Whenever the subject of a controversial development, potential fossil fuel exploration project or other exploitation of our natural resources is brought up in bureaucratic circles, inevitably the argument is made by one politician or another of the need for job creation, the satisfaction of our need for consumables, or the need for development in order for a wilderness to be enjoyed by all.
These needs, they say, are necessary to the continuation of life as we know it. We need jobs so we can pay for things. We need gas for our cars so we can drive to work. We need resorts with roads so everyone can see the view from atop every mountain in the comfort of an air-conditioned room while sipping champagne. These needs outweigh the value of the nature that must be destroyed in order to fulfill these needs, at least in the eyes of those who stand to profit most from them. To many, nature itself has value only in what resources it contains; the crude oil buried deep beneath its surface, the lumber standing uncut above it, the jobs and tourism dollars that could be created by a new ski lodge.
It’s true, these people are the ones who stand to gain the most from nature, just not in the way they see it. If only they could experience true wilderness without the aid of a helicopter, the rarity of a world without noise, the exhilarating and frightening feeling of knowing that they are completely and absolutely…alone. Aware, keenly and sharply in a way that’s unexplainable until experienced, they would know that they are not at the top of the food chain as they’ve always assumed. Maybe then, after being accompanied only by their own thoughts, forced to pare their existence down to food and shelter and stare into the mirror that is solitude, they would finally understand that there is far more value in the few untouched places that remain than they ever thought possible. A value that is not only easily attainable for all, but worth more than any object that has ever been created by man.
We’re all aware that we live in a world fueled by natural resources which cannot be replaced, yet we continue to demand the right to consume them, just as every generation before us. Let the next generation fix the problems we create for them, they'll surely invent some solution to pollution, global warming and dying oceans. After all, we've done nothing but progress for the last hundred years, surprising even ourselves by our inventiveness as humans. We need our five-thousand square foot homes, our V8 engines, our 4K Ultra HD televisions, and our touchscreen smart phones. Goddamn it, we will have our wireless internet, even in our national parks.
We've come to a point of dire misunderstanding of what it is we truly need, and lost touch with even the most basic comprehension of how life itself should be lived. We believe that we need to work 80-hour weeks away from our children so we can afford to give them all the things we think they need, when in fact all they need is our company. Show me a child who has grown up in the largest of houses, clothed in the most current of styles, and supervised only by the most expensive of televisions, and I'll show you a child with nothing but a stick, a bowl of rice and a pair of good parents who could teach your child more about the enjoyment and fulfillment of life than they ever thought possible.
In an effort to offer a solution to this problem rather than complaining only for the sake of a writer's self-satisfaction, I simply ask this: Rather than adding things to our lives in an attempt to simplify them (and thereby consuming more of our natural resources), doesn't it seem more intuitive that we would take things away? When you need less money to pay for less gas to arrive at a job that requires less of your time, and live in a home that requires less energy, what you end up with is more time and money to spend doing something that makes both you and your world happy.
Somehow, over the course of the last century or so, as we strove to create a faster, easier, better life for ourselves, we forgot about the whole life part and decided we just wanted faster, easier and better. We work overtime so we can both afford the things we want now, and save for the "dream life" we've planned in our heads for when we're finally able to retire. We forego life in the present in exchange for a hypothetical future life that may not even exist, rather than simply foregoing the objects that clutter our current lives in exchange for life in the present. We would rather spend the next 30 years in a cubicle so we can go home to watch adventures happen on television than actually have adventures now. When you boil it down to its purest essence, we would rather have easy than good.
The definition of need is a situation in which someone or something must do or have something. When it comes to needs, humans are fairly lucky. Our needs are a pretty short list. We need air. We need water. We need food of some kind. We need shelter. Essentially, we need a tree over a campfire near a water source and the knowledge of how to fish. As a species, we somehow survived thousands of years this way, but today the mere mention of attempting to live more simply can get you labeled as a socialist. Get back in line, hippie, consume!
The upside, however, is that more and more of us every day are coming to the realization that, at any point, we can simply step off the assembly line, remove ourselves from the conveyor belt, and simplify. We're selling our junk, downsizing to smaller homes, and living intentionally. The optimist in me wants to believe that this is the future, that the human race is moving toward a sudden, inevitable mass enlightenment, but the pessimist in me worries that we are doomed to destroy ourselves and our planet. Either way, I will choose to make the most of my time here on Earth. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that's the stuff life is made of.”