Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Mother Nature”

Nature’s Fate? Or Ours?

It’s been over a week since I returned from my most recent trip to Yosemite National Park, and I’m still benefitting from its effects on me. As I enter the park boundary, or escape the world of concrete in one of many other natural areas, I feel my blood pressure drop, as well as my shoulders. My eyes stop aching. The anxiety drifts away. The stench of the anthropogenic world is replaced in my nostrils by the cooling, calming, yet invigorating scents of the forest or the desert. I am home.

 

No, I wasn’t born in the jungle and raised by wolves. But I do feel the pull of the habitat of our long-lost ancestors.

 

In my studies, I have made it my goal to ignore aesthetics and any kind of “warm and fuzzy” values. I want to get to the bottom line in black and white. I often say I want to convince the Dick Cheneys of the world that nature has real value – economic value that can be seen on a balance sheet – and that that value is enormous.

 

I’m certainly right about all that. Lots of great scientists and economists have laid the groundwork for the inevitable and inescapable conclusion that we must manage The Earth and its resources more sustainably, lest we degrade its value and the value of its material and process gifts to us beyond the point of no return.

 

The Earth provides us with literally everything (except the light and energy that come from the sun) we need for life. It also provides raw materials with which we may “improve” our lives and our surroundings. I’m not actually sure the improvements really always work, but nature provides us with the options. And whether God, or Mother Nature, or some stochastic process have led to this world doesn’t matter. It’s here. It’s wonderful. And we must, for so many reasons, take good care of it.

 

The Earth also provides a miraculous process, akin to the flushing of a giant toilet, in the form of waste processing. We can put a lot of junk into our air and even our water and it gets filtered, digested, diluted, or incorporated into something else.

 

These sources and sinks, as they are known to geeky scientists and policy wonks like me, are themselves the source of an infinite amount of wonderful numbers, facts, and figures. I could put you right to sleep with all of it, I’m sure.

 

But I don’t really want to forget about the sights, the sounds, the smells, nor the feelings that I experience when I leave the concrete jungle behind, if only for a weekend. It’s true that I can make cold, hard, black and white arguments for nature and sustainability. But I have to admit that it depresses me that I have to.

 

I always feel, deep down inside, that all a person needs to do is open his or her eyes and he or she will see the path. We came from The Earth. We partner with The Earth. And if we so choose, this relationship can last far into the future… to our benefit and enjoyment.

 

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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Black And White

Today is Martin Luther King Jr Day, the birthday of a man who had a vision of a society where race and color would add to an exciting web of egalitarian diversity. We have achieved much since he took up the struggle, but we still have a long way to go.

When the waters rose above the dysfunctional levees of New Orleans, when the storm hit, nature did not differentiate between black and white, Christian and Jew. But the reality is that the areas which have a high percentage of African-Americans, were the worst hit.

When the survivors share their stories, race is almost always in the background and often in the forefront. Many of the travesties recounted by black people who got caught in the storm, when not relating to the wrath of Mother Nature, focus on how they were treated by what they perceive as the white authorities.

I am working in the Lower Ninth Ward. I have been here every year but once, when our group was sent to nearby St. Bernard’s Parish. The Lower Ninth Ward saw the worst destruction and may never recover despite the best intentions.

The Lower Ninth Ward, though mired in poverty, boasts 95% home ownership and has the highest density of African-American home ownership in the country. Those of us who return year after year to volunteer should come regardless of the victim’s skin color. But I would be lying if, as a white Jew, I did not admit to being aware of the race element, and how it strengthens my desire to return and help rebuild these communities.

Martin Luther King Jr had a dream. We all need to help build that vision. There is a Jewish saying: It is not for us to finish the task, but neither are we free to desist from it.

Here is my offering for Martin Luther King Jr’s Day. Thank you to Janis Ian for a timeless song.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com/

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