Connecting to our environment
“Our oldest unity is our relationship with the earth,” writes John Philip Newell, an internationally acclaimed spiritual teacher and author. He calls for us to reawaken to the sacredness of the earth and challenges us to take transformative action. Our environmental groups in the Adirondacks are taking action as are inter-faith communities.
Since May 2020 members of the Keene Valley Congregational Church (KVCC), under the auspices of the Creation Justice Church Task Force, have continued to address what we can do as a faith-based community. When commissioning this seven-member Task Force, Rev. John Sampson, pastor of KVCC, asked us to reflect upon and lead the congregation through a time of listening for how God may be calling us.
To encourage this listening, the Task Force sponsored spiritual-based explorations in the Adirondack woods and waters – a number of silent paddle trips and Forest Bathing gatherings. Using our senses, these events helped to deepen our personal connection with the natural environment.
Silent Paddle on Church Pond. Photo by Merle Tanis
On our silent paddling trip last fall, six of us spent two hours on Osgood and Church ponds where we spoke not a word and communed with the waters, the trees, the blue sky and the clouds – in our own way. As we lingered by the launch site at the end of our trip, we shared what we experienced. Merle Tanis, a member of the Task Force, broke into song, singing the first verse from Peggy Lynn’s song “Sanctuary”:
Quiet enough to hear the paddle dipping
Quiet enough to hear the water rippling
I breath in the stillness and the beauty
This is my Sanctuary
A week later, Merle emailed her latest thoughts, “I find Peggy’s words to be so real, personal, perfect… they surely described my thoughts and feelings throughout our silent paddle. It is my hope that these will transport us back to those glorious, unforgettable moments we all experienced in our own ways last week.”
A church community takes action
Working within the constraints of the Covid-19 pandemic, the church community tackled ways to honor the earth and limit our carbon footprint. We commissioned an energy audit which resulted in our taking specific actions, including repairs to our buildings to minimize heating loss, the purchase and installation of energy efficient lighting, enhancing our recycling program, and the use of clean-green products/consumables.
Socially responsible investing is now a part of the financial strategy for the church. We will soon install solar panels on the roof of one of the church buildings, made possible by the generous donation of church members.
Solstice/equinox online services were produced honoring our connection to Mother Earth and the flow of seasons and life. The flowers that adorn the church sanctuary are often pickings from our own gardens and nearby fields of wild flowers, or are locally sourced – a practice I specifically love because it is so visible. A pollinator garden will be planted next spring on the church ground with native plants and shrubs, thanks to a grant we received from the Adirondack Garden Club.
The Creation Justice Church program
The Keene Valley Congregational church follows the Creation Justice Church program from the United Church of Christ (UCC) to assist our congregation in making the ministry of environmental justice an integral strand in the DNA in our faith community. The Creation Justice Task Force is currently led by three co-chairs –Pam Gothner, Katharine Preston, and me. Other members are Shawn Lamarche, Merle Tanis, Monique Weston, Naj Wykoff, and Rev. Sampson, ex-officio.
KVCC was officially designated a creation justice church November 2021, only the third UCC church in New York state to achieve this status. See articles in the Lake Placid News and the Sun Community News.
As a part of this UCC program, the church congregation committed ourselves to helping to heal the earth by passing this Creation Justice Covenant:
Keene Valley Congregational Church affirms that the global environmental crisis is the most pressing spiritual challenge of human history. This moment calls us to understand our mission statement’s charge to, “strive lovingly to serve others with justice and compassion,” to broadly include both the human and non-human Creation. As such, we declare our congregation to be a Creation Justice Church. We commit ourselves to thoughtfully engage in acts of compassion to heal the world, mitigate the effects of the environmental crisis, and advocate for justice on behalf of all Creation.
Katharine Preston shares what we can do as individuals:
Each day I try to live deliberately, carefully, and as lightly on the earth as I can – being respectful of my neighbors and neighborhood, which includes the land itself, the soil, plants and animals as well as the human beings ….”
Field with a view: Science and faith in a time of climate change
Pictured at top: The KVCC Creation Justice Church Task Force. Photo by Naj Wykoff
The secular world needs to ask the following question, contra mundi: How can Christian theology help the environmental movement to find its way again? And unequivocally, the American environmental movement, at least, *has* lost its way. We must move beyond the mantra that there is no connection between the meteoric rise of “environmentalism” and the devastating overuse of preserved lands and the sprawling development of rural enclaves. At the very least, a reasonable observer needs to admit that the environmental movement has now become ineffectual in protecting the environment from the most egregious of harms, as it concentrates upon and fails to make meaningful headway towards its own abstractly delineated axis mundi of climate change. More importantly, however, a genuine observer must realize that environmentalism has now become essentially reduced to a token for the burgeoning back-to-nature movement–overuse and degradation are the inevitable consequences of a deluded overestimation of modern humanity’s ability to primitively integrate into the ecosystem. And, finally, If we are to have any hope of salvage, we must see back-to-naturism in true perspective: as a secular phenomenon growing in lockstep with the decline of the Christian system of ethics–ergo, that the only land ethic that we have ever known has been inextricably linked with religion. In the absence of the constellation of traditional values and cultural practices known as “land ethic”, the most destructive tendencies of American civilization are given free license to to thrive and fester, alone dictating the progression of society.
Currently, one of the most prominent and consequential exemplars of this imbalance is the latest incarnation of social justice as distributive justice (i.e., distribution of resources): in the aftermath of secularization, we misequate moral (and environmental) justice with just distribution. Without the established Christian value system to contextualize the liberal ideals that Christianity itself has given us, the ideal of liberty becomes purely one of appropriation and puts our environment into the absolute greatest possible peril–the abuse of common pool resources on an unprecedented scale becomes inevitabile.
That is not to say that rejection of religion or its value system is a problem eo ipso, but a value system built destructively, rather than constructively, is worse than no value system at all. The modern problem is that we are incapable of starting anew and constructing a coherent value system. Thus, the *only* thing that we can do is support efforts of environmental and religious groups to restore American society to its original ethic–rooted in the land and wary of unchecked Lockean liberalism–regardless of how much of our own hypocrisy we must then take responsibility for. And most importantly, in that reckoning, we must be careful so as not to get swept away into the contradictions of modern society. To do so would not only be to lose the essential ethic, but also to lose the most powerful tools that anyone has to protect our environment: the capacity to address questions that are beyond the limits of human rationality (theology) and the ability to address intractable problems on the human-scale that we must (evangelism).
JB – I am often reluctant to tarnish your elegantly crafted comments, but if you’ll forgive the word salad the following thoughts came to mind as I read yours:
The “environmental movement” as it were has, in my opinion, succumb to the human instinct to commodity everything. We have gone from John Muir tying himself to a tree in order that he fully understand the majesty of a storm, to viewing everything from an economic perspective. We board jets to attend climate conferences, we use words like “sustainability” to raise funds to support organizations which exist to publish vision statements, and grass roots now implies donations/newsletters etc without action. This says nothing of the trend toward EVERYTHING being a political football – where one side of something would declare oxygen to be evil if that’s what they were told to do. I don’t know how this happened or who to blame or whether that’s even necessary, but our inability to say “no, this idea isn’t in the best interest of the whole” makes it difficult to believe things will improve. Americans have lost their risk tolerance to such a degree that “Wild” has gone full circle to the biblical notion that it should be eliminated. The thought that an area could be unmapped, have no cell coverage, inaccessible to mechanized rescue is no longer seen as exciting. We’re now afraid of anything we cannot control and master.
As a young man I believed that Star Trek represented the future. I saw our destiny as one of explorers who sought brave new worlds and exciting adventures reliant on cunning and ingenuity. I have, sadly, lost that vision and now fear a Blade Runner future where we cope with a ruined climate, rely on mechanical animals, and eat synthetic food from a lab as we have depleted all natural resources.
Nobody would be happier than me to have this vision proved wrong, but book tours and speaking engagements are the calling of our environmental leaders today – watching the fire go out of the wolfs eye and learning from it seems a distant past.
“We’re now afraid of anything we cannot control and master.”
I don’t believe this is anything new. For whatever reason, it is instinctive in Homo sapiens. Some cultures keep this instinct in check while others strive to exploit it.
Frankly, I believe Blade Runner is in our future. I am hoping it is not the final chapter of our species, but a short episode we are able to overcome by simply allowing Natural principles to again rule our behavior. At a population of 7 billion and rapidly increasing, there is no way we can continue this pace without serious consequence. The longer we go on attempting to maintain this rapidly increasing population, the harder the fall will be. As much as we think we can, we cannot remove ourselves from natural principles. Mankind’s technological “solutions” typically fly in the face of Nature. If not addressed globally and holistically, Nature will certainly continue to give us a hard lessons as to who is in charge.
Balian, thank you. You have some very important insights–even something of a critique. And the main reason that my overpolished comments are written is to be tarnished, so that we can advance a meaningful discussion. We have no true social discourse in the English-speaking world, and that is a major problem. Discussions like this are rare and always out of the spotlight. I’ll continue, since you (and Boreas) have brought a relevant topic into the discussion that I write about frequently, although it may take me awhile to get to it in my roundabout way.
I have said before that the most important reason for resurrecting theology today is that, in the past, it had forced us to engage the most important questions: what is man’s place in nature? Now, we mistake academia, or mass-media, for dialectics–yet both live strictly confined to the realm of commerce (meaningless when there is nothing meaningful left to trade). As you say, even the environmental movement has commodified everything, including itself, contrary to its own most fundamental ideals. We should say that it is problematic to even refer to “the movement” progressively (as one unbroken continuum)–rather, the old movement has died and splintered.
And that brings us to another important source of contradiction in the discourse: our terminology belies itself. “Progressives” are more focused on conserving economic liberalism than advancing societal progress; “Republicans” are more focused on the further advancement of commercialism than conserving classical republicanism; “Conservation” is code for commodification of environmental resources; and modern “Environmentalism” is indeed about human domination (by building remote paths to the summits of mountains, where reintroduced falcons fly, people can learn to love the land again on a massive commercial scale). I often say that all of these seemingly conflicting ideologies are cut from the same tiny corner of the same cloth of American Lockeanism, that is, the ideal of individual liberty as commerce and appropriation. (Even the aforementioned “book deals”–copyright and commercial publishing–are fundamentally Lockean.)
Of course, I also should point out that Lockean ideals are derived from Christian ideals (and that contemporary American Christianity has in turn been influenced in the utmost by Lockean liberalism). Surely, the past “sins” of Christianity are great. It could even be argued that Christianity eventuated the industrial revolution, our modern system of commerce, and our modern environmental crisis. But it is nonetheless impossible to properly critique Christianity when there is no singular Christian ideology and when Christianity itself itself has no discrete beginning or end (ideologically, culturally or historically). We can acknowledge the existence of an a priori ethics (“natural law”), as theology has done, but we then need to conserve the living traditions of the past to faithfully engender those ethics. Unfortunately, there is a problem: it is impossible to conserve concretes from a murky past in a fluid present. There is but one thing that we can rely upon: the fundamental nature of human existence is unchanging.
And finally, to my point: if human existence is unchanging, then human beings in the American frontier were driven–just as now–by instinctual vagrities rather than by ideal or practicality. Thus, the philosophy of human scientific “progress” as a progression towards rationality is as irrational as the pre-scientific ideas that it condemns. The question becomes: What, then, changed, if not the irrationality of society? What change precipitated the literal reshaping of our world? Certainly, our ability to conceive of the world could not have changed by its own volition. What changed, then, was necessarily our successfulness–our successfulness in fulfilling our most primal desire: the desire for talismanic protection from the non-human “spirit” of the world. The reshaping of the North American continent, it follows, was not driven by the ideologies of religion nor the practicalities of commerce, it was driven by that instinctual urge: we had to cut trees down beside our houses so that the miasmal gases would not poison us through our windows; we had to agriculturalize the landscape in order to attain a domesticated pabulum, lest the untamed spirits of a foreign continent would poison our minds through our reliance upon the native diet; we had to develop a gunpowder industry to protect ourselves from the other, and more precisely, from death itself; and, finally, we had to develop a pharmaceutical industry to protect ourselves from the unseen phantoms of disease. Of course, the perspective of the indigenous American was the same: consumption of the European salt would kill the essential native magic, just as it had rendered white men insusceptible to enchantment; material contact with steel from the smelters of Europe would destroy the spiritual power of the living American medicines. The final straw for the American “spirit” came out of the deepest depths, when petroleum finally offered to the Western man a talisman that could be transformed into a material of any property, color, or psychosomatic effect, and a new epoch began. And it was in that embarrassment of riches that mankind was enabled and necessitated toward the ultimate realization of his success: the annihilation of the idea of the non-material through the material annihilation of the non-material itself.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).
Blessings be upon all those who work to alleviate the climate crisis for the benefit of future generations of all life on earth.
“the church community tackled ways to honor the earth and limit our carbon footprint.”
If we could just get even 5% of the evangelicals to dump their narrow-minded flock and join this group there’d be at least a million more converts to help lead us on the right path!
JB says: “environmentalism has now become essentially reduced to a token for the burgeoning back-to-nature movement–overuse and degradation are the inevitable consequences of a deluded overestimation of modern humanity’s ability to primitively integrate into the ecosystem. ”
I don’t know where to begin or end with your astute observations JB, but you are most certainly onto something and it’s too bad these discussions & observations aren’t within the orbit of our reckless leaders whose only path seems to be economics, and in 20-year cycles only, especially so on the one side. And of course society as a whole is in the same mental space (which our reckless leaders play on) which just has to make you wonder…is there any hope at all?
I’m not a religious person but, as I age, I become more interested in it’s history somewhat (and only because of some of what I have become privy to in the literature I have been reading), and how it has evolved over the centuries in this country. I’ve been obtaining sermons dating back 200+ years from New England ministers who, when they spoke to their congregants, spoke with a large air of intelligence many of them, oftentimes with secular overtones, which though, not common, was still more common than it is today that I am aware of. There are large hints of the “Thoreau” spirit in many of them long ago ministers (which I believe correlates with all of the woods and rural space that surrounded them) as they incorporate the natural world in their sermons, and there is science and history in their speaks. Science was, as a whole, far more accepted in this country 200 years ago than it is today, not just by clergymen, but by lawyers and politicians too.
I have found in my literature a deep appreciation (in New England & New York) of the wilderness way back then (mid to late 1700’s, to early 1800’s) which really surprised me. Knowing all of this and more, I am getting a good perspective of “now & then” and can clearly see, probably moreso than your average earthling, that we are very much so going backwards. This is becoming more and more evident to me. People should know their history! It is because they don’t is why we are where we are today! One of the reasons anyway.
Balian the cat says: “This says nothing of the trend toward EVERYTHING being a political football – where one side of something would declare oxygen to be evil if that’s what they were told to do. I don’t know how this happened or who to blame or whether that’s even necessary, but our inability to say “no, this idea isn’t in the best interest of the whole” makes it difficult to believe things will improve.”
> Campaign financing is where it got a big jump Balian! There are some good politicians out there, who, unfortunately, don’t know which way to turn because of the money that influences not only their campaigns, but their constituents too who know not right from wrong evidently, or who are seeking a selfish end without regard for the consequences of the evils they support. This is as plain as day to see!
“The thought that an area could be unmapped, have no cell coverage, inaccessible to mechanized rescue is no longer seen as exciting. We’re now afraid of anything we cannot control and master.”
> Yes sir! Welcome to the world of automatons! The psyche of you and JB would do quite well were it inserted into even an umpteenth of this country’s leadership, and citizenry.
JB says: “I have said before that the most important reason for resurrecting theology today is that, in the past, it had forced us to engage the most important questions: what is man’s place in nature?”
There you go! Yes. They did engage in such! But the Christian world is different today then it was 200 years ago JB! In this country it is anyway! It is more self-serving, more non secular, more extreme, more, dare I say….anti-Christ…..that is if Christ was the liberal he is depicted as being. They want to go back to the caveman days. Just look at what has been going-on of late in this supposed great country of ours. Where do I begin? We ought to be ashamed of ourselves!
Look where we are now! Take the State of Maine as per example. There are a few private, religious schools there whose aim it is “to integrate biblical principles with their teaching in every subject.” Fine, but not at taxpayer expense, which they are trying to get our right-leaning religious Supreme Court to okay, and which that court appears to be readying itself to ok. This is nothing less than asking the Supreme Court to skip the “Separation of church and state” clause in our Constitution! These are the same schools whose Christian leaders could give two hoots about owls or trees or whatever it is that especially matters, and who profess loudly their discrimination towards others, as if they are holier than thou. Their philosophy is wholly Christian, as if nothing else exist, and which all of us don’t agree upon.
Theology is fine JB but at what extent and at who’s or what expense? I strongly doubt environmentalism in this country will fare well if theologians were to take the lead in its cause. Unless a ‘New Awakening’ somehow miraculously seeps into the psyche of those theologians, which I don’t see happening. Or unless they were of a like-mind as those congregants up at Keene Valley Congregational Church, which is far from the norm.
I have a book titled, “Narrative of the Visit to the North American Churches, By the Deputation from the Congregational Union of England and Wales by Andrew Reed & James Matheson 1835”
Matheson was in association with a number of elders and ministers in, I believe New York, way back then, and with regard to the question of State support for religion he wrote, “They firmly and unequivocally stated their abhorrence of such a plan. All they sought from the government was protection, and freedom for all denominations, to exert themselves in promoting religion according to their own views. They considered that a grant of money from congress to support religious teachers, if it could by possibility be obtained, would be a curse instead of a blessing….”
That was the difference between how those theologians thought back then and how they think now! We’re going in the opposite direction JB. Not good! I hope I’m not drifting too far off-course here, but my above thoughts are what immediately came over me after reading your thoughts. Thank you for your keen observations.
Charlie, thanks. I am always appreciative of your original perspective, which I always seem to overwhelmingly agree with. We need more people who read books titled ““Narrative of the Visit to the North American Churches, By the Deputation from the Congregational Union of England and Wales by Andrew Reed & James Matheson 1835”!
Separation of Church and state is a definitive, fundamental feature of both our republic and of the institution of the Church itself, and we are getting away from that. But, as Carl Schmitt famously deduced: “All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts.” All forms of rule require a sovereign authority backed by “divine” jurisprudence. Perhaps, even, Schmitt was right about the impossibility of the ideal of classical liberalism: individual liberties cannot be harmoniously maximized–the interests of some must defeat the interests of others.
Nietzsche, the most vilified and misrepresented scholar of Christian religion, critiques the history of Christiianity in his body of work: “The very word ‘Christianity’ is a misunderstanding–at bottom there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross.” There is no doubt that, since Nietzsche’s day, the Church has even further lost its way in the most hyperbolic sense of the phrase. But there is also little doubt that the fall from grace has accompanied the decline of the larger society. As Wendell Berry writes, “Is there, for instance, any such thing as a Christian strip mine?…Is there not, in Christian ethics, an implied requirement of practical separation from a destructive or wasteful economy? Do not Christian values require the enactment of a distinction between an organization and a community?” Is this modern “nightmare” in fact, as C.S. Lewis contends, “engendered in the modern mind by the mythology that follows in the wake of science”? Is our world dying because we believe it to be dead–because we believe the universe to be at its most fundamental level the “black, cold vacuity” of “utter deadedness”?
These are the types of questions that the physicalist modern worldview precludes us from asking–the very types of questions that “theology” contends with comfortably. Probably theology does not have sufficient answers. Perhaps “theology” is even sufficiently corrupted that it is the wrong term altogether for the type of non-materialist thought that I am talking about. Another problem of the modern age is that there is no terminology which we can find that is not existentially loaded. If there is one thing that we know it is that we are all hypocrites who hate the world as much as we need it to love us.
There are those who subscribe to the predominant view that we can resolve the environmental crisis through an appeal to reason: “We *need* to change our behavior to survive as a civilization.” That brand of thinking has never worked before and I don’t see that changing–human beings are as irrational as their own ideal of rationality. There are others who appeal to basic human emotion, or “ethics”, depending on your perspective: “It is unfair (wrong) to harm the environment, since all living beings which depend upon it have intrinsic value.” Again, that has never worked before, and I don’t see this changing–being alive in a finite world is to place higher value upon some life over others. Excluding that dichotomy, what is left? There is voluntary self-extermination–there is a certain nobility to self-sacrifice, but when has humanity ever been noble or self-sacrificing? There is also primitivism, or the most hypocritical primitivist incarnation in back-to-naturism–I’m sorry to admit that not only are people self-centered, but some are delusional (and perhaps partaking of too many mind-changing drugs). No, it seems to me that, if we are not going to be religious (and I am not a religious person ‘per se’), we at least need to be honest with ourselves. The only philosophy that has ever been compatible with human existence has been one of embracing “majesty” and the mystery of our own existence–as Lionel Basney puts it, “what we must insist on is nature’s independence of us–its independent glory as a child of God.” Obviously, terms like “child of God” are so loaded with context that we can barely even discuss them (myself being no exception). But that only serves to further reinforce the truth: we are in such denial of the idea of the independence of nature from man–so afraid of an idea that we claim to disbelieve–that we are running, with our eyes closed, headlong (and at hypersonic speed) into the Tree of Life itself.
“The only philosophy that has ever been compatible with human existence has been one of embracing “majesty” and the mystery of our own existence…”
There’s a lot to take-in with what you say JB. I rush out my thoughts as my time is limited on a library computer and I know I can never get it out the way I wish to, but I try nonetheless. As I say, ‘I have more questions than I do answers.’
Let me dig-in to just an inkling of all you say. Regards the above quote… “the mystery of our own existence.” A curious mind is a good mind JB, to wonder about the mysteries in life, which the universe is chock full of! To have that sorta mind where ‘things’ pique your interest. There’s so much we don’t know! And to be curious at all in this day and age seems to me an anomaly. What are we becoming?
“that we are running, with our eyes closed, headlong (and at hypersonic speed) into the Tree of Life itself.”
And knocking it down, destroying it! The source which nourishes us all! Some of us are very much aware of the insanity in what we are doing to this the only home we know! The angst which comes with the sense of hopelessness that some of us feel is almost a form of torture, and only because we really care, we want to leave behind us a better world once we are gone. That’s not happening! Sure, some of us do our parts, which brings us good sleep at night, but still….it’s not enough! And so we’re back to square one….what do we do about it? You know something JB! If there was no conscience the question wouldn’t come up at all.
“The only philosophy that has ever been compatible with human existence has been one of embracing “majesty” and the mystery of our own existence…”
I will add to what Charlie said with the notion that we can take Frankls perspective here and allow life (experience) to provide the framework for meaning rather than search for meaning specifically. I believe that the commodification of natural resources we spoke of earlier is robbing us of the awe & exhalation potential wildlands once offered in favor of a formulated experience (stand here at Artists point – which is readily accessible by car and has clean restrooms – to take in the majesty of creation…) I lament the lack of adventure – and the potential it has to shape us / fill us with meaning – we have trained ourselves to accept. Maybe I just need to get onboard with virtual reality?
There are still plenty of places in the world and even in the Adirondacks where you can avoid the formulated experience and take in the majesty of nature. I often think that when I deliberately step off a trail and within less than 50 yards I stop and listen and look for any sign of human existence and see none. I walked for over an hour along a winter beach last weekend and never saw a human soul. Plus, you can travel off to places in the world where you might be the only human within say 100 miles or more in any direction. I’ve been to some of these places, and it really only takes that effort to step off the beaten track to find them. Sure, you can join the throngs searching for the favorite selfie spots in high season, but you don’t have to.
Zephyr, Balian et. al.,
In my view, the matter of importance does not lie in our subjective perception of “majesty”–nor in the “extraction” and utility of the majestic experience–but in our acceptance of majesty as an ontological reality that transcends human experience, conception, and even ethics. It is very difficult to nuance this conversation, for example, as to why majesty is distinct from the famous “natural law” and the old theological tautologies of the suprepremacy of the divine. We need to move beyond the modern conception, for example, of majesty as falling under the umbrella of either material or non-material. Even our ideas about “correct” versus “incorrect” present obstacles towards a functional philosophy of nature–for example, consider the modern idea of “spirit” as phenomenon of (non-)historicity and (non-)fact as opposed to the indigenous conception that allows “myth” to at once hold as both factual reality and admitted metaphor, thus transcending the Western conception of factuality. Do trees and mountains care whether something is “true” or “false”?
Zephyr is probably rolling his eyes, in favor of the (allegedly) practical tangibles of cause and effect, problem and solution. We could debate, for example, the ultimate effects–for better, neutral, or worse–of the fact that the most interior portions of the Park support some of the largest recreation economies in the entire Northeast. We could debate the implications of the fact that where I chose to set down Adirondack roots years ago–about as far from a hamlet that one can get (which is not far)–it will never be possible to bushwhack far enough so as not to find relics of that economy. We could ask: what are the limits, if any, of what can be credibly justified by the “back-to-nature-cum-cash” economy? We can try to devise answers related to concepts such as the biological sustainability of human use in the world’s largest protected temperate forest (the rest of the remaining large forests of the Global North are regularly logged clear to the commercial timber line). But I think that we should really be asking not about justification but about existential acceptability.
For example, what does all of this say about our society? One certain conclusion which we can draw is that the perspectives of people like us will never stand a chance against the interests of a commercial economy. If nothing else, a reason for alarm that should appeal to even the most apathetic individual is that the machinery of the Adirondack economy is growing at such a rapidly accelerating rate that there appears to be no end in sight. If the phenomenon is self-limiting, then in what terrifying future will that limit be reached? That all is, at least, what keeps me awake at night.
The Adirondack economy is not on a permanent upward trajectory, and the environment is not on a permanent downward trajectory, IMHO. Plus, I’m not convinced there are that many more hikers than there were in the late 90’s when record keeping was not very good, but there were also long lines of cars parked along the roads and extending well down the Loj road, there was parking at South Meadows, and there were sometimes hundreds and maybe more camped at places like Marcy Dam. When was the last time you saw tents on every flat spot at Marcy Dam? Most of the trails are in far, far better shape than they were 20-30 years ago, there is no question the Alpine summits are doing better, acid rain is much less, the air is cleaner, there is a lot less water pollution, etc. I never saw a bear in 20-30 years of hiking back in the good old days because they were seriously hunted out–lots of bears today. Never saw a moose back then either. People are fishing today in ponds that were dead back then. People are paddling in places where communities used to dump their raw sewage openly from huge pipes. GE was dumping tons of PCBs into the Hudson. Yes, climate change is here and will change things, but nature is very adaptable too. Look back far enough and New York was under an ocean, so yes the environment does change. That doesn’t mean we should not try to do our best to stop it, but I do think we and the earth will adapt.
Zephyr, this I why I love these discussions. Very, very different perspectives! The Adirondack economy is not on a permanent upward trajectory–that much we can agree on. I am actually in the process of doing something of an extracurricular deep-dive on the Adirondack recreation economy, and that is what you are probably seeing in my previous comment. That is far beyond the scope of this conversation, and I am not a sufficiently masterful scholar to be able to just opine on the entire economic philosophy of the world and ontological philosophy all in one big impromptu hoorah. But I will say this about your last point: there is a visionary–almost theological–wisdom to be found in the original conception of the Forest Preserve as Forever Wild that we should not ignore. After all, if it was not for that philosophy, there would ironically be little of an Adirondack recreation economy to speak of in the first place. And fundamental to that philosophy is not a resistance to change or adaptability, as maybe you suggest, but a resistance to the lack of adaptability that human beings themselves exhibit. I find it strange that we still struggle so much with that, arguably now more than ever, even though it is most definitively obvious if you consider all that we have discussed here.
Zephyr says: “you can travel off to places in the world where you might be the only human within say 100 miles or more in any direction.”
You’re justifying annihilation by acknowledging the few havens that still exist. How much longer can they last! And yes, I relate to stepping off-trail (not far) in the Adirondacks and having myself a little paradise….it’s not hard to do. We still have that yes. But what we are doing to everything outside of these little paradises which remain….. affects the whole. Which is the same thing as saying that when we support war in other countries, we support death & horror & destruction everywhere else. Or when we support the chopping up of the last sacred havens on earth, even if they are 15,000 miles away from where we live, to plant oil wells, or to build mansions for the rich, we’re supporting the eventual collapse of this whole system we call home…..planet Earth. We don’t identify that which is not within reach, or has no effect on us or our wallets. This is the problem! If we were all reduced to surviving in a space near a murky pool with an oil or cesspool stench…..maybe then we’d become aware of a thing amiss!
The environment of New York State and the Adirondacks has steadily improved during my lifetime, and things are far better than they were 20-30 years ago when we were just dumping sewage and toxic chemicals into every stream, spewing emissions from coal plants causing acid rain, hiking on trails that were eroded down to bedrock and were stream beds in every storm, the forest cover of the state has increased, wildlife has come back including moose and lake trout…The average person today is far more environmentally aware than in the past. Every road in the Adirondacks used to be a dumping ground, and it was routine to dodge crap thrown out of the window of vehicles ahead of you. Cars pollute much less and get much better gas mileage. We’re seeing alternative energy projects all around, and they now cost less to produce power than via traditional plants. It goes on and on.
Zephyr, if I had to choose a my main thesis for this entire discussion, it would be that while there is an increased popular “environmental consciousness”, this has been either intentionally or effectively effective tokenized by a society that has continued to demand more from its environment than ever before. As per Basney: “Any change deep enough to protect life on the planet will have to be a repentance. It will have to be that concrete. No *deepening* consciousness, no change in *perspective*, no keeping back with the Joneses will do.”
If environmental “consciousness” has grown, then the consumerism of a growing population has outpaced it. (And where rates of population growth have decreased, the population itself has still grown substantially: the Northeastern US population has grown by 2.3 million in the past two decades.) If sewage treatment practices have improved in specific places, then this does not change the reality that all sewage effluent still must flow eventually into waterways–and, further, Americans are now putting into those systems exploding quantities of pharmaceutical and personal care (PPCs) chemicals that are more toxic, more difficult to detect, and virtually impossible to remove from effluent (and I can show you the market and environmental toxicology research to support those all of those statements). (And, further, this is not even taking into consideration that increasing numbers of people are now off-utility on septic systems, which are not only dumping those compounds directly into the ground, but are doing so in an unregulated, unconsolidated, non-point-source manner!) If forest cover in New York State has increased since the early 20th century urbanization of the population and movement of agriculture and forestry to the West, then forests are once again declining due to to exurban sprawl and fragmentation, including on private Adirondack lands (see https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2021/12/old-trees-on-opposite-coasts.html#comment-1408045). If littering has decreased along roadsides (and as per our previous discussion on the subject I was not convinced that the worst kind, plastics, had not actually increased), then that does not negate that there are still very real impacts of litter along both roadsides and forests, nor does it negate the gargantuan efforts of the people who clean up as much as they can (plastic bans notwithstanding, US plastic consumption has steadily risen). And, finally, where recreation infrastructure in the Adirondacks is better equipped to handle larger volumes of visitors, this has only been done as a half-measure in response to massive increases in Park visitation (if we want to reject the official statistics, then we must have a very good rationale). No amount of technological innovation can nullify the impacts of the existence of several million people, transient visitors or permanent residents or both, upon a landscape. If moose and brook trout have come back, then that is all the more reason to regulate human use (there is plenty of research on recreation-induced stress to flora and fauna ). My point is that, if you look closely enough, the “green” movement can begin to appear almost indistinguishable from the technological apologist movement that got us here in the first place.
When I read your last sentence, it reminded me of this Michael Moore-produced documentary, “Planet of the Humans”. While there is much to debate and doubt, it certainly shines a different light on much of the self-righteousness of the green movement.
It shows how a righteous movement can rot when infected with politics.
Boreas, thanks for the recommendation. I watched the entire film this morning. I am glad I did. Based on my knowledge of industrial chemistry, I believe the tragically ironic portrayal of “green” energy to be entirely accurate. Today’s “green industry” is a shell game–only in a world of political illusion would we replace the lowest-impact and most efficient energetic and chemical feedstock that mankind has ever known (petroleum, not “low- or no-impact”, but *lowest*-impact) with hundreds of millions of acres of industrial monoculture. The final sentence of my previous comment was actually more of a paraphrasing from a recently discovered book from the aforementioned Lionel Basney, “An Earth-Careful Way of Life: Christian Stewardship and the Environmental Crisis”. Basney died soon after this, his only book, was published, but prior he had been a scholar and poet with a spectacular and unrecognized talent for nuanced thinking. I first read his poem “In the Adirondacks” by chance earlier this year, and from there I quickly set about trying to read as much of him as I could. He writes about this topic better than I ever could, but for years I have been telling people: there is no known “sustainable” way to replace industrial petroleum. And the response has always been (increasingly in years past): “but, they say, scientists have proved, are proving, vis a vis, there is a new technology coming in ten more years that will solve everything”. Well, it’s been ten years, guys. louis curth is smart and wise to have quietly waited until a solution was proposed to chime in–“vote”. Maybe civics is the best option–or, in the case of the comments and articles on this forum, activism. But there is distinct possibility, as per anti-liberalist and autocracy-essentialist Carl Schmitt, that a liberal democracy–that is, one that attempts to maximize individual liberty (and in modern times, utilitarianist universal human satisfaction)–is simply incapable of solving these issues–that is, providing for the reality that our most fundamental liberties of all, to be alive, were never society’s gift to give in the first place. I guess we’ll find out either way soon enough when Trump becomes the first and next autocrat of the United States of America.
Sorry, not “no known sustainable” way to replace petroleum, “no conceivable way”.
No, petroleum certainly can’t really be replaced. But we CAN make what we have in the ground last longer. There is always the “nuclear option” which can and has been generating a great deal of energy for half a century. And fuel cells may someday be an option for a great deal of transportation. Of course, none of these is perfect and constitute no more than a way to delay using up all of our oil in hopes of discovering the “perfect” energy source in the meantime. But this will be up to our descendants and the world politics of THEIR times.
JB says: “the machinery of the Adirondack economy is growing at such a rapidly accelerating rate that there appears to be no end in sight. If the phenomenon is self-limiting, then in what terrifying future will that limit be reached?”
> This is why the neo-Adirondackers are all for new this and new that…. economy. They left their old homes with economy on their brain; surrounded by all of them Adirondack woods… economy on their brain remains. We cannot help who we are! Money first why stop now! The Walmart mindset is evolving in the Adirondacks, or automatons are taking over. In the meanwhile the local leaders are the same, they toss and turn in bed at night thinking, “a source of revenue, where from?” New tax havens is where from. Build a new house…a new tax haven. Build a new 100-unit storage space…a new tax haven. The Tupper Lake Project….a huge tax haven! Plain as Jane to see. Of course there’s more to it than this but this is the Pandora’s box of it all….. economy! There’s no vision unless there’s a dollar bill attached to it, right JB?
“That all is, at least, what keeps me awake at night.”
> At least you’re awake with a conscience. Most are awake without one. Sleep-walkers. Where I live I’m surrounded by them.
“things are far better than they were 20-30 years ago when we were just dumping sewage and toxic chemicals into every stream, spewing emissions from coal plants causing acid rain, hiking on trails that were eroded down to bedrock and were stream beds in every storm, the forest cover of the state has increased, wildlife has come back including moose and lake trout…”
> Yeah but… now we have Global warming, the Earth is cooking, (not fake news) and all which comes with it, which just might do what all the others couldn’t….disrupt that wonderful haven in ways we never dreamed of. With the pollution you mention….that’s fixable if we are so inclined to act, and which battles we sometimes win after long-fought, tiresome, efforts which aren’t always won.
“The average person today is far more environmentally aware than in the past.”
> Yeah but…what are we doing about it?
“there is a visionary–almost theological–wisdom to be found in the original conception of the Forest Preserve as Forever Wild that we should not ignore. After all, if it was not for that philosophy, there would ironically be little of an Adirondack recreation economy to speak of in the first place.”
Visionary is the key word in your above statement JB. They saw all of the damage done in Europe due to the chopping up of their forests over there, and they knew what would happen here unless there was a stop to it. This is why we have the ‘Forever Wild’ clause in our State Constitution. There was science behind their thinking back then. You can read this in some of the old Forest Commission reports. They knew! Unfortunately we’ve evolved into the age of of ‘science-denying’ which will surely bring us to our end more sooner than late. If a slap across the head would wake people up there’d be a lot of slapping going on I’m sure, but then there’d be the threat of going to jail for assault too. So you see….there’s no hope!
Yeah but…what are we doing about it? Twenty two responses here, but you Charlie have posed the most relevant question of all. “With all our modern day awareness, what are we doing about it?”
The Bible calls upon us to be good stewards of God’s creation. Common sense tells us the same. We can and should begin right here locally. First, let’s refresh ourselves about how democracy works. Next, let’s start choosing leaders who will govern wisely for the good of the people – all the people – and not just their advantaged, well connected cronies. While we are at it, let’s also demand that our current north country Republicans (my former party) stop their cowardly silence and denounce the election lies and the disreputable efforts of all those who are seeking to undermine America’s democracy through violence or any other underhanded means.
What are we doing about it? Let our answer be this: We care and we vote….
Thank you Louis! Yes, the single most important thing any single individual can do is to vote, and not for Republicans! I believe the GOP platform in 2020 recycled its 2016 statements on climate, proclaiming that “climate change is far from this nation’s most pressing national security issue. This is the triumph of extremism over common sense, and Congress must stop it.” Right, advocating for saving our planet is “extremism.”