On Sunday mornings, as is my practice, I like to take about a one-hour stroll through the seniors neighborhood that I live in here in Las Vegas. Yesterday morning it was an especially pleasant walk because the sky was a brilliant azure blue without a single cloud, the bright sun cast a golden hue on the landscape, and the weather was extremely warm for this time of year. In fact, it set a record for April 22, as the temperature climbed to near 100 degrees. My wife had been Easterners all our lives before we moved West in the 1990s, to where”the deer and the antelope play.” Actually I’ve never seen a deer or antelope in Las Vegas, but we do have coyotes and bobcats, and lots of bunnies running around. I guess the rabbits along with fresh water from the golf course, make it an ideal habitat for the coyotes and bobcats to thrive on. Anyway it’s a very pastoral setting, with all homeowners required by the condo commandoes (some refer to them as Nazis) to maintain full and well manicured landscapes, thick with shrubs and trees. It’s also a very quiet setting, as I seldom run into anyone else along these streets. The only break in the quietude is the occasional blaring of sirens from ambulances coming to take another senior to his or her final resting place, where there is always 100% quietude.
Anyway it got me to thinking about how different this pastoral community was from the impoverished neighborhood I grew up in Brooklyn. There, the streets always seemed so grimy and soiled, and the people, ground down by poverty and the stress of having to eke out a living as best they could, rarely had a pleasant word. We lived on the top floor of an apartment building that had a flat roof covered in black tar. In the summers, our apartment absorbed all the heat from that black roof, making it impossible to think about going to sleep before 12-1 in the morning when temperatures would cool down a little. We would sit out on the stoop with our neighbors waiting for a few cool nightly breezes. Air-conditioning was something only the rich were privileged to have. We didn’t have a car, and I commuted into Manhattan to go to college and then later to work, by subway, which was a good 12 block hike from where we lived. Subway trains were always packed and hot, even in the winter, and the walk to the station, through those grimy streets was always a sheer delight, especially in the pouring rain or bitter cold. Heat in the winter was provided by a coal-fired furnace in the basement, but went off from 10 at night until 6 in the morning, while the landlord, who shoveled the coal into the furnace, got his full night’s sleep.
In those days I used to think that people weren’t supposed to live like that. I would retreat into books written by Shakespeare, or Charles Dickens, or Nathaniel Hawthorne, where people were always portrayed with so much more nobility and purpose of life, than existed on those hard-scrabble streets in Brooklyn, and I became envious of not being able to live in those fictitious settings. I came to believe that it was real-life man, as compared to the fictitious nobility I had read about, that polluted the neighborhood I lived in, with dirty air, grimy, embedded filthy streets, foul language, and mean tempers and spirits. Today I live in a cleaner neighborhood, without air and water pollution, and with people usually in a better frame of mind, but I still think about how real-life man continues to pollute our planet and degrade our environment. While there is no air or water pollution in Las vegas, generally because there is no industry here (other than throwing your money away in the casinos), there has been a general ecological degradation throughout the planet.
Global warming has gotten most of the headlines in the last two decades as an environmental spoiler. But global warming is just a small component. It’s caused by change in the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere whereby carbon dioxide is becoming more dominant, which in turn, lessens the amount of oxygen, nitrogen, and other elements that have been part of this planet for billions of years. Do global warming deniers think that you can arbitrarily change the Earth’s atmosphere without any adverse consequences. More serious than global warming, however, is the steady degradation of the planet’s oceans and rain forests, which are absolutely essential to sustaining life on this planet. Rain forests are shrinking at a fairly rapid rate as local tribes keep encroaching on rain forest lands, as they clear trees to make room for farming. Native wildlife is more and more in retreat as the lands they’re used to roaming in, slowly disappear. Rain forests absorb a huge amount of CO2, while at the same time putting out a huge amount of oxygen, so, as I’ve said, life just isn’t sustainable without them. Ocean life is also steadily being degraded, with a steady shrinkage of marine life. Today, in the Pacific alone, there are thousands of miles of plastic refuse which is unsinkable and floating on the ocean’s surface. Marine and bird life are often casualties when they mistake this refuse for food, nibble on it, and die. Oceans also absorb huge amounts of CO2, while providing food for much of the world’s population. You can picture what happens to the planet’s welfare when the health of our oceans go down the tubes.
Many other environmental disasters are also on the horizon. I could go on and on. But before man made his appearance on this planet some hundreds of thousands of years ago, (yes there was evolution despite the majority of people in this country that don’t believe in it) the planet’s ecology was in pristine shape. Animals roamed the planet in harmony with their environment. True, if you were an animal, you wouldn’t want to get too close to, say, a dinosaur’s habitat without becoming their lunch, but ecologically the planet was in great shape. Now its been despoiled by real-life man. Fictional man that I used to read about, would never have done such misdeeds.
Thank you! I was really down about the state of our world until I read your post. 😉
Someone posted a really great quote on Facebook the other day that went something like this: “We spend a lot of time and energy and trying to leave a better world for our children, but what about leaving better children for our world.” I love the idea of teaching our children the importance of our inter-connectedness with other living things, including the planet itself. Our only hope is in the hands of the next generation who may still be able to work towards undoing some of the damage of the last several centuries. Keeping fingers crossed and working hard to do my part in the way I raise my kids. Of course, when my sister who teaches 5th graders tells me stories about field trips into “the country” (i.e. River Bend Park in your old neighborhood of Great Falls) and they don’t know the difference between a snake and a worm, and shout in excitement at seeing live horses for the first time, one can only shake their head and hope for the best.
great post, i love hearing about your upbringing in brooklyn. michelle’s quote was a good one too. we need to raise humans who understand our interconnected co-existence with earth. i was just thinking about urban life today, and how disconnected people are from nature. humans seem to have a strong destructive streak!