Friday, June 25, 2010

Brilliant idea

A kid I grew up with in Ecuador has taken a very different path than I did. He returned to the Cofan people among whom he was raised, married into the tribe, and over the years developed first a tourist industry, then an eco-tourism business employing Cofans, and now he and his people manage government ecological reserve lands for the government, and train game wardens for the government. He is appealing to multinational companies and foreign governments who have a high carbon footprint, asking them to "buy carbon credit" from the Cofans, to help fund the maintenance of these forests which they guard and on which they live. They have achieved "zero deforestation," at a price of only a dollar a hectar per year. (A hectar is 10,000 square meters and is the equivalent of about two and a half acres.)

Frankly, I think Randy's idea is brilliant. He has placed a positive economic value on the forest as it is, intact, and developed a way to commercialize it precisely for its pristine quality. He says his "product" is the forest, undamaged. And who would know how to do that better than the Indian people who for generations have lived in and from that very forest? Genius.

The very fact that it works indicates to me that perhaps the values in our western society are changing. We no longer value a piece of nature for its parts, but are slowly coming to value it for the whole that it is. We will find ways to commercialize (that it, assign economic value to) anything we value, from gold to swamp buggy races. Randy Borman stands at the cusp of how to put the ecological resources of the planet in the running for economic value. It's finally worth it to keep it whole where it can continue to provide oxygen for us to breathe and clean water for us to drink, and a zillion species of everything that haven't been cataloged yet that perhaps might contain substances whose chemical make-up can cure some of today's challenges, things like cancer and obesity and autism and who-knows-what else. (Maybe there's even a cure for stupid, but now I'm really reaching.)

What does this mean for us? In South Texas the cattle industry is taking second place to trophy whitetail deer hunting, and even more lucrative now: quail hunting. Granted, this is hunting for the rich only, at $2000 a weekend, but it restructures the value of the land. The other spin-off is that feedlots are more and more becoming the nurseries for the beef we eat, with their un-natural diet and living quarters for the livestock that require medical intervention to work in the form of antibiotics, growth hormones and other things, not to mention a third of the earth's green-house gasses emitted as methane!

What we need instead is what Randy has captured. There are people who know how to live with the land as well as on it. They are increasingly gaining a voice in public policy, but how about instead if they gained a voice in the economy? There is no need to return to a "pristine" state, such a thing is something of a myth anyway. We can begin to learn to live with the land as it is now. It will take a rethinking of how we look at the land, as a whole and not as the sum of its parts, as a resource as it is, not as a source of resources. That will take a systemic approach--modern ecological science is trying to do that now, and that is good. But ecologists try to piece the picture together from its parts. How about if we start with the whole? A spiritual understanding of the land starts with the whole and works to the parts. That's what Randy has done. That's what we must do. That's what the Church has to do if we are to be faithful to the Creator from whom we have received this, our island home.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


My wife is currently finding endless entertainment looking at some of the bizarre styles that are hitting the runways these days. One website is called "Thursday on Friday, What the hell was that?" We've been employing our creative minds to label the outfits such things as "camouflage to hunt a yeti," and "penguin in a fur bikini." Nobody in their right minds would actually purchase this stuff or, even less, wear it in public unless they're somewhat less than balanced. So why do we create it? Is it art in the form of clothing--for the sake of art alone? Are these women's bodies the canvass and material, color and texture the medium? Or is this another example of our tendency to always push the envelope? Perhaps some of both, or perhaps there is no significant difference between these two ideas?

We push the envelope beyond the real into the surreal, or the impressionist, or, if our art is realist, we make it like poetry--we push it into hyper-drive to make a multivalenced point. Either way, we reach for what we do not have, something that humans have been doing since we created the first tools. After all, Adam and Eve pushed the envelope with the apple. What is it in the human psyche that pushes for extremes, even at the risk of breaking the whole endeavour apart? Is it part of what is broken in creation, or is it part of what is divine?

I think it's broken when we push for extremes for the sake of extremes, with no thought about it. But when we push for excellence beyond what we've known, even when the results don't look like it, we're pushing for something we intuit, something we can reach but cannot grasp. Ultimately, knowingly or unknowingly, we are reaching for that great mystery at the core of existence. That mystery has a name, the only one that could possibly fit: God.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

On the oil spill

My heart goes out to the fishermen whose lives are on hold because of this fiasco, no greater than fiasco, this ginormous, ignominious oblivion to the safety and welfare of the world. They are suffering already and will continue to do so.

Those who know me know also that I am a greeny--not a tree-hugger, but someone who believes it is our Christian duty to treat the environment as the gift from God that it is, and to reflect in our treatment of it our reverence for its Creator. And my heart goes out to the critters who are suffering and who will die horrible deaths suffocating in the stench.

But if Mt. St. Helens gives us any clue as to the power of nature to renew itself and rebuild, the ones who will suffer most in the long run from this spill are precisely those whose livelihoods are being debilitated now and in the next five to ten years or so. Petrolium is a natural substance, and is naturally biodegradable. (The stuff we make from it isn't, but in its natural state it is.) Who knows--truly nobody knows--what will really happen in the marshes and swamps from this gooy mess. It may be truly awful--or, like with the volcano in the west, it may prove to be a boon in the long run.

Lets help out all that we can to minimize the damage, let's shore up our fellow men and women who are being impacted, let's hold BP and the other companies responsible for this to the fullest extent of the law (and no more,) and then let's wait and watch what nature does with the rest. We may be surprised.

On the oil spill

God our creator and redeemer, we pray today for the preservation of our natural environment, especially the Gulf of Mexico and the lands and waters it touches: Guide those who labor to contain the oil that endangers the creatures of sea and land; strengthen those who work to protect them; have mercy on those whose livelihoods are suffering; forgive us for our carelessness in using the resources of nature, and give us wisdom and reverence so to manage them in the future, that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise you for your bounty; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.