Sunday, April 24, 2011

What does Green Mean?

Ever since my last post on sustainable cities, I've been thinking ... what does sustainable mean anyway? What does it mean to be green? What is the point of Earth Day?

Heavy stuff?

Perhaps.

A lot of people associate being green with nature. One person on Jenn's original post about the suburbs versus cities argued that cities might be less green because they lacked yards to grow food or for children to play in.

Which made me wonder: is having a yard a green attribute?

The reality is that greens have a fairly incoherent relationship with well ... greens. By which I mean, ya know, trees, and shrubs, and grass, and dear little woodland creatures.

Let's take yards. Yards are considered wonderful because they allow us to grow food and allow our children to play in nature. Enviros will take pictures of their gardens, their fruit trees, their flower bushes to show the world the beauties of nature. Yay yards! Let's build more yards!!

But wait! Before we rush out to build yards! We must remember that yards are terrible because they require so much water. Lawns are a waste of such a precious commodity. Also, gardens hardly constitute "nature" because they are human constructed. Rows of heirloom tomatoes aren't "natural." Nor are those peas growing on that human-built trellis. Yards are not nature!

No, to find nature, we must go to Yosemite. Or Yellowstone. Or some other national park. That's where NATURE is.

Except, that's not nature either! Look at all those stupid campers sitting there. They are destroying the nature with their ENJOYMENT of it. Look at them smugly sitting on that log. They are SITTING on NATURE.

Nature is somewhere else. Somewhere where humans have never been. The real nature, the nature we need to save, is actually the nature we've never seen. Because if we see it, WE RUIN IT! Do you hear me?!!! We must save it from us!! STAY AWAY FROM THE NATURE!!!

Actually, maybe those lawns aren't so bad. But maybe instead of lawns, we could just let our yards run wild. Except that, hmmm, then it might become "nature" and our kids couldn't play there. Alternately, it might become filled with tumbleweeds and the local high school kid might smoke pot back there.

Hmmm.

Is pot nature?

Ultimately, this gets carried forward to the inevitable conclusion, which generally results in ritual suicide because, let's face it, there'd be a lot more "nature" around if humans were all dead.

Kidding. About the ritual suicide.

But the truth is, there are greens who do think there'd be a lot more "nature" if the human race went extinct.

Personally, I think there would be a lot more of somethings ... certainly there are some species that would multiply without humans and there are others that would probably die off without us.

But as for nature?

Well, I'd argue that "nature" is a human construct. Without humans, there is no nature.

The truth is that from the moment humans first roamed the Earth, we have had an impact on the non-human world. We shouldn't aim to separate ourselves from our world for a multiplicity of reasons, and honestly, we CAN'T separate ourselves from the world.

We are humans. We are nature. And, as Oprah would say, if we want to love and protect nature, we are going to have to learn to love ourselves as part of nature first.

11 comments:

EcoCatLady said...

Utterly brilliant post! I think it's a fallacy to believe that humans are the only creatures capable of altering their environment, we're just very efficient at the process and there are so darned many of us.

Rosa said...

We're just as much a part of nature as anything else...but we're not at all willing to share. We want to fence off a little monoculture and never have to worry about wolves or coyotes or squirrels or bats, or have beetles or snakes or random plants we don't recognize.

I'm lucky to live in a city with a lot of greenspace, but it's still really hard for most of the nonhuman critters to live/get through here. Frogs don't do well with 4 lane streets. Which would be fine if we stayed in the areas we claim and left some of it alone, but we don't - we want to be free to live/walk/play everywhere, without danger to ourselves, at whatever cost to other species.

Woman with a Hatchet said...

They're sitting on nature! Aiee!

Love this post. The whole argument that the world would be better off without us mucking it up is ridiculous. Is ritual suicide the answer just because we haven't figured out how to stop poisoning the air?

And miss out on chocolate and heirloom tomatoes? No way!

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

I mostly practice Darwinian Gardening, i.e. I don't water anything except maybe a tomato plant or two, if I remember, and only the fittest plants survive.

My garden is mostly dandelions and moss.

Dandelions are carbon sinks, right?

'Becca said...

I really enjoyed this article. I often get accused of thinking all humans should die (or at least not have any more babies) and that's really not my point of view at all! I enjoy living in a world crowded with people; I'm only concerned that if we crowd the WHOLE world, we'll have trouble. You're right on target about the semi-coherent sense of what "nature" really means and what should be done with it among most enviro-conscious people.

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