For most of human history, individual and community survival has demanded
intimate and accurate knowledge of the local environment. Lives literally
depended on knowing which plants are good to eat and which are poisonous. Human
beings knew, because they had to know, that seeds and fruits follow flowers on a
plant, that there are times to sow and times to reap. For almost everyone,
the need to eat fostered respect for the ecological processes upon which
continued human existence depends. Traditional cultures which survived for
thousands of years were basically the expression or synthesis of this knowledge
of how to live in a particular environment or ecosystem. The skills needed to
build a home, grow food and make clothing using local, renewable resources were
integral to living in that society.
In my educational work, however, I am often astounded at the ignorance that
exists in children, and even among educated adults, about the natural world and
our dependence on it. We are rapidly moving away not only from the knowledge of
which plants or animals might be useful and how to raise them, but even away
from the knowledge that the food we eat comes from plants and animals.
This wall of ignorance which increasingly separates individuals and communities
from the realities of their environment is encouraged by, and paradoxically also
hidden by, the nearly seamless commercial facade of choices and pleasures
presented to us. The extravagant apparatus of commercialism, according to
recent reports, now provides an average of 3,000 advertising images to each one
of us every day. Almost all of these imply that we should consume a particular
product in order to be happy or successful or smart or cool. Just buy this
soda, drink this beer, watch this sport, smoke this cigarette or join this HMO.
Watch this TV show, read this magazine, go to this movie. Satisfaction comes
from consumption. We need only choose brand A or brand B- soda, burger, car or
even the president. It isn't necessary to know or do anything else. This
everpresent, multicolor, information-filled facade keeps us so dazzled and
dependent that many people have no idea of their own ignorance. We don't
consider doing the opposite, that is-not consuming, not buying. We don't
realize that we can do with less and do more for ourselves, our families and
within our communities.
The rapidly spreading wall of ignorance hides not only our essential connections
to the natural world, but also the large-scale global organizations which build
and maintain this wall. These entities not only control the flow of goods
between the farm and our mouths, and of services between the doctor and our
health, for example, they also control the flow of information to our minds with
extravagant advertising, political and public-relations spending.
Earlier this year, one large food company announced that it had budgeted half a
billion dollars to promote a change in its famous soda can's color. Another
large food company announced it would spend $200 million to promote a new kind
of hamburger. With these kinds of resources spent on the facade, it's not
surprising that people don't think about or question the connections between the
soda in aluminum cans or the hamburgers, and the environment or even their own
health. Knowledge ends with the brand name. Often, the most heavily advertised
items are those which put the greatest burden on the well-being of individuals,
cultures and the planet and take greatest advantage of government subsidies.
Meat, fatty and sweet foods, aluminum cans, new cars, movies, alcoholic
beverages, cigarettes and even health care are good examples.
But beyond the brand name, behind the commercial facade and the large
corporations which create it, is the reality of enormous farms, animal factories
and sweat shops, and degraded ecosystems and communities, as well as
unsustainable energy use, waste production and population growth.
So get rid of the TV and go outside. An organic vegetable garden at home or
school, a compost pile and a small flock of chickens all help to break down the
wall of ignorance and help reestablish the direct connection to nature upon
which we all depend.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
C1996, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Solar Farm Education is based on the Old Solar Farm, operated for about half of
this century by Joe and Josephine Solar. Suzanne and Bill Duesing are working
to increase the direct use of solar energy and the number of farms and gardens.
Solar Farm Education works to increase local sufficiency and organic agriculture
through a variety of projects including lectures, writings, a long-running
school garden program in Bridgeport, an educational farm in New Haven and work
with the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) and the New Haven Ecology
Since 1990, Bill and Suzanne have produced a weekly radio essay/commentary for
broadcast on WSHU, 91.1 FM , public radio from Fairfield, Connecticut. Living on
the Earth airs every Friday morning at 6:53. New essays are posted weekly at
http://www.wshu.org/duesing. All the essays aired since November,1995 are also
available at this site.
A collection of over 90 of Bill's essays, Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays
for a Sustainable and Joyful Future, published by LongRiver Books in 1993 is
available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14 postpaid for
the first copy. $12 each thereafter. Quantity discounts available.