How Sex, Politics, Money and Religion are Killing Planet Earth

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Great North American Mid-life Baseline Assessment

North America and I have reached mid-life. My doctor tells me that at 52, I am actually not in mid-life, but old, and I suppose the same is true for the United States and to a lesser extent, Canada. We have enjoyed the exuberance and productivity of youth, fueled by abundant energy. We reached our peak, thinking it would last, but now decline seems unavoidable and inevitable. I have spent the past thirty years navigating a miasma of motherhood, marriage, work and most-recently, higher education, every day an endless stream of things to do, people to nurture, deadlines to meet and expectations to fulfill. I can’t remember what it feels like not to have something to do for someone else.

Canadian Tar Sands*
I wouldn’t trade away a day of time from those thirty years. I have amazing adult children, a rewarding and satisfying career and a usually understanding and loving husband. I love my life. I do, however, feel a bit unanchored as I face the future. The kids are grown and independent. I have “arrived” at where I want to be professionally. For years I have been defined by my role, “mother,” “wife,” or by the work that I do, “environmental scientist.” I have been categorized and placed in the convenient cubby holes of others’ and my own creation. I am having trouble seeing beyond the confines, now that the boundaries are no longer relevant. Like stepping outside on a bright day after sitting in the dark, the unconstrained light is overwhelming and blinding. Who am I? What am I doing? Where am I going? Out of confines, the answers to these questions are not as clear as they once seemed to be.

North America is at a similar crossroads, propelled forward over a few generations to exceptional economic growth and world domination via the exploitation of fossilized hydrocarbons sequestered within the Earth, or “fossil fuels.” Our use of fossil fuels has facilitated unprecedented growth and advancement, and it has increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere from about 280 ppt, prior to the Industrial Revolution, to over 400 ppt today. Readily accessible crude is gone. We are now squeezing tar out of rocks and sand, pulverizing the bedrock of the planet and removing mountaintops to get at the precious hydrocarbon elixir upon which our prosperity was built. The capitalist economic reach is globalized, and very real thresholds of extinction, global climate change and potential environmental collapse are visible on the not too distant horizon.

Mountain Top Removal*
2015 was the hottest year ever recorded. Such a statistic would not be significant on its own, but it occurs in a context where the sixteen hottest years on record have all occurred since 1998 (https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/201513). In other words, sixteen of the past eighteen years have all been record-breakers. Skeptics will suggest that warming periods have occurred throughout Earth’s history and that the current pattern of consistently hotter and hotter years is a natural trend (note this is a departure from the skeptics’ previous complete denial that the planet is even warming).
Fragments of fact can be found in all fiction. Earth has been hotter and colder during its 4.5 billion-year history, but has never before, as far as we can measure, become this hot, this fast. We also know that Earth’s heating and cooling patterns are significantly correlated to concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. During Earth’s hottest era (the Eocene), carbon dioxide concentrations were as high as 1,000 – 2,000 parts per thousand (ppt). During Earth’s coldest era, during the last glacial ice age, carbon dioxide levels were around 200 ppt (http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2014/07/11/what-geology-has-to-say-about-global-warming/). At the current rate of increase, atmospheric carbon dioxide will measure 780 ppt before 2050, a level believed to be a threshold at which Antarctica melts.


The cornerstone of environmental evaluation is called a baseline assessment. Before the effects of human activities can be predicted, one must know the starting point or baseline. The baseline is not necessarily pristine, for one must also know where to begin before one can heal what is broken. A baseline can be perfect and whole or utterly devastated, but it represents an untarnished truth.
In a couple of weeks, I will leave behind the orderly world of work, school, motherhood and marriage and head on a journey across North America from Asheville, North Carolina to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Along the way, I will conduct a personal and environmental baseline assessment. I plan to take in as many realities as I can, from ghost bears in British Columbia to tar sands in Alberta. I will contrast topless mountains in Kentucky to the Northern Canadian and Alaskan wilderness. Fracking fields and northern lights are also on the itinerary. I will read a lot of books, sleep in a tent (or the car in grizzly and polar bear country), listen to my thoughts, write, take photos and do a lot of hiking along the way. At the end of my journey, I will know the truth of things.


p.s. I am open to ideas for places to visit, travel tips, good yoga studios, how to offset my carbon footprint and anything else that might be deemed significant. Let me know.

*I poached all images from Google searches. They are not my own. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Suffer the Children

In his epic new work Half-Earth, renowned biologist Edward O. Wilson opens with the most poignant description of humanity I have ever seen:

Storyteller, mythmaker and destroyer of the living world. Thinking with a gabble of reason, emotion and religion. Lucky accident of primate evolution during the late Pleistocene. Mind of the biosphere. Magnificent in imaginative power and exploratory drive, yet yearning to be more master than steward of a declining planet. Born with the capacity to survive and evolve forever, able to render the biosphere eternal also. Yet arrogant, reckless, lethally predisposed to favor self, tribe and short-term futures. Obsequious to imagined higher beings, contemptuous toward lower forms of life.


Our brilliant, maniacal, misguided species is now caught in the downward spiral of a sixth extinction of our own making. Legend has it that Emperor Nero played a fiddle while Rome burned, and so it goes with empire and emperors. While we fiddle away, the earth is burning. Concurrently, a majority of Americans obsess in front of the television about this year's election cycle and the tragically predictable narcissist candidate who perfectly mirrors the worst of humanity and American culture. Meanwhile, the country's newest batch of voters genuinely engages about the smoldering future we are handing them.

My children are called "Millennials," often disdainfully with regard to their political views. They are seen as a rambunctious rabble of anarchists intent on undermining the establishment, for better or worse. It is true that the older we get, the more set in our ways we get. The "older and wiser" set look to "stability" and maintaining the status-quo, although those two terms are no longer mutually inclusive. We have the luxury of complacency, as we live off the fat proceeds of a raped Earth. My children, the Millennials, do not. We have tried to be good parents, but in our scramble to make money and achieve the good life for ourselves and our progeny, we overlooked the most important requirement of life. An organism needs an intact habitat within which to live. We raised our young to think critically, act globally and challenge assumptions, while simultaneously running roughshod over that which actually sustains them, our universal parent and habitat, the earth.

Our greed, selfishness, blindness and blatant willingness to ignore facts has led to Donald Trump and an increasingly unstable planet, with global end game thresholds perched precariously on a shockingly visible horizon. This is the gift we have bequeathed to our children. The least we can do is take their voices seriously.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Resolution

There exist in the world, forces, entities, people, organisms, those who lack the propensity for empathy. Sociopaths. Psychopaths. Those bent on destruction, without remorse. The world we live in is a result of the willful destruction of such existences.

Also. There exist in the world, forces of good. Those bent on creation, creativity, preservation, fecundity, living in a world of productivity and abundance, rather than strife.

The battle between life and destruction will never cease. But no other battle exists.

What more of substance is there to fight for? Of what value is the last dodo, monk seal, passenger pigeon? There is nothing less than the essence of existence itself at stake.

Here I strive. Coral reefs lie at the mercy of lapping seas contaminated by human greed. Birds travel miles only to find dredged wastelands. Ancient floral stowaways find genetic refuge, temporarily.

There is no choice but to fight for the cause of ecological righteousness.

There is no other cause.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Song of the Nighthawk – Silent Summer Skies


20 years ago, I lived with my young family in an old wooden house, known as “the Point House,” at the very tip of the then-wild island of Providenciales. The house was old, the wood sun-baked, and the yard was filled with the gnarled trunks and branches of coastal trees that told a tale of centuries of struggle against the elements of sun, sea and wind. Beyond the yard was the beach, so a short walk down a stony path took us to our own little white sand and turquoise sea paradise. At that time, the water was alive with living sand dollars, sea stars and molluscs of various persuasions.  

At land’s end, a relatively deep but narrow channel divided Providenciales from the completely untouched islands of the Little Water Cay and Mangrove Cay. Those small islands were and are today Protected Areas that have been deeded over in perpetuity to those who rightfully own the land, Turks and Caicos rock iguanas and an array of herons, sandpipers, stilts, plovers and terns.
In the early summer months, as seasonal rains collected in the boggy roots and peat of Mangrove Cay, and mosquitoes, sandflies and their insect kin exploded in a frenzy of reproductive bliss, our island paradise home became a living hell.  The Point House was directly downwind from Mangrove Cay, and insects don’t observe the irrelevant boundaries of land.

In the first year of our residence, we thought we had reached our capacity to cope with the itching. Then one early evening, as we sat in the living room clawing at our flesh, a flock of hundreds of birds flew in to the yard. These birds had the body language of swallows, but they were much bigger, swooping and diving in a display of impressive acrobatics.  At times as they swooped towards the screened porch of the house, we thought they would crash, but they veered off at the last minute, vocalizing a strange creaky call, “karikidik-karikidik-karikidik.”  We were mesmerized.
After the first visit of the Antillean nighthawks, we noticed our habitat became more liveable once again. The mosquito population plummeted, and life resumed its normal sedate pace. Every night of mosquito season, the nighthawks visited the Point House, and they became our most-beloved birds, their creaky song was the blissful sound of relief.

Over the years, in my ramblings across the wild places of the Turks and Caicos, I have stumbled across an occasional nighthawk or two, literally. Their mottled colouring perfectly matches them to the stony substrate they nest on. Laying one or two mottled eggs directly on the ground in a small stone depression, the bird then sits on her eggs and blends into the earth. When disturbed, the female fly away from her nest and pretend she has a broken wing to distract you from her eggs. This creative adaptation has allowed nighthawks to survive millennia against predation pressures.
But the little birds that nest vulnerably on the ground don’t stand a chance against the worst predator of all. The north-eastern shores of Providenciales are now lined with luxury homes and the mosquitoes controlled by chemical means. I had been back for a week before I saw my first nighthawk, but rather than flying in a group of hundreds of noisy kin, this nighthawk flew silently, alone across the evening sky.

Because the nighthawk’s habits are largely unknown, we don’t know where they spend their winters, for example, it is difficult to know exactly what is causing their decline. Some believe that the chemicals used to control mosquitoes are to blame, others point to the nighthawk’s nesting behaviour. An ingenious tactic of pretending your wing is broken doesn’t stand a chance against a bulldozer.

For now, I watch the few I see with gratitude and remorse, and I hope that theirs is not another journey to extinction. Their lone calls sing into eternity like a requiem. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Healing and Hope – Coming Home Again


In the 1960s and 70s of my early childhood, divorce was rare. I was the only child in kindergarten who came from a “broken” home. The burning question always asked of me: “Where is your father?” was at first met with honesty. My parents are divorced. And later avoidance, as I realized such a distinction marked me among my peers as different.

For all the psychiatric warnings of the emotional damages done to children in my situation, I was a happy child. At the time, there were few injunctions against the scourge of deadbeat dads, and Mom, exhausted from the rigors of raising three children on a teacher’s salary, adopted a laissez-fair attitude to child rearing. The result was practically unlimited freedom, with our only restriction being that we returned home every evening as the sun went down for a family dinner. The fare was simple, Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks, Ragu on pasta and macaroni and cheese. Mom wasn’t much of a cook, but she was adamant about family dinners. I suppose it was the only parenting she could muster up the excess energy for.

School provided the only structure in an otherwise rambling childhood and that ended every day at three pm. When the bell rang, the shoes came off and I was set free. Other neighborhood kids were chauffeured to school and back by car, and then were expected to finish their homework before they went outside to play. They filtered in and out of my life between firm boundaries of parenting I never knew.

In the absence of little competing organization, the earth provided my rules and insight. I knew every secret humid space the South Florida landscape had to yield. The old ficus tree down the block in Cindy Keith’s yard often had pigeons’ nests that invariably held two small, white eggs. The orange tree in the yard of the house on 28th Street had fruit that was bitter, while the tree at the house on the corner had fruit that was delicious and sweet. The trees had to be harvested stealthily, as the inhabitants of both homes were not fans of barefooted, scraggly haired, dirty kids in their yards. The man with pet monkeys in his yard seemed very nice, but he turned out to be a pedophile.

I learned life’s lessons from the world. Nobody told me that trees could not be friends and that cool grass is not a substitute for a warm hug. My family included the whole outside world, and I grew to love each character in it intimately. A gigantic fig tree lived in the backyard of a Miami duplex my family rented when I was six years old. We were dirt poor and the neighborhood was a bit rough. A block over from our house lived a family that had recently moved from Brooklyn. The youngest daughter, Debbie, was younger, smaller, scrappier and a much better fighter than I was. Debbie was a wicked puller of hair. Fortunately, my tree climbing skills were superior. I suppose that spending her formative years in a concrete jungle had restricted Debbie’s familiarity with the fine art, so whenever Debbie was looking for a brawl, I would seek refuge with my tall friend in the backyard. I would climb high up into the canopy and secure myself in the fork of a branch, where I couldn’t be dislodged by the swaying of the wind. Sometimes I would have to wait it out for hours, while Debbie took out her frustration, providing me with an education in four letter words, as she beat the tree’s trunk with a two by four or other weapon of choice.
Me at age 7

My time in the tree was not spent in fear. Once I reached the canopy top, I knew I was safe, and when my head peaked out just above the foliage, I had a vantage point across the flat plain of South Florida as far as the eye could see. From the treetop, I would fantasize about my future life in exotic places far away from the slums of South Florida.

In the 11th grade, we read The Scarlet Letter in Honors English class. My teacher was a tight-laced, pinch-faced matron who never fostered or expressed any affection towards me. As we read Hawthorne’s depiction of the bastard child Pearl, Mrs. B. commented that the child reminded her of me. At the time, I took her remark as a compliment. I felt an affinity with the character, as my own life mirrored Pearl’s rambling and unencumbered wild existence. It was only later in life that I realized my teacher  had probably meant to insult me, child of a broken home, peculiar and forever marked with shame by a divorcee mom who let her children run wild.

Yet in spite of societal scorn regarding my lack of boundaries, I never lost my desire to find solace and familiars in the company of the natural world. When I first moved to Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands over 20 years ago, the entire western portion of the island was completely undeveloped. I would often take the “Best Dog in the Whole Wide World,” Chad, out to the island’s Northwest Point and walk along the perfect shoreline. Meandering in and out of the shrublands and woodlands for hours I delighted in the friendly blue gray gnatcatchers, scolding me for disturbing them.  Assimilated into the place, I revitalized my body and spirit with an elixir of salt-drenched and sunbaked earth.
The edge of the world at Northwest Point

As a developing country with few natural resources, the TCI have only their white sand beaches and warm turquoise waters to sell. Inevitably, one day the bulldozers came and pushed a road through Northwest Point. A jarring rumble of steel scraping rock drowned out the whistling wind and the twittering of feathered inhabitants. In the wake of the machines, broken sentinels lay ruined and slaughtered. When I discovered the ruins, I sat down in the rubble and wept, my soul as crushed as the bleeding branches beneath my feet.
Bulldozer at Northwest Point
In his 2011 book Dreams, Derrick Jensen examines the common cultural myth of individualism, the idea that each of us is an entity separate from all others and discrete unto ourselves. We are not. Everything we are comes from the world around us. The molecules of oxygen passing in and out of our bodies are constructed in the tissues of plants, and the carbon dioxide that is the elixir of their existence is manufactured in ours. The water that provides the solvent for all our life processes is eternal, each molecule having inhabited millions of other living beings since time immemorial. Our fates are inextricably wound up with all the other life forms and non-life forms on Earth. When we live in a place, exchange air with the floral beings of that place, share water with the ecosystem and subsist on the plants and animals that call that place home, we are literally of that place. We become a living manifestation of all that it is. Western culture encourages us to ignore this connectedness and programs us from our earliest existence to feel separate, superior, entitled. For those like myself with a feral upbringing, however, the western programming never took hold, and the truth of connection reverberates as obviously as a blue sky and wind in the leaves. Each cut of a bulldozer blade feels like biting amputations of pieces of the soul.

Shortly after my crying session, I was enjoying spaghetti dinner with friends. As I conveyed the carnage at Northwest Point to my family doctor, the onslaught of tears began again, dripping off my chin and onto the garlic bread on my plate. “I think you are depressed,” he observed. Of course I am depressed. “No, I mean clinically depressed. It’s normal to be dismayed by environmental issues, but your anguish is beyond normal, it’s pathological. I mean after all Kathleen, it’s just a road.”

The doctor suggested that I take an antidepressant. “Just try some Prozac for a couple of weeks. I promise it will make you feel better and give you some perspective.” I took his advice, and he was right. A few weeks into my medication regimen, the Earth’s destruction became a mild annoyance, rather than an all-consuming grief.  The sharp edges of my intense emotions were blunted. As the World Trade Center crumbled to the ground, I watched with abstracted interest. The pain was gone, but eventually, I started to miss my emotional self and my arboreal family, so I gave up the Prozac. If crying over trees is pathological, I would rather be crazy than sane.  

Nevertheless, the development boom on Providenciales turned out to be more than I could handle, every development eating away at my green family and my psyche like ecological leprosy. I had to leave and then spent ten years recovering in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. The change of geography was apt. Leaving a place that was succumbing to Western-style development, I entered one that was recovering from it. The ancient mountains, once relentlessly harvested for timber, are once again lush in dense secondary growth. They are not the same as they were before, but they are alive and thriving in a new reality. Nature heals herself and rambles on into new possibilities.
Mangroves at East Bay Cay
In Dreams, Jensen also talks about Earth’s six great extinctions. At five other times in the history of the world, life has been brought to its knees and then rebounded with greater magnificence and diversity than ever before. During this current, sixth great extinction, one species, Homo sapiens sapiens, is single-handedly wiping out life as it currently exists on the planet in a massacre that rivals any of the previous great extinctions. Great despair, not apathy, for all that is lost should be the natural reaction. It should be normal to be mortified and depressed about the state of the natural world. The fact that the realities of human existence require mind-dulling medications just in order to cope is telling. We seal ourselves up in artificial structures or chemical straightjackets to keep from connecting with the wider family we are systematically destroying. The concept of a nuclear family, a man, woman and two-point-two children implies an enclosed nucleus, sealed up together against the elements of the outside world, but there is no “outside” world.  My family had no core, no boundaries, no restrictions, yet the vast infinite space was not empty but rather full of related, living souls. The physical house was a stopping off point, a place to refill and rest before scattering back out into the world, the home I discovered when my first home was broken.
Pelicans at French Cay

In Dreams, Jensen reflects, “If we don’t have hope that creation will respond, then we have no reason to continue.” When I left the TCI ten years ago, this was the depth of my despair, but the mountains have healed my wounded psyche and given me hope, hope that nature will respond and that humans as a part of nature can evolve from the brink of their own destruction and resurrect the dying world.

Armed with this hope, I return to my natural home to the Turks and Caicos. I have been gifted an amazing opportunity to work as the Director of the Department of Environment and Maritime Affairs. I start work tomorrow. The scars of development have not yet completely hobbled the natural tenacity of these wild islands. Within all that remains are the seeds of resurrection. I hope.
Noddy tern with juvenile

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Gun Violence in America – Victims, Victims Everywhere


This past week news headlines flashed with an unfortunately all too familiar tragedy. A lone, heavily armed young man entered a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado and open-fired on the crowded theatre, killing 12 people and injuring dozens more. Americans justifiably stand shocked with disbelief at the horrific scenes that splash across television screen, and the media portrays the event as a rare twist of fate, an anomaly in American culture, an unforeseeable catastrophe.   

If only this were the case. Last year, a similar scene unfolded at a political rally in Tucson, Arizona. A couple of years before that, the scene was recreated at Fort Hood. Prior to that was Virginia Tech. 13 years ago, a mere 15 miles away from the scene in Aurora, a total of 15 were sacrificed at Columbine High School. Mass shootings are not an anomaly in American culture; they are a symptom of it.

In fact, mass shootings in America account for an average of 20 deaths per year in the United States. When one adds the victims of mere gun violence, the number explodes to around 30,000 per year. The number of gun-related deaths in the United States is a shocking 20 times higher than any other developed nation on earth. As such, gun violence may be the single most preventable form of death in this country. The number of victims caused by 9/11 pales by comparison. As we hunt down “terrorists” in the Middle East at a cost of trillions of dollars, perhaps we should ask ourselves if the greatest threat to the safety of Americans is American policy, rather than scary brown people with a different way of worshipping Yahweh.

Given the deplorable instance of gun violence in the United States, one would think that this issue would be paramount in political discourse, particularly during an election year.  James Eagan Homes, an obviously disturbed Graduate student of Neuroscience, obtained his weapons, including an assault rifle capable of delivering 50 rounds per minute, legally.

Holmes purchased much of his equipment online from a company TacticalGear.com. When interviewed, the CEO of the company reported that while there was nothing unusual about Holmes’s purchase, the CEO was “appalled” that equipment purchased at his company was used in the shooting. One wonders why a CEO of such a company would be appalled or surprised that equipment he supplied was used for its intended purpose. Such is the irony of the American gun culture. Commercial goods (guns and ammo), that have the singular purpose to maim and kill, are sold in many states more easily than tobacco or alcohol. Conservative, gun-toting patriots object vociferously to what they perceive as moral deficiencies, such as gay marriage, women’s reproductive rights or the teaching of scientific facts in schools, and yet have no qualms whatsoever about freely distributing deadly weapons to anybody who wants them.

The gun lobby spends obscene millions of dollars to maintain this status quo, and Congress impotently turns a blind eye to the obvious. Guns are killing tools. Rather than being readily available, they should be strictly controlled. The United States has a gun violence rap sheet that resembles statistics from war-torn Sub-Saharan Africa.  No other developed country has this problem. They also don’t guarantee their citizens a “right” to bear arms. Gun enthusiasts see gun control as an infringement on their personal freedom. I would gladly trade James Holmes’s right to bear arms for the lives of 12 people in Aurora, Colorado, who have now been unjustly deprived of the simple right to exist. The Supreme Court and Congress waste precious time and resources arguing whether universal healthcare that saves lives is Constitutional, while almost 100 people are dying every day from a gunshot. Insanity.

Sadly Holmes, like his predecessors Jarred Loughner, Seung-Hui Cho, Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold and Nidal Hassan (to name but a few), is a deeply disturbed, mentally ill young man.  Another culture or country that offers universal healthcare, including mental health care, to all residents probably would have treated him long before tragedy struck. Otherwise brilliant young men could have been productive members of society, had society not ignored their needs. While our culture tells us to hate them for their crimes, we should also remember that they too are victims of a culture that values the right to bear arms more than it values the welfare of its people.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Steven Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and the Western Culture of Destruction


Steven Covey died yesterday. His best-selling, self-help book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, is a paragon of the Western, goal-oriented culture that conflates “effectiveness” with human value. In Covey’s seminal work, he promotes seven behaviors, which he contends will lead to self-mastery, interdependence and self-renewal. Nobody could argue with these goals. Self-mastery and knowledge, and intimate integration in a meaningful way with one’s natural and human communities, could be viewed as the ultimate goals in a human life.

However, as with many glitches in our culture, it is not Covey’s goals that are problematic, but rather his stated means of achieving those goals wherein the telltale signs of cultural dysfunction are found. The seven “habits” Covey promotes are:

1.       Be proactive
2.       Begin with the end in mind
3.       Put first things first
4.       Think win-win
5.       Seek first to understand, then to be understood
6.       Synergize
7.       Sharpen the saw

Immediately, one can see the contradictions that arise with Covey’s narrative. The first three habits are intended to promote the first promised value, self-mastery. It would seem that Covey equates self-mastery with productivity. The two are not the same. The next three habits are ironically intended to foster “interdependence,” ironic because if one looks at Covey’s plan for developing interdependence, he completely excludes mention of the primary player in interdependence, the earth itself. His platitudes are merely prescriptions to placate other human players in order to maximize production. Like most victims of Western culture Covey confuses interdependence with exploitation.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People advocates a system of visualizing a goal, creating a plan to achieve that goal and then implementing the plan. This process would indeed result in productivity; however, productivity has little to do with self-mastery, interdependence or self-renewal. Our culture prizes production and “progress.” The problem is that during the process of achieving one’s goals, actual life takes place. By focusing on an event or theoretical accomplishment down the road, one loses track of the immediate. The paycheck at the end of the month, the holiday at the end of the year, the paying off of a mortgage or car, graduation, looking ahead to a hypothetical future that may or may not transpire, overlooks the reality of the world around us.

Ultimately, our goal-oriented culture has been a disastrous “habit” for the earth. As Westerners clamor to grow their economies, the actual substance of those economies, living and non-living entities (capitalists call them “resources”), are being churned into oblivion. The 1,000 year-old redwood that gave its life to be toilet paper or siding on your latest construction is not impressed by your bottom line, nor are the spotted owls that once resided in its majestic branches. If Western humans weren’t so focused on achieving a desired number on a balance sheet, perhaps instead of cramming ourselves into inanimate cubicles and “working,” we would take a walk in the woods and come to realize that the redwood and the owl are infinitely more valuable than siding and toilet paper, never mind their right to simply exist. The “progress” that renders the earth into “goals” is no progress at all. It is a process of mass-murder. Self-mastery, self-awareness, self-control. These values are not based on achieving theoretical goals. They are based on an awareness of one’s place in the world, the acceptance of the inter-connectedness of that existence, and respect for the other entities that also inhabit that space.


In my work performing environmental impact assessment, I witness the realities of our goal-oriented culture on a regular basis. The hallmark of Western culture’s agenda is “development.” This holy grail of development promises improved livelihoods for the people and places upon which it is imposed. In every case, the degree of improvement in livelihood depends entirely upon where one stands in the hierarchy of theoretically trickling-down benefits. Those at the top of the pile certainly enrich their bottom lines, and the working class is pacified with jobs for their complicity. Those who support the entire infrastructure, the trees that are now lumber, the wildlife that once foraged and thrived in the landscape, now scraped clean of life and sporting a shiny new condominium, the “resources,” have paid with their lives. Covey (and the goal-orientation he advocates) says, “Don’t look at the massacre. Ignore that. Keep your eye on the prize.”


The world now stands on the precipice of the actions of “effective” humans. 200 extinctions of irreplaceable species are sacrificed on the altar of human progress every day. The aerial view of our once-beautiful shiny green and blue orb is now marred in every recess with the scars of development. Vast oceans, once brimming with the substance of creation itself, are now struggling to maintain a last few vestiges of life. The thermostat is broken, thrown permanently on the heat cycle. It is no small irony that Covey’s last prescription for effectiveness is “sharpen the saw.”