From time to time I play a thought experiment that involves reflecting on what it took to arrive at a certain moment in time in my life—the people, circumstances, choices, and opportunities that led to my doing something as routine as commuting to work or sending a text to a friend. Perhaps I owe this way of thinking to Carl Sagan’s comment, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”
I found myself engaging in this experiment while walking among the crowds that had gathered in lower Manhattan on Friday, September 20 to bring attention to climate change. What has it taken for us to arrive at this point?
With a nod to Sagan, first we needed a universe--a Big Bang, and the creation of Earth 4.5 billion years ago. Fast forward to the appearance of Homo Sapiens 300,000 years ago, and in time the emergence of new technologies, from the use of fibers to make baskets, clothing, and bags 26,000 years ago, to pottery for food storage and cooking 20,000 years ago. The first city, Jericho, emerges 11,000 year ago. Cattle are first domesticated 10,500 years ago, and the first depiction of a wheeled vehicle appears 5,500 years ago.
Fast forward again to the industrial revolution, 250 years ago, and the rise of machine tools and manufacturing, chemical and metal production, factories, and steam and water power, which led to unprecedented population growth. It took over 200,000 years for the human population to reach 1 billion, and 100 years for it to reach over 7 billion, leading to increased urbanization and a growing appetite for ever more natural resources.
Metals, ores, petroleum--refined, purified, rarified, smelted, condensed for our use. Plants and animals cultivated and bred for our consumption. Land devoured for our agricultural needs, roads, and sprawling mega-cities. Styrofoam and other throw-away plastic containers replace bags and baskets made from woven leaves or strips of carefully selected and tended wood. Cars and planes replace travel on foot or horseback, and even in many regions by train. Our reliance on petroleum, derived from ancient decayed plants and all the carbon they harvested, now releases that same carbon into the air.
So how did we arrive at a moment when thousands of children all over the world would be protesting inaction against climate change? There are infinite strands that lead us to this point, and I have provides the lightest of sketches here. The bigger question is, "What will it take to change the course of this ever accelerating and alarming trajectory?"
This past weekend I had the privilege of guiding a forest therapy walk in collaboration with my friend and fellow guide Linda on behalf of Natural Areas Conservancy. The walk took place in Alley Pond Park in Queens. Alley Pond Park is the most ecologically diverse New York City Park. It includes salt marshes along Little Neck Bay to the north and forested areas to the south along Union Turnpike and contains the oldest living creature in New York City, the Queens Giant, a 350 year old tulip tree. The walk had a great turnout, including an appearance by local Council Member Barry S. Grodenchik, an advocate for local parks, a reminder that it takes a village to support our parks.
There are few organizations working harder or more comprehensively to support our local parks than Natural Areas Conservancy, “a champion of NYC’s 20,000 acres of forests and wetlands for the benefit and enjoyment of all. [NAC’s] team of scientists and experts promote nature’s diversity and resilience across the five boroughs, working in close partnership with the City of New York.”
What does it take to champion New York City’s Parks? With 20,000+ acres of natural areas, including more than 10,000 acres within NYC Parks (equating to half the size of Manhattan), there is much to do. Here are examples of just some of NAC’s work:
About this Blog
Hi! I'm Nancy Kopans, founder of Urban Edge Forest Therapy. Join me on an adventure to discover creative ways to connect with nature in your daily life, ways that are inspired by urban surroundings that can reveal unexpected beauty, with the potential to ignite a sense of wonder.