My broken record
Aspen CO, Colorado
It was enlightening to go to the Aspen Times website, read feedback to my column and be chastised as a “broken record.” The complaint ” that I harp on the pitfalls of contemporary consumer culture ” is absolutely true.
My family sometimes joins that chorus when our conversation at the dinner table lands on climate change, species extinctions, peak oil, the food crisis, war for oil, and the failing health of the biosphere ” all the morbid topics to which there are no easy answers.
My wife thinks I sometimes mire myself in “doom and gloom,” but I look at it as “realism.” Perhaps, as a writer, it would be easier pandering to popular culture through celebrity allure, fashion trends, sports addiction, economic growth, and various entertainments, but I couldn’t do that without hating myself in the morning. Instead, my “broken record” ” this newspaper column ” asks why we are developing the Roaring Fork Valley into an urbanized mess; why the consumer culture celebrates waste and excess; why our species fouls the biosphere at the expense of future generations.
Clearly, my sense of realism conflicts with the happy oblivion to which we’ve been programmed. Rather than gushing reassurances that everything is fine, I’m prone to pointing out ” none too politely at times ” that the sad traits of predatory capitalism ” greed, arrogance, and vanity ” are exposing the fallacies from which they’ve been born.
My so-called realism has, at times, become a dreaded burden of expanding awareness that chastens me into regular harangues at the status quo. Granted, my viewpoints are not the only intellectual currency circulating in the world today, and they’re not mine alone. I confess to formulating them from reading books.
My current author or choice is a brilliant biologist named E.O. Wilson, who writes with such compelling logic that his words strike to the core of human existence. Wilson says that human life and civilization evolved from a healthy biosphere, the “razor thin” veneer of atmosphere and biodiversity that shields Earth from the dark void of space. By recklessly destroying this delicate bubble, says Wilson, we are compromising the natural systems and biodiversity that have given us life, health, intelligence and a collective future.
Wilson and other writers ” Bill McKibben, Wendell Berry, Jared Diamond, Peter Singer, David Orr, Michael Pollan, Aldo Leopold, Darwin, Thoreau, Emerson, Stegner, Abbey, Rachael Carson ” are also prominent in my library. They question the prevailing culture for failing to grasp the importance of the biosphere or acting as if we were part of it.
This is where these writers have made a stunning human achievement, by describing humanity in a symbiotic relationship with the living world. They seek to shatter the artificial, cultural barriers between us and our ancient beginnings in wild nature where we emerged from humble origins from what Wilson calls “The Creation.”
The most important issue we’ve ever faced as a species is the perilous condition of the natural systems that feed us, give us clean air and water, and sustain life.
As pilots of “spaceship Earth,” we need to steer a new course, first by breaking the gravitational pull of rote materialism, nationalism, economics, and cultural myopia.
As we enter an era of real limits, of tipping points, of peak oil, peak food, peak water, of potential devastation, privation and suffering, we must break free of obfuscating superficialities. Our insatiable consumer culture must take a back seat to the value of life itself.
It is my respect for The Creation that has me criticizing monster homes, Hummers, war, runaway population, feckless land development, and the vast waste of precious resources on which our consumer culture thrives. I cannot tip-toe around these issues with polite inferences, but must demand accountability, action and the courage and imagination to change. These notions, I believe, should become infectious. Hence my broken record.
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“My first home was on the Elkhorn Ranch in Woody Creek. My dad was 26, my mom 20 when I was born (the same year Lifts 1 and 2 were built on Aspen Mountain). It’s difficult to imagine what my parents were thinking when they put it all together,“ writes Tony Vagneur.