Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Friday, October 6, 2017

The Environment Of Our Lives

Respect and Responsibility

Last fall, Lauret Savoy spoke at the Aldo Leopold Center in Wisconsin about how our lives are intertwined with the environment. Savoy is Professor of Environmental Studies at Mount Holyoke College. She read passages from her book, Trace, which explores how her life was formed by the landscape of her family’s history, the places they lived, and her love of national parks and the words of Leopold.

I also read her important essay, “The Future of Environmental Essay,” published by Terrain Magazine in 2008. Savoy believes there are two words we need to remember when we interact with other people, other cultures, and the land: respect and responsibility.

Each of us carries a community inside us. The history of all who came before us — our ancestors — are held within us. Our lives are rooted in their past. We carry remnants of what they went through, the traumas they suffered, the indignities, the abuse, and the celebrations. Their lives are encoded in our genes.

The home we grew up in is an environment as much as the forests, meadows, and rivers around us. Our neighborhood is an environment, as well as the rest of the city. The weather and the seasons are part of this and affect us, shaping our outlook and modulating our moods. If we love warm sunshine, when it’s cold and rainy for a week, we feel negative and subdued.

Under the pressure of everyday chores and decisions, we can lose sight of our values.

With all that we have to take care of each day, we don’t have the time to think about the long-range implications of everything we do, how this affects others or the land. Every morning we need to take time to be quiet and remember our guiding principles so that we can use them to guide our actions throughout the day.

Respect other people and listen to them. They have a right to their views as much as we do. Make decisions together. Collective wisdom is greater than individual hubris.

Respect the land and take responsibility for your actions.

In the news recently, another series of large earthquakes shook Oklahoma in an area where they never used to have earthquakes. The cause has been identified as fracking. In Ohio and Pennsylvania, drinking water for a number of cities has been polluted by the industrial wastewater being injected into the ground to crack the rock and release the oil. The business people who are making money off of fracking say it causes no problems. Will they, or the politicians who profit from fracking, take responsibility and pay for the damage that it’s causing?

If we are shareholders in an oil company that fracks, but we say nothing about against it, then we are guilty of causing the damage.

In North Dakota, the Keystone oil pipeline was shifted away from Bismarck because its largely white population worried that an oil leak would pollute its drinking water. The new route now goes by the water supply for Native Americans, and another treaty is broken by the United States. The oil company says the pipeline is safe. Then why move it away from Bismarck? And why has this pipeline already sprung several leaks?

Respect people and their communities.

When a freeway was built through the African American community of West Oakland, it destroyed the culture of what had been a vibrant community, full of the arts, music, and celebration. We continue to sell the lives of poor people, women, and peoples of color to make money. The powerless are abused.

Savoy notes that we have a history of fragmenting our communities and ecosystem. We need to foster ecological interdependence between human beings and the land. We need to encourage a sense of belonging to a place, as Leopold also believed. We need to stop large scale exploitation and destruction of the natural world.

We grieve the loss of the places outdoors that we love. We grieve the loss of the communities that nurtured us.

We have a responsibility to each other.