Land Management: the right way
We all have a part to play and need to look to others for how
We are forever hearing the need to be more friendly towards the planet, reduce waste, recycle and reuse, switch to greener energy and just be more thoughtful for the those that will follow us. It makes sense after all, we should be leaving the planet in a better shape than we found it. Or so the theory goes. Data is proving otherwise however. Warming temperatures, diminishing glaciers and polar ice, huge rubbish patches in the world’s oceans and a growing global population that is becoming targeted by brands as potential consumers for products with shorter life cycles and in need of replacing. If we are all one race, why is there a huge schism in how different people approach the issue of rampant consumerism at the planets expense?
To look at this a little deeper, one only has to look at the cultures and practices of many of the world’s First Nation peoples. These groups have a deep connection to the land, environment and their surroundings. It has been through countless generations of living as part of a functioning ecosystem that has made them aware of the tenuous balance required for the land to produce abundance that they can in turn utilize for their own needs. This could be an idyllic broad-brush approach that is not always going to be the case. Easter Island is a typical example of where a civilization has collapsed. Easter Island residents had a finite amount of land. Up and moving to a new location was not a simple, or if even feasible, option. There are other examples too, however, there are many of these that are subject to outside influences. This should not take away from the fact that the connection between First Nation and their environment is strong and an important relation in sustainable land and environmental management. Bruce Pascoe’s excellent book Dark Emu explores how Australian Aborigines managed the land before white colonization. Australia is a continent of huge deserts, lush rain-forests and bush, yet the Aboriginal inhabitants managed to survive across the entire negation through a deep understanding of land management and resource preservation. This is echoed in many other Indigenous peoples who have been the subject of colonial practices in an attempt to exploit the natural resources of their homelands.
Turning to the rest of the global population then, how can we truly have a strong connection to the land and the environment when technically we don’t have homeland? With no connection to the land through a millennia of generations how can we ever really understand what is required to manage our local environment properly? To highlight this point, how many countless species of flora and fauna no longer exist in locations due to the environmental changes brought about through wholesale changes to the land on which many colonized countries and cities have been built. These changes can be so vast that even local weather patterns are altered, coastlines changed, and mountains have been flattened. If we then pull back from attempting to ‘fix’ any localized issues and look at the broader global issues, we face a problem that then looks to insurmountable for an individual to influence or have any impact on altering. For example, how does an individual in South Africa eliminate waste in their household to the benefit the planet yet new factories are being built in China to satisfy the need of consumers worldwide? Isn’t it simpler and easier to just say, “I can’t fix this so why bother”? This is an extreme example and I acknowledge the middle ground is vast and there are things individuals can do. Or in fact, should do.
In the documentary, Meet Beau Dick: Maker of Monsters, we get to see a clear connection between the First Nation people of the Canadian Pacific Northwest Coast and their surrounds. Dick, who was a celebrated maker of masks, artist and activist, talk about the connection to the Cedar trees in the region and how they have been of his people’s lives for generations. It is easy to view through myopic western eyes that some of this sentiment may be done to seek separation from having to conform to what we think of norms of society. However, the sentiments for his people and the next generation are very similar to those of the Australian Aboriginals and their interest in keeping their culture alive through their language and cultural practices. These two distinct groups from half a world away, both have such a strong connection to the land, as do other Indigenous groups.
How do we, as a broader society then, learn from these groups without taking over or commercializing their practices? Why do we not see more Indigenous classes and education in practicing land management as these people have had passed down through the generations? Are we just all too busy? We must remember that modern society is one where we are required to work for a majority of our adult lives and prepare for retirement. As people are starting to live longer in many modern societies, the need to work hard and accumulate for this long retirement takes precedence over many other interest or pursuits. Yes, we can make a difference at a personal level or with a group of like-minded people, but the planets population is growing, and it is doing so in communities that are now looking for their opportunities to be in the middle class and the consumerism that goes with it.
Climate change management has become a politicized movement where one group seeks to outdo the promises and benchmarks of the other. Some countries are adopting wholesale change with renewable energy, eliminating plastic shopping bags and straws and exploring new technologies in recycling the massive piles of waste that exist. But these are not really done with the connection to country done in mind. Renewable energy in Australia is tied to massive increases in electricity costs to consumers and businesses and winning votes.
I don’t have an answer for how we get closer to nature as I don’t have an ancestral connection to a homeland and the resources it produced to sustain my ancestors. Any attempt to by myself just feels like I am patronizing those that do. But I do think if we all took a closer look at the land around us and just try a little to view it as Beau Dick did, humanity and the planet would be a far better place.