How the Other Half Lives

Disclaimer: this post has nothing to do with tenement housing, nor will you find any Jacob Riis photos here. But at least it’s planning-related and is totally against crowded, dirty and unsafe cities!

After reading a lot about ethics and beginning to dive into this whole “nature disconnect” idea, I really felt it would be an interesting exercise for my Deep Ecological Urbanism study to conduct an interview which might portray the environmentalists’ enemy, if you will, and I had the perfect interviewee: my husband.

Lovers, enemies, same thing… You say tomato, I sayokay, so that saying loses all meaning when typed, but you get the point. Or maybe not; point is, we’re opposites and that does indeed pit us against each other at timesespecially in metaphysical disagreements like thisbut today, sleeping with the enemy worked out in my favor!

Well, I just love nature; and it’s a no-brainer to me that we need more of it in our lives, especially in cities. I also completely grasp the urgency behind environmental protection, restoration, conservation, and reintroduction efforts. Climate change is a serious threat: the numbers are all there, the situations are before us… and so, I am utterly baffled as to why there is ever any disagreement over our planet’s health. I’m not sure why I haven’t really pried into my husband’s mind regarding this matter before tonight, but I’m really glad I did and I was quite impressed to learn he actually DOES care about the environment (although, to most readers, the “feels” he has for nature will seem obscenely trivial). From this interview, I had hoped his outlook would help me to experience the widespread contention which inhibits progress on the sustainability front.


The husband and I on our honeymoon to Harpers Ferry, WV

Now, I wasn’t thinking and didn’t record our conversation; so I don’t have his answers for all of the questions word-for-word. But I’m really good at writing fast notes and, after 8 years with him, I think I’m pretty good at conveying his point. Here’s our paraphrased transcript:

[Me | Him]

Do you have any strong emotions toward anything in nature? If so, what? Yes. Mostly animals…all animals. Why? Because I grew up around them, with a lot of pets. I think I have a better understanding of them.

About how much time did you spend outdoors as a kid? Doing what? About 20% of the time. In the woods, riding my dirt bike or doing things with boyscouts.

Are they fond memories you have of being outside? Yes.

Do you think your life would be much different had you not spent that time outside? Yes, but I’m not sure how, specifically. I know I wouldn’t be the same. Do you think you would be worse off? Definitely. Why’s that? Because I would be missing that whole part of life and experiences.

And now, why don’t you spend as much time outside? Because I don’t have as much free time. I only used to go outside because I was bored, because I had so much free time. Now, whatever time I have, I’d rather spend it using technology.

What was your last positive memory of being outside? Well, the first thing that comes to mind is our walk in the city. [at Cylburn Arboretum] Did you enjoy that? Yes. Would you do it again? Maybe. Would you do it on your own? Probably not, because I’m lazy. [his words!!]

Do you consider anything in nature valuable to you? What and why? Yes, everything. Our resources…food, water, oxygen. We need all of it. So you see it as valuable because it serves our own benefit? Yes.

Similarly, do you see anything in nature as having measurable worth? Yea, like oil and coal…gold. [commodities]

Do you respect natural things? Yea. I wouldn’t purposefully pollute. I’d never go out of my way to hurt something.

Do you think your actions impact other living things? If so, how far might that impact reach? Myself, I mean my own actions…all of our actions…they’re not having a positive effect. So then why don’t you try to make changes? Because I’m lazy. I don’t see myself—I don’t see it as having any immediate result.

In what ways do you feel you are a part of, or separate from the environment? Separate. I live in a house with electricity— I’m really tied to my electronics which is about as far from nature as you can get.

What role do you think we as humans play in an ecosystem? We’re supposed to have no effect at all. We’re just supposed to be a part of it, but we’re just hurting it. Do you think humans are more important than other parts of the ecosystem? No.

How do you think you personally benefit from natural things? Emotional ways. It’s nice, it makes you happy. Besides that, it’s a we-need-it-to-live kind of thing. So why don’t you see a need to make your actions environmentally sensitive? I do see a need to, the path we’re on isn’t a good one.

Then what keeps you from feeling a need to protect, conserve, or restore the environment? Because I don’t feel the direct impact. What about when you think about your (theoretical) kids or future generations? I just don’t think that far ahead.

Do you agree with scientific evidence showing the climate is changing? I’m sure it is; I don’t think it’s to the extent people are saying. Yet you don’t think we need to act now? I mean, I think we need to make changes, but the problem is getting people to change.

What are your thoughts on the future? I hope we’re fine. Everyone will just have to change their lifestyle. Then how do you suppose that will happen if you don’t even want to change yours? We would need government to step in, enforce it. So if the government restricts your energy usage Not like that, that wouldn’t work. Okay, then say you were given something, like money for every hour of energy not used? Well, hah, yeah! Basically, it would have to be incentive-based…and directly affect your life? Yes.

And how do you think humans would cope without nature? We’d die.

So, very brief responses (try carrying on a conversation with him about anything that isn’t video games and you’ll be pressed to keep it going for more than a minute…), but I think it was quite enlightening. To be honest, I thought he could care less about the environment, but now I know he actually does care; and he recognizes the impending doom (okay, may be over-exaggerating a bit). What else did I learn? As long as nothing else changes culturally or socially, the only way we can hope for improvement is if we somehow force people to make changes- either through restriction or incentive. But perhaps, as the book Biophilic Cities suggested in the first chapter (I can’t wait to write about this book), if we reconnect people with nature, we can restore the bond which will then spark a beautiful chain reaction where people actually WANT to restore the environment!

This was a really fun little exercise, and I am so thankful to have my other half to show me how the other half lives! Thank you, Shane, for being so cooperative and maintaining that necessary balance I so desperately need as a Libra!!

3 thoughts on “How the Other Half Lives

  1. Hey Megan, this is an amazing entry. The class I’m taking right now is covering the (basically) same idea of restriction and incentive and it’s really cool to see it from Shane’s perspective, he being all wrapped up in technology and what not represents a great deal of people around us. Whom have a deep emotional connection with nature, but have no incentive to change due to technology’s mass advancements (that promote leisure and entertainment). We forget about our natural involvement almost completely when we’ve begun to live to work, to pay to entertain ourselves; when we could be working to live and become non reliant on what the media and mass advertisement tells us we need. We could disconnect and slow down. So many people complain about stress work, and needing a vacation; in my opinion disconnecting and working to live a sustainable lifestyle would be the utopia of all possible vacations. my life would be in my hands, not relying so much on the government and corporations advances for satisfaction.

    • You made some great points! I completely agree, disconnecting and working to live a sustainable lifestyle would be ideal, but I think a lot of us- even those of us who very much wish we could live off the grid in every possible way- are kind of tethered to society. I also think we’ve come so far from our ancestors. For example, though I’ve tried for 5 years now, I can not even grow tomatoes! There is no way I could provide for myself without the grocery store/farmers market, which means there’s no way I could provide for myself without a paying job. It’s a viscous cycle. On the other hand, I also do love parts of society and I am bewildered at what I learn every day, so I wouldn’t really want to be so separate from it. For me (here comes the Libra…) I just think the balance is all I want.

      The restriction/incentive concept is really intriguing to me now. For me, I don’t need any other incentive than to know I’m doing the right thing. Obviously that gets back down to my morals, which I should have had Shane explain. I have a strong ethical relationship to the planet and to other people, I have a strong sense of my responsibility and selflessness. Shane, on the other hand, can really be a great person when he wants to be, but he never had any deeply engrained values. I was raised in a fairly religious family, I was taught that I should be altruistic, and I started to volunteer at a very early age. But not everyone has that background, and so it’s not so easy for them to see the value in protecting something if they don’t have a sense of responsibility. Even when they appreciate it, like Shane does, there’s no push to do something unless there is risk or reward. Which is why I get so frustrated with the climate change debate because there shouldn’t be any question about it: we can either risk the health and lifetime of the entire planet, or we can live more fulfilling lives in which we can make a difference. It’s baffling, and I still don’t truly understand it!

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