A Perceptual Problem: An excerpt from The Last Refuge: Patriotism, Politics, and the Environment in an Age of Terror
I once asked a class to explain the Gulf of Mexico dead zone (which
is roughly the size of New Jersey), the fact that 22 percent of U.S.
teenagers are reportedly overweight or obese, and the possible
relationships between the two. After an hour, they had filled the
blackboard with boxes and arrows that included federal farm
subsidies, U.S. tax law, chemical dependency, feedlots and
megafarms, the rise of the fast-food industry, declining farm
communities, corporate centralization, advertising, a cheap food
policy, research agendas at land-grant institutions, urban sprawl,
the failure of political institutions, cheap fossil energy, and so
forth. Most of the things described by those boxes, however,
resulted from decisions that were once thought to be economically
rational or at least within the legitimate self-interest of the
parties involved. But collectively they are an unfolding
continental-scale disaster affecting the health of people and land alike.
The same connect-the-dots kind of exercise could be done to explain
urban decay and land sprawl, a defense policy that undermines true
security, a de facto energy policy that promotes inefficiency,
transportation gridlock, and the failure to provide universal health
care. Our individual and collective failure to comprehend and
act on the connectedness of things is pervasive, systemic, and
threatens our health and long-term prosperity. It deserves urgent
national attention, but is scarcely noticed. Why is this so?
The Last Refuge: Patriotism, Politics, and the Environment in an
Age of Terror
David W. Orr
Island Press, $20
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