Sunday, April 22, 2007

Earth Days in America 1607 to 2007

Today is EarthDay. I've been commemorating it since 1970 when it officially started. It was such a great thing to teach in my classrooms. We went to fairs and gatherings all about ecology. We even had a giant "Earth Ball" that we used for P.E. There was a whole list of "non-competitive games" we taught to emphasize the same then i.e. get along with each other and the environment, everything doesn't have to be a competition. We envisioned our world as it should be, like the picture above, all fuzzy, warm and sunflowery. Now, since Mr. Gore and the "global warming issue" it is like we are starting over again with the same basic themes. It is almost a "new religion" and very evangelical. Well, we've been there...and, sadly, done that. It is truly hard to get all hyped again about these same issues thirty years later. i.e. we went from paper shopping bags to plastic and now to cloth. We recycle all our aluminum and glass (originally sorted by color) I can remember many a trip to the recycling trailers in San Dimas with my trunk full. Excuse me if I'm just not as eager to jump on this latest bandwagon.

The latest issue of the National Geographic has a very interesting cover story about the beginnings of our country in Jamestown. It is not the one I taught for so many years in 5th grade about colonization and settlement. Strangely, it is about an invasion and upsetting of a well-established ecosystem of the indigenous Indians at the time. Yes, 400 years ago, 1607, to the year, the old profit motive was rearing its ugly head to start the process over here, in what is now South Carolina,(then Virginia) Although originally sent to find "gold" or a "northwest passage" to the orient and spices, the new settlers and representatives came equipped like English farmers to set up their kind of farms. They totally ignored the land management techniques and systems that had been successful for the native Indians (Powhattans) Of course their immediate motivation was to avoid starvation. The Indian ways just weren't workin' for them fast enough. The tobacco plants they brought totally devastated the local soils within two seasons robbing the nutrients for other crops that were successful (corn, beans etc.) The honeybees were brought for honey because they didn't know that much then about cross pollination and the English bees went wild, as did the pigs they brought. They soon were feral and competing for the same food as the people. The Indians had no domestic animals and therefore didn't need fences to pen them in. They didn't have the same sense of "ownership of plots of land" as the English did. They rotated crops and land burning the underbrush. The settlers themselves were mainly from the marshy parts of England where they weren't making it and so they came to the Jamestown area which was also marshy. They brought in their blood the parasites of malaria mosquitoes. Those were dormant until they found fresh blood of animals and Indians. So diseases like this and small pox nearly wiped out the native population and most of the colonizing one too. The investors just sent more and more boats of desperate settlers. These diseases, if they didn't kill you, zapped your energy and pioneering spriit/resolve. So the Indians couldn't get it together to kick them out once and for all, nor could the colonist fight back effectively. In later years, defending the area, Cornwallis' troups were nearly wiped out by these diseases, not by the vicious fighting of the patriots. So, we, as a culture/people have been in the business of unbalancing ecosystems, environments for hundreds of years...and we haven't learned our lessons yet. We consume. We use up. We don't replace or recycle. It isn't in our nature.

We'll probably do it to Mars or the Moon if and when we get a chance to get there. This was one of my favorite blue book essay questions from my best History professor, Zenos Hawkinson at North Park College. "How will we colonize Mars?" Compare and contrast the way we did it to America. You can see all kinds of parallels between the two.

My belief is somehow the Earth will go on...Gaia. It will adapt with or without our species on it. Sooner or later we will get it. Hindsight is such a good teacher. It is probably already too late for many of the animal species...2 out of 5 are threatened. Passenger pigeons, Dodos, et al. we will follow in our time, because that is just our basic nature. No new tricks for us old dogs. Bob!


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