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The American Attitude of Abundance

August 11th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’ve recently discovered an amazingly fantastic podcast called “Hardcore History” with Dan Carlin. Most of the shows are just him giving his information-loaded take on different historical events and time periods, but in some shows he just interviews other historians.

In Show 18 he interviews historian James Burke, who makes a point that I hadn’t considered before but which is well worth repeating.

For most of American history, nobody ever had to worry about things like scarcity of resources. There was so much land, so much space, so much fruit to be plucked from the trees, so many buffalo to be hunted and eaten, so much coal to mine, so much oil to drill, and on and on and on…it’s no question that this led to an attitude of abundance in the American people—the feeling that there was more than enough of everything to go around.

But now most of that space has been filled, that fruit has been plucked, those buffalo hunted, coal mined, oil drilled…we gorged ourselves on the plentiful resources we found and now it’s almost all gone. But the attitude remains.

It will be difficult if not impossible to fundamentally change a way of thinking that has been with us for so many generations, but doing so is absolutely imperative.

The situation in America is just a microcosm for that of the entire world. Civilization has churned along for millennia without ever having to worry about destroying itself or the planet. The awareness that we are capable of destroying ourselves only really took hold in the wake of the invention of the atom bomb, and our focus on broader threats such as climate change, deforestation, water pollution and so on has only really begun to develop over the past couple of decades.

It’s actually a wonder that we’ve already changed our attitudes so much in such a short time. My generation may be the first with the word “sustainability” firmly ingrained in our worldview, and we’ve barely begun to take power. Perhaps when those of us raised with a strong ecological consciousness and sense of the world’s interconnectedness rise to positions of real power in government and corporations, we’ll actually start to see things moving in the right direction.

Unfortunately I think the corporate structure is such that is has no choice but to place profit over sustainability, but who knows? Perhaps instead of wondering why we haven’t collectively come to our senses yet, we should be asking how much longer until we do?

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