Borders, National Ownership, and the Environment

In my last piece, I recommended that the New Environmentalists should be more invested in the world. There are many effective environmentalist-activists that have engaged People to consider human-perpetuated climate change, and have affected positive awareness and changes to our political and social systems regarding the impact of People on their natural habitat. But these environmentalist-activists have noted how much of an uphill battle it has been since Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962. This is not because the powers that be, in dark, smoke-filled rooms are plotting to hide the damages large organizations (government, private companies, communities) have exponentially incurred in the past century-and-a-half; when these conspiracies are true, it is instead symptom of a more fundamental cause that in fact keeps both pollutant corporations and environmentalist-activists in business: neither party seeks for lower and middle-classes to go beyond passive donations and recycling bins, for these solutions are panacea for the cultural defect that is foundational to the philosophy of every nation on Earth.

Just about every sensible person snorts at the arbitrariness of territorial and national borders throughout the world, yet the American military—and many patriotic citizens—distinguish members who have sacrificed life and limb for these hand-drawn lines. Whether it be China versus India, Palestine versus Israel, Crimea versus Russia, or the nomads moving over Iraqi state lines, we are reminded and remark upon how silly it is that so much conflict occurs because of the settling of these lines, and forget that these lines are symbolic of national pride: would the U.S. National Parks be so special to Americans if they were in fact the U.K. National Parks? Or the Singaporean National Parks? No, because national ownership of these lands is paramount to the source of pride that Americans have for these beautiful areas. Would the Yosemite National Park feel as impactful if Half Dome were split between federal, state, and private lands? Three invisible properties, right down the rock face! The answer would be no, as the unspoken point of pride for Yosemite is that its borders of ownership did not highlight its own arbitrariness.

When the more modern person steps onto the four corners of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona, they will focus more on the cheap, mass-produced novelty items sold around them than the notability of standing on a marker that has no power over the ground below it to conform to one of the four states. Decades before, the Four Corners was a minor national treasure, for the very basis of government bureaucrats having found the right latitude and longitude to change the earth’s name into four other things. It is less an appreciation of the land than a celebration of the march of socio-political history. And maybe from here I can give clue to a fundamental cause of the destruction of our habitat: an ideology that places man-made abstractions over reality, which in consequence separates the individual from their habitat so harshly that they can at times feel compelled to destroy it for man-made benefits.

Think of what the National Parks and the Woody Guthrie song “This Land is Your Land” represent: a dispassionate ownership of a land, without real impetus for why we own this land, why we should, or how we should maintain it. National Park Service founder Stephen Mather did not see value in the preservation of the land, but rather its entertainment value to random passersby: it was the kind of enjoyment that encouraged interacting and feeding bears, throwing beer cans and trash on the roads that were carved through the best parts of these parks, the kind of enjoyment where people enjoyed the juvenile actions of destruction of wildlife at car-sped scale. What is there to learn from Guthrie’s lyrics but that God gave us this land to take dominion over, without any conception whatsoever that the land could have been used by others in the future as well. The pride of our national ownership of land is one that has the very real potential to seek destruction as a reminder that one has agency over the earth and their own lives, like the 2nd Amendment advocates that open-carry weapons just because they need to feel that they can. The teenage sociopath does not enjoy the actual pain they cause to small animals, they enjoy that they can finally invoke immediate consequences on something, anything, and unfortunately it is that which cannot defend itself that gets targeted the most⁠1.⁠

Our global culture has developed environmental sociopaths, and just like those we place into prison, our only solution is to make them stop, but not compel them in any way to do so besides the most mundane of tasks. Take away their weapons—switch to electric energy—community service—put the cardboard in the blue bin—put them in solitary if they disobey—carbon taxes—let them out early if they’re on their best behavior for a certain amount of time—carbon credits. When you raise someone as a criminal, treat them as a criminal, and regulate them as a criminal, they will in fact become a criminal. We have developed an expansive and rigorous system of punishments for environmental crimes—and it is growing everyday—and are starting to put the carrot before the stick, as if people were innate destroyers that will only do good when some economic incentive is put in front of them. What a wonder that for three million years, our species were not considered as perpetual criminals, and could survive for so long, yet crime and punishment became more prevalent once we started owning land at a grand scale after the Agricultural Revolution! Environmentalist-activists: perhaps the goal is not only to prove that climate change exists and to reveal the economic damages that result, but to relate societal issue that we have raised our children on the belief that This Land is My Land, So I’ll Do What I Damn Please?

And every time I ask this, someone will wrongly interpret the answer as “more programs, more regulations”, but programs don’t change the vision of a global culture, they just beat down infractions and hide society’s corrosive vision of People’s dominion over the planet, with imaginary borders that people care nothing and everything about, willing to die for their land and destroy it. What will change the vision of People is a re-staking of local and community culture in reality: the reality that doesn’t care whether it’s named Utah, Colorado or New Mexico; the reality that would crack and destroy the roads cutting into National Parks just months after it is abandoned to natural physics; the reality that puts up deaf ears Guthrie’s vision of the United States—and in extension Earth—who will let the ice caps melt and Miami flood and animals go extinct because reality understands that carbon emissions causes that, and no amount of “God Bless America’s” are going to change this reality. Reality and its constituents like Earth are amoral beings that speak nothing, yet we glean all of our greater truths from it through rigorous science and a healthy vision of it.

No, the prescription I give is not the age-old hippie belief that all the borders should vanish overnight. In fact, while borders may be fundamental to the concept of national pride and habitat abuse, it is also a symptom of a greater root cause that I cannot get into now. But borders are located at a conceptual level worth considering when we realize that the Old Environmentalists and Scary Corporations are playing in the same colosseum: onlookers don’t seem to question why the colosseum exists in the first place. The Old Environmentalists want to redefine American nationalism to include environmental conservation, but it willfully forgets that patriotism is a pitting of People against their habitat, for national land ownership regards dominion as an American, global ideal. The broadest prescription I can give is to reject Guthrie’s argument that this land was made for you and me; we were made for Earth, by proof of our species’ success over three million years, and flipping our values upside-down to think that Earth was made for us is a recipe for our failure of vision—and ultimately, a failure at survival.

1 Let me reiterate, our habitat can defend itself, but not in the way we want: we can burn all the forests and raise the sea and burn more holes into the ozone layer, and ultimately destroy ourselves; our once inhabitable earth spins on, having finally shrugged itself of a pest that could not learn how to ride the bull.