Tonight, I watched an amazing film called Home, by Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Arthus-Bertrand is perhaps best known for his aerial photography; so it should not be surprising that this film is shot almost entirely from the air.
Like An Inconvenient Truth, this film is about the planet and the damage the human race has done to it in the past 50 years. Home is rich with glorious photography about the planet, and it is highly impactful, especially when it cuts between the lush beauty of unspoiled landscapes and the human landscapes.
You can watch it online at YouTube, or, if you don't like watching extended videos on your computer, rent it at your local movie store (Blockbuster.com carries it; Netflix probably has it, too).
One of the points the film mentions is that Haiti was once considered the "jewel of the Caribbean", but - even with the recent earthquake issues aside - today, the country can no longer feed itself without the help of foreign aid.
Each of us needs to make the conscious choices, every day, to reduce, recycle, renew, regrow. The statistics, facts, and figures are all too staggering to fully comprehend as a whole, but the end result is undeniable: humans once lived in harmony with the earth, and, as the film says, "It's up to us to write what happens next, together."
While ideally we should all take large steps - and our governments should take even bigger ones - we should all at least take whatever small steps we can. Like any lifestyle change, the small choices lead to bigger habits. I try to support as many "green" companies as I can when I travel. I support farmers' markets, and try to eat as organically and as locally as possible. I know I should probably give up my car and rely solely upon public transport - I do live in a major city with a pretty good public transportation system, after all - but at least I make the effort to consolidate my driving and/or to carpool when I can.
The claim that gets tossed around the most is that being good to the Earth - and thus to every species on this planet and most of all, to ourselves - is not "financially viable". The shift from an agricultural society to an industrial one - which has occurred within the last 175-200 years - is what changed our lives as human beings. Where once humans only took what they needed from the earth and lived in balance; today, we create new "needs" (or what they should be called, "wants" and "desires") every day and live in excess.
Perhaps one of the best things that has come out of our recession is that most people have chosen to review their finances - and with it, their lifestyles - and that has led to downsizing. Not simply downsizing, but changing how they entertain, how they live, what they spend money on, which charities they support and how much they donate doing so, how they exercise, and most importantly, how their family dynamics work. The New York Times recently profiled this change in an article titled In Recession, Americans Doing More, Buying Less".
It is truly a shame that it took the economic downfall of the past several years to get people to do simple things, like spend more time with their families doing less expensive things - such as taking nature walks, going to local museums, and going camping - even if it's just camping in their own backyard. Being in touch with nature in even small ways makes us appreciate it on a larger scale, and take it less for granted. Being together more with your family makes you take them less for granted, too, and improves communication and bonding. At no other time in history, have we had so many ways for people to connect with each other, and yet personal relationships be further apart.
Nicholas Kristof, one of the NY Times' excellent op-ed writers, asked that question this weekend in his article titled "What Could You Live Without?", a piece that is as much about a particular family's unique answer to that question, but also invites everybody to answer that question to themselves.