhaps too many of us have been complacent for too long. I hear the honey bees may be starting the revolution without us.

DALE STEPHENS lives in Ripon, Wisconsin.