Browsing through the fashion literature in a San Francisco waiting room recently I was struck by the pervasive narcissism of so much of humanity. Pondering the superficiality of what is being offered as models for admiration made me long for fashion more down to earth. Is high fashion truly cool? Do these images represent values you respect or want your children to aspire to? Beyond the obvious affectation and self-centeredness is a lack of modesty and an awareness that the world doesn’t really revolve around them…or any of the rest of us.
For us to live the high life, or even the not so high life, requires enormous systems of supply and refuse, the functionality of which depends on highly organized machine-like efficiency. These are systems that are typically kept out of sight and out of mind…and for good reason: they can be deeply disturbing…and they are growing steadily as our unbridled population spreads out over the countryside.
Efforts like reducing carbon emissions or water usage, while perhaps commendable in their own right, are only treating symptoms of an underlying problem. Consider our endless efforts to control and conserve water while simultaneously accepting the growth of more people. If we restrict water usage but allow population to grow the result is more and more people using less and less water. Our feckless leaders, who probably don’t know any better, just keep kicking the can down the road. But that is only the tip of the iceberg because providing water allows for additional human beings and this has far greater impact on earth’s resources than just water. Consider the following, as I partially listed in “Footprints in Tomorrow’s Mud” (5-1-14), the average American in an average lifetime will:
Use 1.8 million gallons of water
Burn 31,350 gallons of gasoline
Discard 64 tons of garbage to landfills
Use 29,700 pounds of plastic
Use 43,371 aluminum cans
Eat 7000 animals
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera
Multiply that by 340 million Americans and the impact on our planet’s resources, as well as our supply and refuse systems, becomes obvious.
When I see satellite images of our cities overrunning the natural landscape with asphalt, concrete, and lights I can’t help but draw parallels to medical images of viruses overrunning healthy tissue. Cities will surely dominate our future, but I hope our cities can be restrained and be parts of the larger natural landscape rather than country or planet-wide megalopolises sprinkled with token parks and wildlife refuges. We may be the dominant species, but we should nevertheless modestly remember that we are still just a species among species and that the planet belongs to all of us. Doesn’t it?