Choosing Hope

growth hope humanity

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWandering the bookstore, I am always amazed at the wide variety of interests and ideas humans cultivate and share. There are people who spend months or years working on books about what I consider trivial topics and stories about everything under the sun. I feel amazed at the power of the human spirit and our many stories, the sheer richness of our culture and civilization.

This contrasts strongly with a general misanthropy I've noticed among some of my communities, particularly the local food and paleo/ancestral health communities. There, the party line is that humanity has generally screwed everything up. We defile our bodies, we rape the planet, and we poison the food. The more extreme elements hold that technology hasn't done us much good either, either pushing off problems or simply creating new ones.

I've been in that camp, but I now think it is a harsh judgement. We are still a young species, trying to get control of our burgeoning power, like a child discovering her automony who throws tantrums to test the limits of her freedom. We don't have parents to hold us back, but perhaps we've been too harsh in judging our situation as hopeless and stupid.

We have a lot of influence, a lot of potential, and we have no precedent, so it makes sense that we'll make mistakes. It's true, many have suffered as a result, and that is certainly a tragedy. We've lost many species and done irreparable damage to our ecosystem. Of course, sometimes to learn a lesson in self-control, you need to break some irreplaceable.

In his book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louve talks about how many nature lovers developed their deep appreciation for nature; as kids, they captured frogs, hunted squirrels, dug up bushes, redirected streams, and generally wreaked havoc on their patches of the woods.

They didn't mean any harm by it, and they probably did minimal damage in the grand scheme of things by virtue of their meager capabilities. The end result of this exploration of their relationship to nature was a deep reverance and appreciation that goes far beyond the simple "keep off the grass" approach of urban armchair environmentalists. Those who have the truest, most honest relationships with nature, those who will lead the way to a civilization in balance with the ecosystem, are these individuals who know about getting their hands dirty.

I wonder if our current relationship to our global ecosystem is simply the same kind of exploration on a societal scale. We don't want to destroy our planet, but like children, we don't know ourselves very well. We are still young as a species, and even younger as a civilization.

With China and India industrializing rapidly, there has been a lot of concern over the future of sustainability. We worried that they would take a path similar to the one we did, oblivious to and unconcerned with the damage we did to the environment as we industrialized.

Recently, China pledged to limit carbon emissions. They weren't going to claim a right to uninhibited expansion just because we Americans did when we were industrializing. It seems that they did learn from our mistakes.

That gives me hope for humanity. I don't know how well they will live up to that proclamation, but it hints at a growing maturity and a more responsible use of our capabilities as a global civilization.

I guess we get to choose our perspective, and I've grown fed up with myself constantly judging people, downplaying everything we've accomplished, and generally being a curmudgeon. I'd rather be realistic about things, but I feel that there is a lot to appreciate in people.

Photo credit: pol sifter on flickr