“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
~ Native American proverb
Every past, present, and future civilization is dependent on land. In earlier times, that dependency was more overt as compared to nowadays where it is less visible and obvious. It is important to note how overt land dependency varies across countries (industrialized versus non-industrialized) and socioeconomic statuses (wealthy, middle, poor). Consider the mundane task of washing clothes. An individual residing in a non-industrialized country is washing clothes by hand. She/he has to transport clothes to a water body/course or transport water to the clothes. In stark contrast, a wealthy individual residing in an industrialized country simply loads a washing machine that automatically fills with water. She/he may also have the privilege to delegate the clothes-washing task to someone else. The prevalence of technology, which helps breed a materialistic culture, makes our relationship and connection to land less overt. There is a drastic difference between driving to your local grocery store to obtain provisions versus subsistence agriculture.
One definition holds land as the physical land upon which people walk. Such a simplified and superficial definition fails to acknowledge and appreciate intricate biotic and abiotic dimensions. The concept of land embodies soils and all their horizons, physical and geologic features like rocks, volcanoes, mountains, valleys, and water bodies/courses, and all flora and fauna that inhabit Earth’s various, unique biomes.
Then and Now
The ways in which current generations use and interact with land imparts both direct and indirect effects to future generations. Generations that failed to regulate industrial, manufacturing, and waste disposal activities bequeathed polluted air and water to later generations. In other words, they failed to safeguard environmental and public health for their children. These children are now left with the consequences and tasked with finding solutions. The solution(s), once the children’s collective voice became loud enough, entailed public policy reforms (i.e. Clean Water Act, Clear Air Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, etc.). The one generation’s failure was due to widespread ignorance of how and if their land uses and interactions would affect subsequent generations. However, ignorance is not always the reason. Consider current perceptions and political landscapes surrounding climate change and climate change policy. In earlier decades, there was very limited (if not nonexistent) scientific understanding of land uses and interactions (i.e. fossil fuel combustion, landfill methane emissions, and deforestation,). It is ironic that our lack of a definitive climate change policy does not reflect our current scientific understanding of climate change. There are widespread land uses and interactions that jeopardize later generations.
There is a correlation of land use and interactions with short-term and long-term usage. Interactions and uses of land that jeopardize the environment and public health of later generations are oftentimes concerned with short-term benefits and values, the “here and the now.” These short-term benefits and values are commonly measured and defined by social dominance, finances, and political influence. They disregard sustainability in all its forms.
What will it be like for future generations? Will the land we currently borrow from them have a stable climate, preserved and conserved wildernesses and cultural/historical heritages, clean air, water, and soils, and ecological heritages? Or will they ask after we’re gone “why didn’t you take care of and safeguard what you borrowed when you had the scientific knowledge?
~by Angelo Teachout
photo credit of washing clothes: https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidstanleytravel/27836581584 (License)