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The Green Man Says

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by Austin Hollis
Columnist

As part of Transylvania’s delegation to the 2009 PowerShift conference, I spent the last several days in our nation’s capitol, an experience which has illuminated much for me. The city seems to consist entirely of white marble neoclassical buildings and brings to mind imperial Rome, built by architects who believed their monuments would last forever, only to have their empire fall within a few hundred years. Similiar is our position: our current (I would like to say previous) unsustainable way of life, in which we see our species as immortal and believe that the world’s seemingly infinite resources are ours for the taking, can only end with our own destruction. While exploring the National Mall, a friend and I wondered what would linger a thousand years after humans check out. Not much, we hoped: I see toppled columns and ruins among a young forest, and the remains of the Washington Monument leaning at a 45-degree angle.

I heard many speakers this weekend discuss plans for an ideal (and very achievable) sustainable future. This future is brought about by nonviolent action and progressive legislation, powered by clean and renewable energy and justly incorporates marginalized groups. I heard no one mention what I believe to be the key to the whole issue: the modern disconnect from the natural world. It seems to me that we are attempting to fix the symptoms, rather than the root problem.

One of PowerShift’s keynote speakers, Van Jones (named a TIME 2008 Environmental Hero), explained that focusing on just fixing our energy issues wouldn’t necessarily ensure survival for our world. We’ll just have solar tanks and geothermal fighter jets. Climate change is not, he said, just a technological, political, legislative, or business challenge; it’s a moral challenge.
I was reminded of what Erik Reece, a professor at the University of Kentucky, wrote in the conclusion to his 2006 book Lost Mountain:

“While [the] sense of kinship among all living things can be explained through molecular biology, it will only be a force for change, a moral force, if it is understood by the individual. No one wants to be told what to do: turn off lights, drive less, recycle. But if a desire to change the way one consumes limited resources comes out of an inner conviction, a deep feeling of conscience, then it is not too late for a real transformation of our culture.”

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