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Bequeathing a debt


We bear children. It is in our nature, in our very being to do so. We are at one with all living beings on earth, when it comes to recreating and continuing our species. We love our offspring, we nurture the formation of character and values, we see them through years of education, we see ourselves somewhat re-created.

We tell them they have their own lives to live, their own way to make, and their own identity to create. We presume they will handle the world around them, and do their best to leave it a better place, for future generations.

That is why in many cultures our offspring are bequeathed what we, as individual human beings, own -- so that what has benefitted us may benefit them.

But bequests to future generations are not only from us as individuals. We act, as humans, collectively --by trying to do what we can to make our school systems good for the future generation, and to make our communities and countries work better. But this is hard to act on: as individuals, who are we to contribute in our too small way to such improvements? Individual bequests -we can act on, but the bequething of an improved society for the benefit of future generations, that gets away from us. And it is hard to conceptualize. It is sort of hopeless.

What is happening, we can all see it now, is that we are bequeathing future generations a world that will be physically degraded, compared to the one in which we live. It is like, as an individual, writing a Will to bequeath to our offspring a huge debt we have run up, what with our collective profligacy, our unending consumption, our cherished capitalistic markets, and our self-interest in our lives, not theirs. And these bequests, so to speak, are wrapped up in a thin tissue of instant communications in the here and now, in real time.

It does not matter what is attempted as an action plan now, the world we leave to future generations will be a degraded one, with wildly different weather patterns, risen sea levels, a loss of fresh water, lands in drought, restlessness in our cities and countryside, and government and industry debts running wild because of the future remedial actions needed in the face of the future crises.

How is it that we could we have done this to future generations? The future offspring will open their eyes to a world in crisis, and open envelopes containing our Willed and Bequeathed debts.

Unless we can answer this question of why this has happened, we cannot get our belated action plans for a better future, for future generations, right. Like an addicted person, targets for rehabilitation will be made for a future date, one that is

continually pushed into the more distant future.

Maybe the explanation is, human minds see the earth, the globe, our world, as an abstraction. We live in a small spot on it, and to even think about a warming of the entire globe is simply too difficult. Our minds have not evolved far enough.

Maybe the explanation is the way we organize ourselves into countries and nations, with geographic boundaries that are impose boundaries on thought and action.

Maybe the explanation is that we have gods we believe exist, in whose hands we can place the future.

Maybe we care about our offspring but as to the world around them, well, let it be like the world we happened to be born into. It is all a chance thing. Let them have the good luck we were wished.

We believe, some of us, in open societies where humanity's nature will strive for what is good, but where the freedom exists to do what is wrong, to do what is excessive, to do what is expediently good for everyone in the here and now. How in heaven can we worry at the same time about the eventual consequences?

All these explanations involve a shrug of the shoulders, do they not.

Here is another explanation of how we arrived at the situation we are in, with our changing climate, affected as it is by our human pursuits and proclivities:

Humanity has, in large part, a misunderstanding of its place in nature, a misunderstanding of nature itself. It has lost its place in nature.

When the ice of the Ice Age receded from Europe, thousands of years ago, humanoids as we know ourselves today took initial shape. They developed language skills. They made tools. They formed and lived in small groups, hunted, and some of them were artists, with the wisdom to do their art in caves, who for? --for future generations. Yet here we are now, able to see in their art, whether it be in Europe, Asia, or the continents south of the equator, a feeling of wonder about the world around them, full of migrating herds, and all sorts of other living species. They revered the natural world around them, such that they thoughts some gods had had something to do with it all. They saw themselves, often absent from the paintings, as small and insignificant members of living existence.

They had a sense of wonder at and appreciation of the world around them, which I will now call 'nature', in that it had an existence separate from humanoids and was not originated by humans.

I am going now to leap through the centuries of industrialization, deforestation, pollution, urbanization, population explosions, into the present day view of nature.

How is nature seen by modern man? In the sixties, it was that

which was still untouched, shaped by itself, separate, and revered by many. One got out into nature with enthusiasm, wonder, a wish to learn, a sense of our small place on a planet yet to be full explored and certainly understood.

There was a movement then to preserve and respect it from

the ravages of industrialization,  the growing mountains

of waste and discard, the disregard for the continuation of living

species different and indeed 'below' the human in status.

Then the word 'environment' came into our language. It initially captured what was still part of nature in our surroundings. But then, as the decades past and it became harder to figure out how to preserve and respect nature-in-the-raw, given the exclusive needs for jobs and growth and industrial wealth, the word 'environment' came to refer to 'our surroundings' be they our creations, our by-products, our valued, used, indeed plundered, resources. It was as if 'nature' was receding, and the space immediately around us, 'our environment', was what was real.  Environmental movements based their cases on 'well, unless you do something about the situation, we humans will become more uncomfortable and we shall have to adapt more than we want let's agree to do something about our use of our raw resources'.


Thus our action plans have to do with what makes humans uncomfortable in the spaces in which they live,  in their immediate


The connection with nature-in-itself was broken, and replaced by

references to our human environments or immediate surroundings spaces. Nature, little used now, refers the untamed, the raw stuff out there, the forces that can get whipped up and destroy, the stuff we need for our expanding populations and cities and life styles. A cartesian distinction is made between us together with what 

we create,  manufacture,  invent,  design,  on one hand,  and

the untamed raw resources of living things and inanimate

things 'out there' beyond our immediate environments or 

spaces, on the other..

And with that broken relationship comes a view that climate change issues can be isolated from our relationship to nature, using the term to refer, as it did originally, to 'that which man has not created'. 

We should be discussing humans' relationship to nature,  not  the environment,   a misused, unhelpful term that limits thinking. What force is going to bring about an understanding of this broader truth?


Once we switch to talking about our place in and our relationship to nature,  we go  beyond the issue of CO2 and discuss the depletion of our water and other natural resources,  the killing of entire species of living beings,  and we promote wonder at the world around that is 

configured separately.  


In the world of science,  that sense of wonder at the complexity of nature is often experienced,  and then there are too, amongst us,  those who love nature and understand the place of humans in it. 


Christopher Gill

Mahone Bay

Nova Scotia