Read Green: People and their surroundings

Jess Vogt

We, as humans, have a major problem. Though we have a capacity to reason greater than all lower beasts and plants, we are remarkably good at ignoring our surroundings. While we are well-suited to noticing other individuals of our own species — “That new girl is cute,” or “Ooh, look! Jack and Suzie are eating brunch together!” — we are rather blind to many other species.Now, of course I’m not referring to that dog across the street that barks all night and wakes you up, or those piranhas you’re feeding goldfish to for your neighbors. Species that are pets we find hard to ignore.

Nor am I referring to the hanging fern your great-aunt got you as a Christmas present — she thought it’d look nice in your dorm room. Plants we garden or eat we similarly find cause to notice — though perhaps you should have watered that fern when its leaves started turning brown.

However, domesticated flora and fauna notwithstanding, humans in modern society don’t think of the environment surrounding them. How did we get to such a state of disconnectedness with nature, when biologically as a species we are built to need such connection?

Humans evolved through millions of years from our chimpanzee counterparts, and as we moved away from their appearance, we retained for many years their life history patterns: We are still omnivores (save vegetarians and vegans, of course), we still use tools, we still have sex for pleasure (but don’t tell the Catholic Church), we still share food (as long as there’s enough), we still gossip (don’t lie, you do it), and we still do a host of other things.

Granted, whereas we used to have to forage for berries in the forest and hunt for meat in the savanna, the food we eat now comes from Woodman’s or Downer and is highly processed or packaged.

And the tools we use are no longer critical to our survival — critical like the sharpened rock or the termite stick — and are often ridiculous and unnecessary, such as the apple corer or the Bowflex or any other late-night infomercial item.

And while sex and gossip might not have changed much, the rest of our social system has become highly complex. Human society now contains as many human-created gadgets, systems, and problems as individuals: apartment buildings, cities, roads, cell phones, computers, iPods, cars, money, malls, Fox television, the Supreme Court, Parliaments, poverty, Nike, Abercrombie, oil fields, militaries, missionaries, manicured lawns, etc.

And through all this, we have completely become disconnected from the natural world in which we originated and on which we rely so much. We need soil, water, sunlight and plants to grow food to eat. We need open space for beauty and recreation. We need animals both to eat and for companionship. We need trees and forests for oxygen to breathe. And ecosystems need to be intact for nature to continue to provide these things for humans.

Humans living in 100-story apartment buildings in the middle of a smoggy, dirty city could theoretically go their entire lives without seeing a tree, or an open space with plants and animals. All they see is the manufactured environment of a city. And because they get everything they need to survive from a store, they don’t even feel any need to recognize the nature behind their food, clothing or shelter.

Because of this disconnect, they can’t possibly be called upon to care when the TV set tells them that human carbon emissions are causing global warming (“What?! We just got the most snow before Christmas we’ve had in years!”). Or that the world’s fisheries are beginning to collapse (Woodman’s still had salmon on sale last week). Or that the rainforest is being cut down (Still? But we’ve been cutting it down for years. If it was really bad, someone would have done something about it). Those in cookie-cutter suburbs think the same as well as those on manicured corporate grain farms.

The environment is in trouble: Though a true look at our surroundings would support our recognition of this fact, we ignore it. Though the scientific evidence proves it, we deny it. Though we are called the beings of the highest mental capacity on the planet, we don’t act it.

Top