Heathens like to say that they love nature, but I’ve met more than a few heathens who lack what I would call an “environmental consciousness”.
That’s not some kind of moralising criticism, but it is an invitation to change. So I want to offer up a few little factoids I’ve run across in recent times to give heathens some perspective.
Did you know that the number of ocean “dead zones”, where no life will grow due to pollution, is constantly increasing? Did you know that here in Australia we are sooner or later going to have so much salt in the earth from bad farming practices that there will be no fertility left?
Did you know that here in the west we consume so much power and so many disposable items that although we aren’t the majority of the world population we consume the vast, vast, vast, vast, vast majority of world resources? I know people get upset about world overpopulation but I think its world resource consumption that’s the real problem, and that fault lies by and large at the feet of the developed nations.
And I won’t even get into human-caused climate change – one of the most scientifically substantiated phenomena ever, but you wouldn’t think so from all the gas-bag denialist loonies out there.
Here in Australia we elected a new Government last year that was supposed to ban plastic bags (a terrible plague on our ecosystems); act strongly on the climate change issue; protect whales from illegal Japanese hunting; and intervene to end the culture of disposability and waste. Well they’ve turned out to be hypocrites and idiots. Back to the drawing board!
Let’s examine the basic problem underlying the mass extinction that our species is currently inflicting on all the others. If you read much heathen lore you quickly notice that a key theme is “what goes around comes around”. Wyrd is cyclic and all actions have consequences. You simply cannot get away from that. You simply cannot.
Not only that but in “ye olden days” heathens recognised that nature works in cycles as well – seasons, moons, days. What happens now sets the stage for what happens next; what happened before set the stage for what happens now. In the present moment we act more or less freely by taking the raw material of past events and moulding them toward something that might approximate our vision of the future.
Furthermore, you get the distinct sense from heathen lore that these folk knew the limits of their knowledge and respected the uncertainty beyond those limits. That might sound obvious, but it isn’t.
For example, with technology developing faster and faster under the watchful eye of the stock market (though the latter is rather miserable these days), we’ve generally not worried so much about long term consequences.
When such consequences do surface down the track – as with DDT, CFC use, the cigarette-induced health epidemic, climate change, etc – we find that those responsible do everything they can to muddy the issue and avoid their responsibilities.
I’m pretty sure these irresponsible characters would say in their defence “we didn’t know this would happen”. In other words they weren’t aware of the limits of their knowledge and had no respect for the horizon of mystery beyond. The price paid for these people’s blindness is in some cases horrific (lung cancer is, for example, an awful way to die). Ignorance is not actually much of an excuse.
I daresay you can see where this is headed. If we continue to mindlessly pollute; continue to pretend that disposable objects just disappear (rather than producing land fill); and continue to avoid thinking about the problem, then we are simply not behaving like heathens in the slightest.
If, on the other hand, we want to be true to our heathen convictions then acting individually and collectively to change our relationship to the natural world is vital.
My wife and I pay extra (but it isn’t that much more) to consume electrical energy entirely sourced from certified wind power; we compost our organic waste; we grow some of our own food; we recycle and reuse water; we buy carbon offsets for our car (again, surprisingly cheap); we have sought out the most environmentally friendly products for cleaning and the like; we’ve gone “back in the day” to rely heavily on old-school less destructive cleaning chemicals like Borax; we use energy efficient light bulbs; we ride our bikes as much as we can; we buy local organic produce as much as possible; at various points we’ve donated money or time to wilderness conservation groups; we write angry letters to stupid politicians; and of course we recycle as much as we can.
How hard is it to do any of this? Well we aren’t rolling in money exactly but we can still meet the slight extra expenses for green power and carbon offsetting the car. And we save a lot on cleaning products because all the old school ones – soda water, lemon juice, Borax – are damn cheap.
It really isn’t hard to reduce the impact you have on the environment – and consequently there aren’t any good excuses.
However I’m not here to be a doom merchant or lay guilt trips on anyone. I’m here to suggest that if you are a heathen then changing how you live to be more environmentally responsible is an opportunity to think and act like the “olden” heathens did, even if you are living very differently to them. That’s right folks, good old psychological reconstruction rears its head again.
You don’t have to “go back in time” to do all of this. Just make an effort to be aware of the cyclic nature of wyrd or consequence; just make an effort to educate yourself so that you are aware of the limits of your knowledge and act with the appropriate prudence that entails.
You can even use modern technology to help you achieve a more environmentally conscious – and therefore heathen – way of life. Hence the beauty of alternative energy sources, energy efficient dwelling design, etc, etc, etc.
Some folk think it’s already too late and we’ve already stuffed the planet. That’s probably true, but the more we act now the less severe the damage will be. And anyway, I’m arguing for the cultivation of an environmental consciousness because it’s true to heathen ideals, not just for the sake of instrumental consequences.
Really the only people getting in the way of all this are politicians in the pocket of polluting corporations who are too short-sighted to see that in the long run climate change and environmental destruction are going to be way more expensive (and not just in dollars, but in animal lives, human lives and ecosystems) than cleaning up their act now.
You might like to get involved in political or consumer action – I’m sure you can find plenty of suitable organisations to help you do this on the web. The world’s environmental woes present a great opportunity for modern heathens to recycle the old school heathen relationship to nature and consequence – so let’s not waste it!