Lost in stormy seas
In its 2014 Synthesis Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC) stated that “…stabilizing temperature increase to below 2°C relative to pre-industrial levels will require an urgent and fundamental departure from business as usual.”
The late and renowned Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess said that, “The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.” Naess went on to say that “Policies must therefore be changed. The changes in policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.”
Overpopulation is the most pressing environmental issue we face today. In 2017, Earth Overshoot Day (EOD) occurred on August 2nd. EOD is the day of the year when human consumption exceeds the annual biological capacity of the Earth. Since the 1970s, EOD has progressed to earlier dates within the year. The most significant environmental problems of our time stem from overpopulation and overconsumption of natural resources.
How do we move away from business (and life) as usual, while maintaining our perceived quality of life? Clearly, this requires an ideological shift.
Naess proclaimed, “The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent worth) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.”
I happened upon “great” one day while riding a bike. To elaborate, I want to share a story from my own life.
I grew up in Los Angeles, but was fortunate to have parents that took me often to places wild and beautiful. We hiked and biked on the weekends, and enjoyed summers in Yosemite, and camping in the Sierra Nevadas.
The wild has always been a place I love, yet despite this attachment, there was a time in my life when I lost my inner connection to nature. I don’t know how to describe the feeling. What I remember is, not deriving lasting pleasure from a walk among the woods, or a view atop a mountain. What it is in me that sees the beauty in nature and creates a sense of wonder or attachment, was gone.
I went several years like this.
Discover her, love her
In 2013, I moved to Arcata, California, where I lived for three years while attending college. This small town of 18,000, lies four and half hours north of San Francisco. Arcata is bordered by forests of towering coastal redwoods to the north and east, Humboldt Bay to the south, and the exquisite Northern California coastline to the west. If you’re looking for an adventure into the heart of nature, look no further.
The tranquility and isolation that can be enjoyed around Arcata is a far cry from the traffic, congestion, and chaos of Los Angeles. And this was exactly what I needed to rediscover one of the most priceless, yet costless joys on earth, a journey into the wild.
While in Arcata, I spent every weekend along the coast, or in the woods, or atop a mountain. For the first year and half I felt the same feeling I had in Los Angeles. Nature was there, and I loved her, but still something was missing. Then one afternoon, while riding my bike to school, I looked up to the sky; it was a window of blue, in a frame of emerald green needles. Rays of amber light flickered through the trees, and somewhere in that view I rediscovered the wonder and everlasting pleasure that nature can provide. It is one thing to look at a flower and find it beautiful, it is quite another to hold that flower and feel something deeper than what the eyes behold, a feeling of awe, of warmth, of comfort, of love.
Contrary to what I would have believed, it was not a separation from nature that made me love and long for her. Rather, it was the daily interaction with nature that enabled me to discover and appreciate all the little nuances of her. She was always beautiful, but I suppose my attraction had become superficial, and as a consequence I had lost the ability to truly appreciate her. In living daily with her, listening to the wind in the trees, the ripples in the streams, the thunder upon the ocean, I heard her thoughts, and longed to hear more. In walking through the woods, I saw her creations in all their magnificence and all their delightful quirks. I climbed her rocks and swam in her rivers and lagoons. I tasted her fruit and smelled the sweetness of her breath.
Rejuvenating a deep connection for nature was not something that came without effort, but I wanted it, I immersed myself in the pursuit of it, and in the end, I found it.
I think of the day on the bike often, as it is the moment in my life when I discovered the “difference between big and great.”
Somewhere in the glitz and glamour of urban life I lost the ability to truly enjoy the simplest of pleasures. Perhaps an excess of entertainment opportunities combined with a tendency to crave new and more exciting experiences had made me numb to nature’s offerings.
I think it is import to understand that the material world is the realm of our imaginations. It is the world that we created from our dreams and ideas. While it is sensational in many ways, it is also artificial, and we as natural beings originating from a natural world may unknowingly lose our way within it. Our concepts of pleasure and excitement may be corrupted by an excess of lustrous, artificial entertainment.
Through love of nature we can attain sustainability
Discovering “great” had profound implications on my own life because it enabled me to see how little I need to be happy. So many of the innovations of the modern world are simply luxuries, but we grow to perceive them as necessities because we equate owning them with attaining a high quality of life.
Despite what people, or advertisers, or society may say, we really do not need much to be happy. And this is good to remember, as consuming less will steer us in the direction of sustainable living.
Big lives are filled with material stuff that come and go with no true consequence. Great lives are filled with experiences that create the memories we will cherish until the end our days.
Perhaps George Strait said it best, “I ain’t never seen a hearse, with a luggage rack.”
I share this story as a lesson from my own life about the influence of society and the complexity of pleasure. I was completely unaware of the negative influence of urban life on my own well-being, until I dared to live a while among the woods.