“One generation plants the trees, and another gets the shade.”
~ Chinese Proverb
First the rats and mice proliferated. They swarmed and multiplied until the food stocks left behind by the humans were depleted and they returned to a harder existence. The domesticated farm animals left untended foraged where they could until they fell to predators or died from starvation.
Now spurned by humans because of the radiation, the vast area abandoned after the Chernobyl nuclear accident is prowled by wild dogs, feral pigs, and cats. Roads are dusty tracks and buildings decrepit hulks overgrown with vegetation.
This occurred in a mere generation; the incident took place in 1977. We are wards of nature and subject to its fickle whims. Careful maintenance of this gift of a planet and the goal of sustainability aren’t the sophomoric notions of an ephemeral political movement—they are necessary duties for our continued existence.
Faced with a burgeoning population and diminishing resources, the Chinese took measures to sustain their environment and tend to their future generations. They figured out a way to conserve water, while developing a plant that produces more calories per acre than most others. The product of the plant has a dizzying array of uses and with a little added protein has sustained thousands of generations. The plant: rice. The time: circa 5000 B. C. And yes, Virginia, the government had to impose a few laws to make this happen.
While the conditions of life in those long distant lands were probably not quite as sophisticated and complicated as ours today, the basic experience has many parallels. Fierce tribal competition created many roadblocks to more cooperative relations among the multitude of states largely governed by dictatorial warlords. Thus there was little in the way of intrastate commerce and infrastructure.
Seven thousand years later and we’re caught up in the wonder of it all. The twin conundrums of our time: those who think they have discovered the phenomenon of sustainability as opposed by the unthinking, delusional, and loudly opinionated voices who think that everything is going to be all right as if by magic.
The true folly is in pretending that the awesome force of nature capable of swallowing up a whole province –as evidenced by the aftermath of the abandonment of Chernobyl—in just a few years—can be fooled and manipulated by simplistic notions of how things ought to be. The dogs that nap at our feet and beg for the biscuits - we think they will always be there, but they may someday circle our fires with eyes gleaming hunger.
Rice worked for the Chinese. Rice is still working for a huge portion of the world’s population. The plant wasn’t built in a laboratory and spat out in a week to be the savior. Time had to pass and many tests had to be done. There may have been a social commentator who thought they saw folly in the endeavors. They may have noted that there was plenty to go around, but wiser heads prevailed. Today, those that scoff at, for example, the recycling of plastic bottles may be in some literal sense correct—for now. The effort to find the most effective way to package and distribute food is in its nascent stages. There will be much trial and error along the way. And much to ridicule.
History teaches the wisdom in planning. Rice worked after hundreds of years of patience. The current sustainability movement is wisely involved in planning, but more patience is required.