Looking Back at the Conservation Movement and Its Origin: United States of America

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A reflection on how conservation became a movement and an attempt to understand why people are unwilling to participate in these efforts.

Submitted: September 21, 2009

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Submitted: September 21, 2009



It is getting easier to have a positive outlook on the progress of global sustainability. As we see how President Obama is really putting his foot forward to increase sustainable living, we can be more optimistic about the progress our nation can have in reducing global emissions and preserving natural wildlife. Optimism can help to motivate us to keep fighting the seemingly endless battle against humanity's impact on the earth. By learning about how humans have impacted the environment, we can learn more about how to alter the damaging effects. While we look for more answers in solving environmental challenges, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect upon the roots of the conservation movement.

As we look into the past, it is important to be careful to not judge or blame people for their actions. It is too late to hold them accountable. Instead, we must look into the past with an understanding that cultivates purposeful actions for the future. Understanding people's behavior can help us to look objectively and learn from others' decisions. This is an important concept in understanding why people choose to or not to inhabit the earth respectfully. If we look past their actions, we can realize that their poor decisions were a result of their own suffering. It is imperative that we remove our presentistic lenses and observe the past with a past-minded perspective. Learning about the past can help us to understand humanity and to take responsibility for preventing future damage.

Before I discuss the conservation movement, I think it is important to recognize the pioneers of sustainable living: the Native Americans. In Native American culture, sustainability was a lifestyle. They understood the importance of respecting the earth and their interconnection with nature. Native Americans conserved the land and did not take in excess. Their values can serve as lessons in our approach to improving national and global sustainability.

The vastness of Native American culture was spread throughout the American continents. When the Europeans arrived, they brought their own expectations that distorted their perception of the beautiful land. However, their distorted view had such a destructive impact on the Native Americans and their land. The Europeans left behind a land that did not practice sustainability and brought this lack of knowledge to the Americas. The results of their ignorance demanded the need for a conservation movement.
Respect for the land shared among so many species really is the underlying factor that ensures a healthy planet. Unfortunately, our planet has a history that demonstrates the disrespectful side of humanity. Native Americans inhabited the Americas several thousand years before the Europeans visited the continent. Native Americans are a people with a history of high adaptation to their environment. It is so unfortunate that the Europeans were so arrogant to their different ways of living. The technological advances in Europe had plagued their perspectives and distorted their view of what should have been truly important - respect.

As documented in Christopher Columbus's personal diary, the first thoughts upon encountering the natives were how to take advantage of them. This typical frame of mind was persistent through the centuries until the cultures of the Native Americans were nearly nonexistent. Fortunately, some culture has been saved over the years. But the numbers of people and the numerous cultures that were eradicated from their home land are impossible to reestablish. The Europeans greedily took the land from the natives with force and without remorse. The Europeans claimed land that was not theirs and ravaged the land and wildlife after killing thousands of Native Americans. As mentioned earlier, the Native Americans lived sustainable lives and did not understand the ways of the Europeans. Likewise, the Europeans did not understand the ways of the natives.

My intention is not to excuse the Europeans' behavior, but perhaps try to draw some insight into why they chose to behave so poorly. They were coming from a culture where status and greed were very common and accepted by many, especially the wealthy. These were the customary ways of their culture, complete opposite to the natives they encountered. Understanding where this divide originated can help provide insight and understanding into the ways of different groups of people. The Native Americans respected their land, their people, and the Great Spirit. The Europeans respected their own egos.

Let us use the knowledge of the present to reflect upon the actions of the past. Neuroscience helps to explain the profound underpinnings of the brain that have been philosophized for centuries. They have been able to demonstrate how rationality cannot exist without healthy emotion management. What dampens emotions? Stress does. So without effective coping techniques, people are irrational beings. Perhaps the stress from a used up environment contributed to the Europeans distorted viewpoint of what their needs were. Understanding European culture and its history may help to remove the lenses from our eyes of the horrible atrocities that took place upon their arrival to the "New Land."

I would like to move on to how it contributed to the conservation movement. As the Europeans wiped out the majority of the very people they could have learned the biggest lessons from, they continued their old ways of using up the land. After multiple centuries of killing and conquering, the ways of the Native Americans were almost extinct. As the Europeans began settling and taking over the land, they established control over the reclaimed country. Fortunately for the land, the European Americans began to understand their impact on the land and began to make reforms. Slowly, awareness of the needs for conservation efforts was raised and the government of the United States began to take action. The ways of the Native Americans would unknowingly and unintentionally become a part of the European American culture.
A pervasive theme throughout this essay has been the relation of two opposing ideas: interconnectedness and the illusion of separateness. As we move on and reflect upon the efforts that brought us to where we are, it is important to think about this theme that reoccurs. In actuality, the earth, the ecosystems, the species, and the elements all depend on each other. The illusion of separateness that infects the perception of many people hinders progress on the conservation efforts. We must move past the idea of separateness to really advance forward in all areas of life.

After centuries of turmoil and atrocity in North America, the "New Americans" faced a dilemma of ecological damage. The damage from ecological invasion to the natives and their land was devastating. The reckless deforestation, slaughtering of native animals, introduction of new domesticated animals, and sicknesses carried from Europe lead to conditions that called attention for change. Columbus became aware of the impact that deforestation had on the decreased rain patterns. Even before the genocide of many Native Americans, cultures around the world understood the importance of their impact on their surroundings. People understood the importance of soil quality and erosion through practicing the rotation of crops, using natural fertilizer, and terracing. People eventually learned the importance of clean water and preventing pollution. People also switched to coal after realizing the devastating consequences of deforesting.

Many Europeans and New Americans began circulating their writings and photography to draw awareness to the need to protect nature. Congressmen began speaking out, the Department of Interior was created, and National Parks began to be established - change was emerging. People began taking part in preserving the land. I think it is very important to look at the progress that was implemented by the people, not necessarilly the ones with political power. People must question the flaws within society and be weary of the accepted perceptions that are not challenged. If we do not know what is right, how can we stand up for what we believe? It is important that each of us know what we believe so we can fight for it. Otherwise, we are just passive observers that have no right to complain about the conditions we struggle against.

The era of the hippies, seen by many as the start of the conservation movement, was a time calling for change much like today. Today we have more knowledge from massive failures and substantial educational resources. We also have an increased awareness and acceptance of the impact humanity has on the earth. As we journey through the twenty-first century, I would like to see that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past, but learn from them. Moving ahead with the knowledge and perseverance to accomplish what others may think is impossible. I think we are already witnessing a true revolution in how humans view their impact on the earth and their mission to change it. "Green" has become a very trendy term for describing natural living and returning to our roots, trying to live with the ideals that the Native Americans have imbedded in their culture and beliefs. The Native Americans have so much to offer us about how to live sustainably. We must be thankful for the lessons that have taught us and can continue to teach us as we strive to protect Mother Earth.

Although this essay, perhaps improperly titled, became more of reflection than an actual history recall, I feel that it has been helpful in thinking a little bit about where we have come from. Action does not end. We must always be willing to participate in the act of life. Remember the triple A's: awareness, acceptance, and action!

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