Watching Ken Burns’ new film National Parks: America’s Best Idea, I marvel not only at the stunning beauty of our protected lands, but also at the opportunities they still face. I wonder if this latest miniseries will increase our collective interest in sustainability and energy efficiency.
Is it too much to think that humans equate the use of natural wonders with action to preserve our most important natural treasure: our habitable ecosystem?
The idea behind our national park system was to put aside natural wonders such as Yosemite and Yellowstone, at a time when the United States was expanding into Western countries and the consequences were behind us. It began in the 19th century, when it was necessary to manage nature and use it for commercial purposes. Nevertheless, countries such as Yosemite have continued to be protected and preserved so that future generations can admire their miracles.
Today we face the prospect of limiting consumption not in order to preserve the beauty of nature, but in order to preserve its vital gifts. Yes, I’m talking about the effects of climate change, global warming, greenhouse gases, ocean acidification, melting glaciers, extinctions and all the stewed carbon dioxide/methane of Doomsday.
Do you think that we are threatening our habitable environment, should we stop doing more to protect and preserve it? Don’t we now have the intelligence and maturity to not only exploit and control nature, but also work with nature for commercial purposes? To some extent, this is already happening with clean technologies such as solar, wind and geothermal energy, as well as biofuels such as CO2 storage and energy-producing algae.
However, none of these clean technologies is the silver bullet that will save us from burning harmful fossil fuels for our energy needs. And together they are unlikely to replace oil, gas and coal in the coming decades. This means that we must try to work more closely with nature in our private homes and businesses. In other words, the green begins with each of us as individuals.
Commentators of the series “National Parks” talk not about “exit” into nature, but about “returning” to nature and finding their roots. That’s why being in a beautiful natural environment can be so peaceful and relaxing. So shouldn’t we do the same when it comes to our vital ecosystem? Everything we buy and consume has an impact in some way, so why not try to minimize these effects or even make them useful to our vast natural resources?
This is a big change that we face as we become greener. We need to change our collective attitude from a culture that takes the abundance of nature for granted, to a culture that takes into account the effects of our consumption.
However, it is unrealistic to flick a switch and turn green overnight. To consider every purchase and action in relation to the natural world is too much for most of us in this rapidly changing world. But we certainly need to think more about our actions and more of our purchases. And we must take into account some of the same principles of energy conservation and materials that inspired the early defenders of our national parks.
This means finding ways to reduce energy consumption in our homes and in businesses that produce most of our greenhouse gases. This means buying products that use less toxic materials that last a long time and can be recycled. In our opinion, this is more important than electronics. With a short life cycle, energy needs and special materials design needs, electronics can become a big part of our environmental problem or a big part of the solution.
Green technology should not be such a radical idea. This should be a natural development of our intellect and ingenuity. We can use environmentally friendly electronics and green technologies not to stray from our roots in nature, but to return to it without abandoning our modern conveniences.