Ray Dasmann, 1920-2002
When an environment has become unbalanced, polluted, or devastated to
the point where it is no longer healthy or able to sustain life,
restoration becomes necessary. Then you must ask, what is it you are
trying to restore?
Ecosystems are always changing, whether you are doing anything or not. What direction are they going in and why? These basic questions have to be kept in mind from the start. Most restoration aims to regain the condition existing when the Indians inhabited this land prior to the Euro-Caucasians. The question is, is that what you want? Native Americans also deliberately managed the environment.
We are at the point where we have to think globally. There is no option. The tide is rising and the world is coming to your front door. It used to seem rather simple: just create a national park. But that is only the beginning. You must get people involved, not just local people, but all people interested in the place.
Here in California, I see an opportunity for restoring the land to the condition in which the Euro-Americans “inherited” it from the Native Americans. But we must consider how we want to restore the land.
I believe the biggest challenge will be restoring nearshore marine ecosystems. This is one area that is receiving considerable damage. If you’re looking for biodiversity, that is where you will find it. Marine systems are far more diverse than terrestrial ones in that there is a tremendous amount of life we are affecting, a lot of which we cannot even see. And of course climate change is hitting the oceans particularly hard. So we can sit around and watch Manhattan gradually sink into the water or we can do something about it. If you’re living on a Pacific island, that’s no joke.
We know how to solve these problems, without a doubt. To begin with, I believe we must restore a sense of individual responsibility and involvement, and get away from the idea that conservation is the responsibility of somebody else—the federal government, the state, the corporations, the rich. We must each face up to the need to develop an ecologically sustainable way of living; we need to look at our patterns of consumption and behavior, and shed those practices that contribute to the continuing destruction of nature.
An essential individual change is the need to stop thinking of living beings as things to be exploited or manipulated and recognize that they are partners in a community of fellow beings. We must start to develop that reverence for life that Albert Schweitzer called for long ago. We need to lose some of our much-vaunted objectivity, which is useful only for certain purposes, and develop a greater subjectivity, empathy, feeling. This does not mean we stop using plants or animals for food, but it begins to prevent gross excess.
A third step for those who are in a position to do it—and not everybody is—is finding like-minded people and developing ecologically sustainable communities that can unhook themselves from the waste- and pollution-producing systems that prevail in the society at large.
These are only beginnings, but they are essential beginnings. Other things must happen also. The government, corporations, industries, and consumer society are still there. They have to be influenced. Throughout the nation what is needed is an increasing degree of local and regional self-sufficiency, leading to self-sufficiency for the nation as a whole. There is no need to give up trade and commerce, or to cease consumption of things that are produced elsewhere, but there is a need to get out of a state of dependence on the exploitation of other people, places, and communities.
This essay is excerpted from an interview by writer David Kupfer who spoke with Dasmann in Santa Cruz, California, a few months before Dasmann’s death in 2002. The full interview can be read in Faultline Magazine, an Earth Island project, at www.faultline.org.
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