Humans seem to have an unfortunate tendency to be short sighted. We have evolved to respond to the immediate, local crisis while ignoring larger, more general threats to our collective survival.
We're still cleaning up the expensive messes left by this year's storms, droughts and wildfires but can't seem to fathom or adequately respond to the implications of the radical shifts in global climate conditions that threaten not only those currently alive, but the survival possibilities for our children and grandchildren -- and millions of other species around our small planet that are dying at the rate of 200 species a day.
Instead, we focus on what seems a more immediate threat: the economic "fiscal cliff."
What we don't seem to understand is that, as economist Herman Daly once said, "the economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment." A healthy economy cannot long exist on an unhealthy planet.
Here's the deal: we live in harmony with the rest of nature or we do not live.
Most of us alive on the planet right now have never been part of a community living in healthy partnership with the rest of nature, and we've forgotten how to do it. Luckily, there are guidelines we can follow and visions to give us inspiration as we adjust our collective way of living on this planet to assure future survival.
A book I received as an early Christmas present gives me hope that we can make the needed changes: Choosing a Sustainable Future: Ideas and Inspiration from Ithica, NY by Liz Walker (New Society Press, 2010). We know how to do this! Some of us are already doing it and we can learn from them. In fact, for many of the 100,000+ years of human existence we've known how to do this - and those who get it wrong often don't last long.
The rules are simple: Human communities are an integral part of their local ecosystems and if we destroy those life support systems, we cannot survive.
How many years do we have left to remember or figure out how to live in harmony with the rest of nature? Some environmental scientists say we're already out of time. According to their measurements, we're already experiencing the early rapids at the lip of the environmental cliff and need to focus on building lifeboats and deploying parachutes.
But we'd rather focus on other, seemingly more important (or seemingly controllable) things -- like the Fiscal Cliff.