In a world of two to three more billion people will there be any more wild landscapes for retreating to or just burnt-off mountain ridges and barren desert? I've seen and heard the outlooks much rosier than my own, that rejoice in the ingenuity of people building our way into a sense of security, stacking ourselves in high-rise condos, powering our structures entirely with wind and solar, fuel-cell and other renewable energies. I just saw a TV show about the triumphs of global high-speed travel and agriculture making humans the unparalleled masters of the earth, though significantly the narrative about the 21st century as it continues to develop bore a lot of ifs. Not addressed, as if it were completely off the topic, were these questions: Will there still be territory for any cougars, bears, wolves, apes, cheetahs, elk, etc.? What will be left of the diversity of wild birds? What will still live in oceans and freshwater, and will we have commandeered all earth-space for our housing and food-growing in manufactured soils? Also I never heard this question taken up: would very many people relish living in this fashion? Presumably the generations to come would grow up in expectation of little else.
Will there still be much individuality among the billions of people, or will conformity in terms of tastes and behavior become more prevalent along with the confinement, so that we're more like varicolored leaves grown on a few dominant types of tree? Will there be memory of and yearning for an earlier era of open spaces--and people--that had distinct character, and large legendary vertebrates that migrated away from winters thick with ice?
There is that popular viewpoint that we will take charge of earth's environment in order to prosper as a mammal of ten and eleven billion in number, and the other, maybe-even-more articulated viewpoint that we'll crash like everything else that ever outgrew its habitat, because we'll use up too much of our resources and you can't make new resources out of nothing. The most interesting survey I've ever seen on the range of possibility with regard to basic materials for building cities is here, in one of the Forum Papers published by Negative Population Growth. Their site has other articles equally skeptical that our prospective limitless growth is viable with its requirement for infinite water and raw materials. The TV show made it plain that we and our descendents will have to build a lot of new cities, to accommodate the new billions and the ones quite likely flushed out of major coastal cities of our time like New York, London and San Diego by rising seas. In step with population explosion is greenhouse warming, escalating those atmospheric forces that batter at the land, sea and polar ice caps.
The large and outspoken sector of society that says we and our descendents will have to adapt to the new blessings of science that installs us in dense vertical-living arrangements--mega-cities--forgets to consider the hordes of forgotten people who have nothing, in many cases, to call their own and live and die in slums. Many U.S. cities by now have them, the colonias or the homeless encampments, seen or not through the windows from freeways, boulevards and rail corridors. Too many documentaries about the brave high-tech future have written out not just our wild furry, feathery and scaled kin, as inferior and undeserving as anything not ourselves, but also the various kinds of wild people--slum dwellers, economically marginal heirs to rural holdings, tribal citizens and eccentrics like myself who delight in the balance of nature. We will have to adapt or die, we are told, and so we will. The mega-cities are here and will expand as much as they are able to do. As they run out of recoverable resources, their own inhabitants, accustomed to their own kind of confinement and regulation, will face further dwindling choices. As money is implicit in the production of television, money plus a suave acceptance of increasing loss, insularity, and relentless infringement on the world outside the most prosperous urban society are on display and taken for granted. But considering the present and our entire past we are unlikely ever to found utopias, free of corrupt networks, rid of poverty and inequality. In fact the mega-cities are likely to exclude a growing number of individuals.
If an old-timer from the twentieth century had to accept that her remaining lifespan was limited to new routines, as much of her own choosing as could be hoped, in one of those sprawling, towering cities against her will but through combined misfortunes, maybe she would take on, alone or with others, the importation of little creatures and plantlets, shrubs and saplings from the countryside to to enhance what it means to live in that city. Sometimes specialized life forms are able to adapt to narrow quarters. Or maybe, faced with the doom of lives led in an open exchange of pollen, insects and pollinators under the wide sky--a sun so fierce through an atmosphere so superheated that it had grown deadly to anything not under a roof--she would turn inside out, inserting old panoramas that lay like pages in her memory into the present day and mixing them up. Maybe she would go further and people them with her human dead, by this time an old lady herself, and one more who is sustained by nothing else so much as her own delusions warped together out of times past. Haven't there always been freaks and romantics, young or ancient? Who and how will they be in the generations to come? Are they today, in part, the people who play doomsday video games, their cliffs and escarpments re-envisioned as skyscrapers under siege?
A new friend's contributed reading, the Modern Library's 1933 edition of Great German Short Stories and Novels : an Anthology, edited by Bennett Cerf, reawakens my own German-American heritage, and introduces 'The Sorrows of Werther' by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to instill my recent days with literary romanticism. An excerpt is full of resonance on this theme, progressing to that of the blighted soul which seems so prophetic of the death of civilization through our combined forces of presumption, an attitude multiplied by a billions-strong humanity in a way that eighteenth-and-nineteenth-century writers like Goethe could hardly estimate:
'Must it ever be thus,--that the source of our happiness must also be the fountain of our misery? The
full and ardent sentiment which animated my heart with the love of Nature, overwhelming me with a
torrent of delight, and which brought all paradise before me, has now become an insupportable
torment,--a demon which perpetually pursues and harasses me. When in by-gone days I gazed from
these rocks upon yonder mountains across the river, and upon the green, flowery valley before me,
and saw all Nature budding and bursting around ; the hills clothed from foot to peak with tall, thick
forest trees ; the valleys in all their varied windings, shaded with the loveliest woods ; and the soft
river gliding along amongst the lisping reeds, mirroring the beautiful clouds which the soft evening
breeze wafted across the sky,--when I heard the groves about me melodious with the music of birds,
and saw the million swarms of insects dancing in the last golden beams of the sun, whose setting rays
awoke the humming beetles from their grassy beds, whilst the subdued tumult around directed my
attention to the ground, and there I observed the arid rock compelled to yield nutriment to the dry
moss, whilst the heath flourished upon the barren sands below me,--all this displayed to me the inner
warmth which animates all nature, and filled and glowed within my heart. I felt myself exalted by this
overflowing fullness to the perception of the Godhead, and the glorious forms of an infinite universe
became visible to my soul! Stupendous mountains encompassed me, abysses yawned at my feet, and
cataracts fell headlong down before me ; impetuous rivers rolled through the plain, and rocks and
mountains resounded from afar. In the depths of the earth I saw innumerable powers in motion, and
multiplying to infinity ; whilst upon its surface, and beneath the heavens, there teemed ten thousand
varieties of living creatures. Everything around is alive with an infinite number of forms ; while
mankind fly for security to their petty houses, from the shelter of which they rule in their imaginations
over the wide-extended universe. Poor fool! in whose petty estimation all things are little...'
We and our ancestors have abstracted from a sense of our own might, against a backdrop of nature's grandeur and the Godhead, leading people of our time to the notion that we will only grow more able to orchestrate a world of our own selecting removed from what scares us in nature.
The romantic is the element in ourselves that adores our origins, whether in nature or in historic civilization, cherishes beauty and heroism, and tends to embrace the divine as inspiration for all these things. Well within this very tradition I remember a workplace conversation late in the 1980s when news reporting was picking up on the threat of global warming, how my supervisor and I consoled ourselves with the thought that whatever happened due to climate catastrophe it would always be beautiful to behold. Beauty is relative, just as it's true to the eye of the beholder, so that beauty is permissible in the prospect of great decadent cities in the future as they sponge up all the water and elements they hunger and thirst for.
Not a day passes that I don't conceive of a hugely bloated humankind laying waste to all the wild on earth till that waste undercuts most of our lives and doings, leaving just a scrawny remnant of society or no one very much eking out their nourishment. I feel overwhelmingly grateful and sad to live in the time when I live, and in this region of poor soils, swamps and long winter nights, fishable fish and a large vestige of the native plant community that has held sway here since there were people to document it. I go and find what living treasures stand before my eyes and make as much of them as I can in images of praise, with a full heart and electrified nerves.
Indian Paintbrush - native U.S./Canadian wildflower on blank note card is listed here:
Habenaria psycodes or Smaller Purple Fringed Orchid is here: