Dear friends, I recently had a conversation with someone in reference to the importance technology has had on human development. Hmmm. It appears to me one of the features of modern life is a deep and widespread faith in the importance of science and in the usefullness of technological progress. There is at least one good reason to question this faith: the phenomenon which has begun to capture the public attention - environmental pollution. The rapid deteriation of the environment in which we live has become a chief determinant of the quality of our lives. We all know the dismal list: air pollution, pollution of water by urban and industrial wastes and by runoff of farmland fertilizer, multiple hazards of widespread dissemination of insecticides, and fungicides, radiation hazards from fallout due to nuclear testing, and the consequences of the massive nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of modern war.
These issues exemplify a general fault in the large scale application of modern science to technology. We have developed an enormous ability to intervene in the natural world. We can release nuclear energy, spray herbicides over the countryside, and produce millions of automobiles. But in the eager search for these benefits of modern science and technology, we have blundered, unwittingly, into serious hazards.
We used to be told that nuclear testing was perfectly harmless. Only now, long after the damage has been done, we know differently. We exploded bombs before we had the scientific knowledge to understand the biological and medical consequences.
This is also true for many other accomplishments of modern science and technology. We produced power plants and automobiles which envelop our cities in smog - before anyone understood it's harmful effects on health. We synthesized and disseminated new insecticides - before anyone learned that they also kill birds and might be harmful to people. We produced synthetic detergents and put billions of pounds into our surface waters - before we realized that they would not be degraded in disposal systems and pollute our water supplies. We have sprayed herbicides on an unprecedented scale - without knowing the long term effects on the life of the land. We are fully prepared to conduct a nuclear war - even though we do not know whether the effects of this catastrophe on life, on soil, and the weather will destroy our civilization.
Clearly we have compiled a record of serious failures in recent encounters with the environment. This record shows that we do not yet fully understand the environment well enough to make new large scale intrusions on it with a reasonable expectation of accurately predicting the consequences (e.g. genetically modified plants and animals).
If we are to succeed as inhabitants of a world increasingly transformed by technology, we need to reasses our attitudes toward the natural world on which our technology intrudes. Among primitive people, man is always seen as a dependent part of nature, a frail reed in a harsh world, governed by immutable processes which must be obeyed if he is to survive. The knowledge of nature which can be acheived among 'primitive peoples' is remarkable. The African bushman survives in one of the most stringent habitats on Earth; food is scarce, water even more so, and extremes of weather come rapidly. In this environment the bushman survives because he has an incredibly intimate understanding of the environment in which he lives. A bushman can, for example, return after many months and miles of travel to find a single underground tuber, noted in his previous wanderings, when he needs it for his water supply.
We claim to have escaped from such dependence on the environment. Where the bushman must squeeze water from a searched out tuber, we get ours by the turn of a tap. Instead of trackless wastes, we have the grid of city streets; instead of seeking the sun's heat when we need it, or shunning it when it is too strong, we warm ourselves and cool ourselves with manmade machines. All this tends to foster the idea that we made our own environment and no longer depend on the one provided by nature. In the eager search for the benefits of modern science and technology we have become enticed into a nearly fatal illusion: That we have at last escaped from the dependence of man on the balance of nature.
The truth is tragically different. We have become, not less dependent on the balance of nature, but more dependent on it. Modern technology has so stressed the web of processes in the living environment at it's most vulnerable points that their is little leeway left in the system. Unless we begin to match our technological power with a deeper understanding of the balance of nature we run the risk of destroying this planet as a suitable place for human habitation.
The manifestation of each of our Living Earth's children is beautiful and each contributes to Gaia's beauty. A clear stream, a fragrant flower, a polar bear... these miraculous manifestations are all Gaia's children and each of them enhances her beauty. May we learn to live simply, perceive with wonder and tread very lightly on our precious Earth.
Raven is a resident of Carlsbad with his wife and two sons and is the director and founder of the Deep Ecology Institute and the Gaia Mystery School. He enjoys practicing the art of mindful living and sharing mindfulness practices with individuals, groups and businesses.
"Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children."
~ Sitting Bull, Lakota Sioux, 1877