Climate Optimism: Week of June 17, 2019

In the realm of conservation, we often talk about “reconnecting with nature.” And it’s the “re-” part that’s key — it’s not a new connection with our ecosystems, it’s a supposed lost connection. But the lines we’ve drawn between ourselves and our surrounding ecology blur when you connect the dots.

Take gardening. We see gardening as a repatriation to the Earth, a commitment of dirt, worms, gloves, and sweat to feel the planet’s life. And gardening relates to farming, which we see as an occupation full of deference to ecosystem services. But farming relates to changing the Earth’s surface, of pushing ecosystems into an anthropogenic order. And much farming is big and corporate and causing deforestation.

So, is gardening small-scale environmental destruction?

Are these people destroying the planet? Photo by Benjamin Combs on Unsplash

Short answer: no. Agriculture isn’t inherently destructive. But it can be, depending on how we connect our agriculture to ecosystems. In big, industrial agriculture, ecology is something to overpower. In small, organic agriculture and gardening, ecosystems are force for good and something to work with. To garden is to wrestle with our relationship to the Earth amid the deafening power of our ecosystems.

Our big policies need to stand in awe of that power, too. The Democratic candidates for President keep putting out climate plans. This is a massive step forward from earlier presidential campaigns that gave climate change, at best, a cursory nod. And almost every plan calls for expanding renewable energy, funding sustainability research and improving sustainable infrastructure. Many, even Joe Biden’s, praise the Green New Deal.

They have important differences between them in funding and timelines. But most cover the same ideas — and miss key others, including ecosystems.

To be fair, Jay Inslee’s plan gives a shout-out to public lands and Elizabeth Warren laid out a public lands plan. But part of the Green New Deal proposal is “restoring and protecting threatened, endangered, and fragile ecosystems.” That requires more than not developing federal forests and boosting wind power. We need to expand protected areas and rebuild lost habitats. Ecosystems will defend us from climate change — and by keeping the Earth intact, we can rebound from crises faster. We shouldn’t just push for new technology, we should learn, humbly, from the sustainability of ecosystems.

Because we can put solar panels on every roof but if we destroy our forests, we’re still screwed.

Clean energy plans are great. But they’re not the whole Green New Deal. Any candidate serious about building a sustainable society should propose a serious plan to revitalize our ecosystems.

I chose the quote of the week to jumpstart that humbling:

“Because they do not have such a wide choice, other animals have more successfully maintained the behavioral patterns which make their own survival possible while contributing to the long-term maintenance of their environments.” — Joseph W. Meeker in “The Comic Mode,” an essay in The Ecocriticism Reader

Sounds like we have some catching up to do.

Conservationist, storyteller, semi-professional Ira Glass impressionist.