Natural Life Magazine

Change Begins With the Children
By Wendy Priesnitz

Change Begins With the ChildrenI have recently read a book called The Bridge at the Edge of the World by James Gustave Speth (Yale University Press, 2008). It is subtitled “Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability.” The book’s message is that the Earth’s current crisis is caused by modern, unquestioning, environmentally destructive growth-at-all-costs capitalism. Speth calls what is happening “the Great Collision,” where the global economy is crashing against the earth, creating enormous damage.

Aside from the direct results of global warming, he describes how we have plundered the earth’s resources: Half the world’s tropical and temperate forests are now gone. The rate of deforestation in the tropics continues at about an acre a second. Half of the wetlands and a third of the mangroves are gone. An estimated 90 percent of the large predator fish are gone, and 75 percent of marine fisheries are overfished or fished to capacity. Twenty percent of the corals are gone and another 20 percent severely threatened. Species are disappearing at rates about a thousand times faster than normal. Persistent toxic chemicals are present in every one of our bodies. And so on.

But Speth doesn’t see the problem as just one of economics. He wisely understands and articulates the connections between environmental problems and other human challenges such as health, freedom, peace, stability, and community. And those interconnections are becoming more and more apparent. Increasingly, wars are fought over scarce natural resources, food shortages are emerging as a result of the single-minded planting of foodlands with biofuel crops, extreme weather events are challenging the grip of militant governments, and increases in air and water pollution are fostering new infectious diseases.

I would take Speth’s analysis a bit deeper because I think one of the biggest challenges – and the one with the biggest potential for creating change – is education. In order to create the profound transformation that is required in our values, culture, and worldview, I believe we need to examine our attitudes toward one of the last oppressed groups in our society: children.

We must re-evaluate not only how we educate them, but how we birth them, nurture their ability to think creatively and independently, respect their rights, shape their values, learn from their instinctive kinship with the natural world and with each other. Those are at the root of the problem, and that is where we must begin in order to reverse the destructive momentum of the last few centuries. When we get that right, we will have, I believe, created both the changes and the hope that will allow us to proceed with the transformation that is required.

Wendy Priesnitz is the co-founder and editor of Natural Life Magazine, where an earlier version of this appeared as an editorial in 2008. She is also the author of 13 books and a contributor to many more.


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