The Little Earth Warrior
When the dreamer dies, so dies the dream …
I loved the mornings as a child in Miami, Florida. As the sun rose the land warmed up and you could begin smelling the aromas of different plants. From the canals, you could smell the algae, and all around me, there were birds chirping and landing to search for insects.
I was only 10, but already I was deeply in love with the vast open brushland near my home in south Florida. There were patches of brush and trees popping out of the fields of tall weeds. This was my home, and it was the place where I could feel alive. Nearly every day after school my friends and I would play in the open land. We’d ride bikes on dirt trails, play army, and build forts. We’d make new trails through the brush, and the trees, turtles, and snakes all became a part of who I am.
The year was 1970 and Tricky Dicky was sneaking troops into Cambodia and, sadly, the Beatles broke up. The music was really good that year and included Simon & Garfunkel, the Carpenters, Jackson 5, and Diana Ross.
But there was danger in the air. Every day we’d hear the revving of earthmoving equipment, which slowly murdered and destroyed the natural places that we loved. Miami was exploding in growth and the development was pushing relentlessly westwards toward the Everglades.
One day after school we took a back way home through the woods, and I was shocked to see surveyor stakes planted all around our favorite patch of trees. I pulled a stake out of the ground — it would become the first of dozens that I pulled out over the years. If the surveyor replanted them, my friends and I would pull them out again. Eventually, the surveyors tied ribbons around large nails, stuck them in the ground, and hid them with leaves. We found each of them and pulled them out too.
But the relentless construction of homes continued, and our refuge in the woods kept shrinking. The homes in those days were built with concrete foundations, and my friends and I came up with the idea of burying a barrel underneath the sand, which was poured first before the concrete. When the concrete was poured, or when the barrel rusted, the foundation would cave in. For the mission, I enlisted the help of Eric, my friend and neighbor. Eric was a little guy, and he hung out with a large, chubby guy named Arnold. Arnold was a strong fellow and could dig the hole for the barrel.
Eric was a little evil genius. When a police officer came to our school to talk about drugs, Eric stole the drug sample kit, and that afternoon after school I found him and Arnold in our favorite wood patch, next to the school, burning and inhaling the sample marijuana.
Eric also told me that, “If you are nice to girls they will give you a strip show,” and he supposedly enjoyed a few shows in his front yard treehouse.
I wasn’t there the day that Arnold buried the barrel, but apparently, he pulled it off.
Another friend in my group, Chuck, had an even more sinister idea. We would rearrange the spark plug wires on all the yellow Caterpillars, and so we did. I can only imagine the confusion of the operators when they fired up their bulldozers the next day.
Regardless of all our efforts, I learned that a group of boys can’t stop the wanton destruction of greedy developers. No mercy is given to animals who need a home and little kids who want a place to play. After I moved from Miami the development continued west for another 20 blocks until it was finally stopped by buffer land, which separated the residential neighborhoods from the Everglades.
When my family moved to a tiny town in Central Florida called Fruitland Park, I continued my guerilla warfare against development and pulled up more surveyor stakes, let the air out of tractor tires, and hid and stole building supplies. For that, I was arrested at age 16, and so ended my efforts to save the open land of Florida. When I began my campaign to save Florida in 1970 the population was 6.8 million and today it’s nearly 22 million. I realized early on that it is human population growth that is fueling the environmental genocide.
My family moved again to the Atlanta suburbs and again I saw the explosive growth and development. But I took a couple of decades off to do the American dream thing, which included college, career, church, marriage, house, and raising a family. In my 30s I was a church leader and was working long hours to start a new church in my hometown. But metro Atlanta was losing 50 acres a day to development and seeing forest after forest getting bulldozed was killing me inside. So, in 1997, I got back into the fight.
I joined the Sierra Club at age 37 and had the best experiences of my life. I signed up for the sprawl team where they trained me to be a speaker, and with my slide projector in hand, I went to various groups around Atlanta and gave a 45-minute talk on how to develop land more responsibly. At the time, I was told that fighting urban sprawl was a political problem, so I worked in the campaigns of green candidates, with good success. Our strategy was to get green commissioners elected in the suburban counties surrounding Atlanta. We were going to make a green firewall around Atlanta to stop the outward growth, but Governor Roy Barnes told me the sprawl would just leapfrog over my county and go into the next. Nevertheless, I had to try to slow the environmental rape of my county.
A Broken Man
Today, the 10-year-old Earth Warrior is now a jaded and cynical 60-year-old man. I could not save the majestic forests and the homes to thousands of animal species. Every single day I grieve over my failure. I know that some trash I threw away 50 years ago as a boy is still in some landfill, slowly decaying. I try to live a humble and simple lifestyle and follow the example set by Jesus Christ. I buy less, keep my house cold and dark, and try to make a minimal impact on the planet. Even though I do these things, every American is a super consumer, Earth-destroying, being, and for my role in this carnage, I suffer from an eternal guilt that never goes away.
To the trees, plants, and little animals, all I can say to you is that I’m sorry. I’m grateful for the handful of hiking parks around Atlanta, and all I ever want to do is go deep inside of the woods, with my dogs, and just stand inside a forest and smell the smells and watch and hear the insects and small animals, who scurry about their daily business. To me, human civilization is a total failure, and I just want to get away from it. Only in the woods can I find God, which to me is not a supreme being, but rather the emergent intelligence created by all living lifeforms. For one species to annihilate a million other species is the most horrible sin of all.
And you know what? I’m smart enough to know by being alive all I’m doing is being a super consumer. Despite trying to recycle everything I can I still put garbage in the waste stream. My car and gas furnace still emits carbon into the air. I put poop in my septic system and every time I breathe I release carbon. I only stay alive for my children, grandchildren, and rescue animals. They are all I have. I have learned the hard way that the two things a living being can’t do without are food and warmth, and I struggle to provide those things for my pets.
Climbing on the Soap Box
So, Little Earth Warrior, what would you like to tell everyone? My message is simple: We all act like we’re inside a big movie studio and that our behaviors have no impact or consequence. Maybe that would be true if there were just a few of us but now the Earth is massively overpopulated and we are collectively destroying her. Each day human population growth increases by 200,000, which is the size of a city like Salt Lake City, Utah or Little Rock, Arkansas.
This blog, titled “We Live on a Planet,” is my oldest blog and I started it to remind people that we are not on a flat Earth sound stage or living in a soap opera. Rather, we are on a planet spinning through space.
Saving the Earth Groups
Ever since my great awakening in 2003 I’ve realized that mainstream environmental organizations only address the impacts of human activity and rarely work on the root causes. Yet, it’s the “root causes” that we have to change, but facing these core issues often makes people uncomfortable. Strangely, I can write endless posts about whatever topic I want and no one will ever read anything, but as soon as I mention “guns” or “god” I get strong emotional reactions from people. At the risk of triggering someone, I’ll say that the current, nationwide gun obsession takes us in the opposite direction of where we need to go. We need peacemaking and love, not more bullets. As for God, I wouldn’t care less what anyone believes, but when people use their religious beliefs as an excuse for neglecting the Earth, I see that as a problem. No, everything is NOT “part of God’s plan,” and God will NOT “take care of it.” He wouldn’t even help his chosen people during the Holocaust, so he’s certainly not going to help you.
The Causes of our Destructive Behavior
Soon after I rejoined the environmental movement, in 1997, I took a dive into Deep Ecology, which has become a life-long passion. Deep ecology is the philosophy that all living beings have an inherent worth regardless of their utility to human needs. The founders of this movement, which was born around 1973, include such big-name environmentalists as Rachel Carson, David Brower, and Paul Ehrlich. And it was Arne Naess, a Norwegian philosopher and mountaineer, who coined the phrase. Simply put, we need to think of ourselves as a part of nature rather than nature being something to exploit.
The Deep Ecology Platform, as stated by co-founders Arne Naess and George Sessions in 1984, can be found on the Foundation for Deep Ecology website. In addition to recognizing the “inherent worth” of all living things, the platform also states that human interference in the nonhuman world is excessive, and that the situation is rapidly worsening.
Silent no More
In the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “A time comes when silence is betrayal. That time has come for us.” People give me a hard time for comparing Dr. King to Jesus, but I’m sure that Jesus would be flattered by the comparison. Martin Luther King is one of my greatest heroes, and his life was a gift not just to African-Americans, but to all of humanity. He was a man who stood up for not only racial injustice, but economic injustice and the insanity of the Vietnam War, and for taking a stand and speaking out, he was murdered. So, if someone loses a job or a relationship for standing up for a principle, well, that will never compare to being assassinated or being imprisoned for 27 years like Nelson Mandela. So, curse me, threaten me, and throw Bible verses at me, but I will never retreat from my beliefs in environmental sustainability, social sustainability, and my belief that capitalism must be drastically changed to save the Earth.
Did Someone Mention Capitalism?
Someone needs the courage to stand up and say, “capitalism is a massive disaster.” On the micro-scale, I’m a big believer in capitalism because it increases efficiency and reduces waste, which is good for the environment. But what we are seeing now is capitalism that’s out of control. When you have money it’s easier to make more money. If you’re rich, you can send your children to the best universities, and they immediately enter the workforce with a big advantage.
Either ecologically, socially, or financially, our current capitalistic society will soon collapse. We are accepting massive debt to have a wealthier economy now, but soon that debt will come to crush us. People ramble on about how capitalism creates innovation, but most of what I see is corporations simply gobbling up other corporations. Corporations are like rabid animals, like locusts, and don’t care about workers and the environment, other than how they can be better exploited. We call this the “American Way of Life,” but it’s really the “American Way of Death.” And, all the while, religion is used as an enabler to greed-driven capitalism and churches simply support the corporate institutions that support them. We see this most vividly with the millionaire politicians who work only to enrich themselves and their peers and will mumble something about “pro-life” to immediately get the evangelical voters behind them no matter how vile and corrupt the candidate is.
More than half the members of the U.S. House and Senate are millionaires. The median net worth for lawmakers in the House and Senate was $1,008,767 — up 4.4%, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. The rise in wealth takes place at the same time the median family income has been relatively flat or has declined. The growing divergence may help explain why Congress, beyond the politics involved, would allow unemployment benefits to expire.
Meanwhile, 1% of Americans and 0.001% of people worldwide are millionaires. Some lawmakers profited from investments in companies that have received federal bailouts; dozens are invested in Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America. In short, the wolves have taken over the henhouse.
- The U.S. Congress is mostly composed of the 1 percenters.
- Corporations spend billions on lobbying the U.S. government.
- The U.S. government and corporations are closely interrelated.
I will conclude with Premise 12 of the Deep Green Resistance, a deep ecology group:
“There are no rich people in the world, and there are no poor people. There are just people. The rich may have lots of pieces of green paper that many pretend are worth something-or their presumed riches may be even more abstract: numbers on hard drives at banks-and the poor may not. These “rich” claim they own land, and the “poor” are often denied the right to make that same claim. A primary purpose of the police is to enforce the delusions of those with lots of pieces of green paper. Those without the green papers generally buy into these delusions almost as quickly and completely as those with. These delusions carry with them extreme consequences in the real world.
Originally published in my personal blog, We Live on a Planet.