It has become clear to the few that sustainability is no longer a concern of the many. We live in an era ruled by ever-increasing global interdependence. And, while this era has resulted in many new wonders, it had also brought about many new woes for us and our world. We are less happy and more wasteful than ever before in our sprawling modern cities. Environments across the globe have suffered near irreparable damage. We live with the lie of our superiority over the Earth, and this lack of both balance and morality shall do us no favors in the future. It is imperative that we change our evil ways, lest our communities become plagues on both ourselves and the Earth.
Man vs. Nature in the Ancient World
Ever since our long-forgotten days as primitive hunter-gatherers, we have been shaping our environments to fit our own needs. In the earliest ages of our existence, we did battle against species that threatened us and hunted many an animal to extinction. Once agriculture was developed, our influence on our surroundings has grown exponentially. And, although we have done well to shape the world to fit our desires, nature has not completely withheld its wrath.
There is a reason the ancient cities of Mesopotamia and North Africa are now only abandoned ruins standing above the sand. The history of man has largely been accompanied with a constant conquest of nature, ignorant to or uncaring of the consequences of such an attitude. Many species of plants and animals have been twisted to fit human needs, and this has made them so weak in the wild that they could not hope to survive without humanity. Agriculture has resulted in the mass destruction of natural landscapes to make way for immense fields that serve a purpose to us alone. Earth looks nothing like it did mere thousands of years ago, and this rate of unprecedented change to fit human needs has only accelerated in recent times.
Man vs. Nature in the Modern World
The modern world is not much more than one big hotbed of human activity. Nearly every other species on the planet has found itself becoming subservient to the will of man. Most of us have heard plenty of the devastating effects urbanization, industrialization and overpopulation have had on nature. Few, though, have heard of how the ever-increasing rift between man and nature negatively affects the former. Research shows that those who spend time in nature have, on average, decreases stress and increases happiness, creativity and vitality. On the flip side, those who live in cities are more prone to increased stress, depression and anxiety. These findings prove what has long been suspected; to remove man from his ancestral home that is the gorgeous greenery of the Earth is to sentence him to suffering.
Yet, as we have progressed culturally and technologically, we have distanced ourselves ever further from our forsaken origins. Our cities have lost their walls and sprawled out ever further, continually shrinking our contact with the wilderness. They have slowly evolved from unique expressions of a community’s identity to bland expressions of the soulless monoculture that has emerged across all human societies. In other words, the places in which we choose to live out our lives have become dreadfully inadequate.
Our ever-strengthening search for progress and infatuation with the new has led to the utter and regrettable decimation of the old. As C. S. Lewis once wisely said, “We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” The question then remains of what path we need to go down.
Theories and Efforts of the Few
As it appears, only a few among the many of us on this good Earth can truly comprehend the extent of our folly. And, although many naysayers may convince themselves that nothing can be done now, the unambitious have never been those to go down in history. It is up to those with enough willpower to go out and reverse the path we are on. It is up to them to cut through the failures of our modern societies and rediscover our purpose on the Earth. That is, not to keep the Earth as it has always been, nor to change it so recklessly that other life cannot coexist. Our purpose is to pursue our own destiny, while at the same time allowing nature to do the same.
This means creating a harmony; one that has never before been achieved in all the numerous years of human history. Now, it is certainly necessary to explain what is meant by harmony. To be in harmony with nature does not complete abstinence from technology. Rather, it means a balance, carefully maintained through the care of man, between nature and architecture. This is undoubtedly a difficult thing to bring about in today's society of ever-increasing dependence on technology and distance from our primordial roots. Yet, there is a devoted sector of the population that has realized the necessity of this, and they have been working tirelessly for decades to bring it about.
The problem still lies in their inability to connect with the rest of humanity, but their solutions are still worth considering despite their relative insignificance on a global scale. These solutions are numerous, including organic farming methods like companion planting and crop rotation, agroforestry, eco-agriculture and permaculture. Each and every one of these solutions could easily take up an entire article on their own, but it is important to notice the common threads they all share. They all notice the fact that our current systems of intensive farming and ongoing destruction of nature cannot continue forever. They notice that harmony is not by any means impossible, and that if man cannot improve upon nature, then it would be foolhardy for him to try.
Bill Mollison, known as the father of permaculture, has perhaps put his goals in introducing the system in the most eloquent terms. "Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature," he said, "of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system." There are twelve design principles of permaculture, a few of these being observing nature in the area one wishes to interact with, designing a system specific to that area, applying self-regulation and producing no waste.
Still, these principles have been subject to critique, and permaculture alone certainly could not stop our constant march towards ecological ruin. It is important to note its existence, though, and the hopeful statistic that about 1% of the world's farmland is managed completely organically. The future is not lost, and there is yet to be discussed one more aspect of this future that we all want to see.
A Vision for the Future
Finally, it is imperative that a vision for what a world not plagued by our current hellscape of gluttony would look like. Of course, the following is not the only way we could organize ourselves more harmoniously with our world, but it is one in a sea of ideas that may hopefully someday change the very fabric of how we live our lives. Still, the importance of us all envisioning the world we would like to live in cannot be stressed too much in our efforts to make these worlds come to fruition.
The obvious fact must be addressed that there are countless solutions to the problems of environmental damage and unsustainability depending on the region one is looking at. However, it can be assumed that, due to the common threads all areas of the Earth share, that a set of principles may be scientifically discovered to ensure sustainability. For example, the prospect of not wasting one’s materials whenever possible can help no matter the area in question. We must first establish these yet undiscovered principles and implement them into the way we farm; not by force, but with a common and urgent understanding among all mankind that this is not an issue to be ignored.
Few would disagree with the statement that minimal intrusiveness by man into nature is preferable to the rampant annihilation of our world. Thus, it can be adopted as a tenant of this hypothetical sustainable world that nature, wherever man cannot find any use except destruction, should be left alone. It is unavoidable that resources would need to be extracted, but this should be done at rates that would not cause irreversible harm. The ability to replace that which has been used should be constantly in the back of mankind’s collective mind.
There are, as discussed earlier, innumerable methods to help solve agriculture’s looming problems of environmental compatibility. These methods, and the new ones that shall inevitably spring up in the future, must be considered when envisioning this new world. The ability of humanity to cut back on the intrusiveness, ineffectiveness, viciousness and destructiveness of farming cannot be ignored much longer. Many others have written at length about their ideas on how to increase the mutual aid between agriculture and nature, and those interested in making a difference should first educate themselves in these writers’ teachings.
Now, a problem which has been pushed to the side for some time in this piece must be brought back to the forefront. Cities with any hint of culture, greenery and compactness are on the brink of extinction. People from across the world continue to marvel at the gorgeousness of Venice, Florence and Rome. Yet, they still go back to their cities of bland skyscrapers and depressing oceans of identical houses and care not to make a change there where change is most needed. The effects of cities without life have been discovered, and they are by no means pretty. Thus, an abandonment of this style of life is desperately needed. We must discover that it is the traditional town and not the industrial one that leads to happiness in its inhabitants.
A new guide for building both minuscule village and monstrous megacities arises when one considers the kinds of places people enjoy living in. Firstly, megacities should not exist at all, for they are the result of the unnecessary and quite evil spilling over of cities into nature. No village, town or city should be allowed the means to expand forever. It is no coincidence that once industrial cities lose the industries that built them, they become hellscapes of human suffering. We must let the growth of cities stop where they were meant to. This means cities that are compact yet livable, with clearly defined limits to their expansion and not total dependence on one industry.
The ideal world is one where farms and ranches dot the landscape but stay relatively close to more compact settlements for the sake of comfort and unity. These outposts of human reach take care to not ruin the land they sit on, just as the settlements they surround would. To build a city under the wing of the Earth, we must let our outlying structures, such as parks and farms, seem one with their natural surroundings. These structures must separate swaths of wilderness and compact centers of civilizations. The ideal city is not in need of many vehicles swamping its streets, for it is small enough that walking distances are not an issue. This necessitates exercise and helps both the environment and cost of living. They should contain hints of nature everywhere, and abstain from hideous and wasteful buildings, instead opting for a skyline that pleases both the human eye and the eye of Mother Earth.
Mankind has the ability to be either the annihilator or the patron of nature. The question is not which shall serve you better today. The question is which shall serve you and your descendants better in the far future. Short-sightedness is the plague of the modern age. We must ensure that it is wiped out so the future may live free from this ruinous disease.