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belonging. The day and place is stimulating and inviting; of the sort that prompts many to exclaim it is sacred, and to feel their part in it is sacred too.
Thus the morning’s Earthwalk is well attended by an enthusiastic group of young people – eager to explore, close-up, the minute world of wonder on the meadow edge of the forest. The walk involves full sensory participation and down-on-your-hands-and-knees contact with the earth.1 Not surprisingly, a couple chil- dren from the nearby campground see the activity and implore the leader to allow them to join in the fun. They are naturals, as are most youngsters, in noticing fine details, and from what at first may seem ordi- nary, to discover strange and exciting things. They love the group’s process and the joyful connection with this subalpine wonderland.
Until, that is, the parents of the two come to retrieve them. The young explorers are harshly admonished to get up off the ground so they don’t get their clothes any dirtier (they were already possibly “ruined”), and to return at once to their campsite. With sadness, they leave the Earthwalk, which continues without them. At
the walk’s conclusion a short while later, as the other participants on the walk return on the path, the two who had been reined-in can be seen emotionlessly watching a video on the picnic table outside their family’s RV, while a gasoline generator blares and pumps out exhaust fumes in the background.
It can probably be safely asserted that the parents, who did not want their children to have too much contact with “dirt” and nature, did not receive the hospitable tidings of the day and place in the same way, or in the same spirit, as first described here. What causes this clash of different worldview? How
can the same world be experienced in such different terms? And if we agree that there is a problem repre- sented by the attitude that people should not be too enamored with the natural world, what would we say is the proper solution?
So far, the proposed solution, at least in the United States and from those who agree there is a problem, has been a presentation of facts. The environmental movement has, by and large, assumed that, if the facts are known, a particular ethical response will ensue. The facts are assumed to carry a moral valence. But the same scientific understandings that undergird the new environmentalism also inform others of how to more effectively manipulate the earth to extract resources and attain other ends. It’s not even clear that the environmentalists and the industrialist are very far apart in their worldview.
If the main values of the U.S. society may be discerned from the persistent structural features of our coun- try, it is questionable whether the environmental movement presents a serious challenge to an economy based upon accumulation of wealth for some, a population of laborers (Often foreign, migrant, or otherwise voice- and powerless) willing to accept a lot less, and an increasingly technology and luxury infatuated population of consumers. Indeed, the environmentalists themselves (ourselves!) predominantly represent privilege and wealth. Given the present trajectory, perhaps the most we can expect our environmentally sensitive scientific knowledge to achieve is a stay of execution: industrial production that is survivable for the primary consumer populations for a while longer, and increased wealth for those businesses that are capable of appealing to the “green” market.
This is not meant to brush everyone with the same broad, caricatures strokes as either exploiter or ex- ploited. Our feelings and sensitivities, knowledge and convictions, fall along a broad spectrum. But it is
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