Is it My Land?


“This land is your land, this land is my land

From California to the New York Island

From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters

This land was made for you and me.” – Woody Gutherie, 1940′s

 

Whether you believe the earth was created in seven days or that it formed over millions and millions of years, there is one thing that I think we can all know for sure: the Earth and the land is here for us and maintains us. However, although this popular and patriotic folk song from the 1940’s reminds us of this fact, it is clear that all of us have taken its lyrics too seriously and believe that since “this land is my land,” we can treat it and use solely to benefit our needs.

 

Over the last couple weeks in our Ecofeminism class, we have been focusing on analyzing and breaking down the relationship between our bodies and the land that we live on. In order to do this, we have been reading and discussing several books that not only bring up a great variety of issues concerning the land around us and our own bodies but also raise a lot of important questions and offer solutions to these issues. We began with Sandra Steingraber’s powerful book Living Downstream (2010) which is a very personal and honest yet extremely in-depth analysis of cancers and their direct and indirect relationships to the environment. In this book, Steingraber introduces her readers to a multitude of case studies, which stand as evidence of the effects that the population’s handling and manipulation of the environment around us can have on our bodies’ well being. From Steingraber’s book we transitioned to Soil not Oil by Vandana Shiva, which although different in its approach, provides a framework that we can use to change our relationship to the environment in order to slow down and maybe even stop the environmental crises developing around us. Unlike Steingraber’s book, Shiva focuses on the big picture, immediately urging us that “we will either make a democratic transition from oil to soil or we will perish.” (p. 7) According to Shiva, our Earth as we know it is in the middle of three major crises; a climate crisis in which global warming is a threat to our survival, an energy crisis where reaching peak oil (the end of cheap oil) will dismantle our structures of industrialization and globalization and last but not definitely not least the food crisis, in which our population’s food sources are being squandered by the first two crises.

After reading both of these books, I find it impossible to ignore the breathtaking number of issues that our handling of the environment has caused and will continue to cause if we do not take action. Prior to taking this class, I was aware of some of these issues and how they can affect our lives on earth. However, I cannot lie and say that I tried to do anything with the information I knew or even tried to become more informed. The truth is that I have always been one of those people that although is easily persuaded in accepting that there are issues at hand in our environment, I let myself become consumed in sadness and completely convince myself that there is just nothing I can do about any of it.

 

What difference can I make? Yes I can recycle things here and there or choose to not drive a car but in the big picture, what difference does that really make? It’s not like my sole actions are going to single-handedly solve these three crises. Yes I know that if we all think this way then we will be even worse off, but can we truly make enough of a difference if we all pitch in?

 

Until I took this class, my answers to all of these questions would have be straight-up “No.” Yes, I did know deep down that I was wrong, but I felt too defeated and distraught to accept it and I chose to live in denial. I’m ashamed admit know that I chose to ignore, just like I’m sure many other people do when they listen to “This Land is My Land” and get lost in its catchy tune. However, after reading both Steingraber’s and Shiva’s books, I can say that it is time to snap out of it and stop being a coward. In Soil not Oil, Shiva introduces the idea of pseudo-solutions, solutions that seem to solve the issues at hand but may actually add to those issues over time, and actual real solutions that do address the three crises. Although she argues that we must collectively come up and implement real solutions that will have us moving towards reaching “Earth Democracy,” an active and complete transformation of our lifestyle and structures to one centered around soil, I believe that taking some action over no action is an important first step. With the urgency of the crises developing around us, I do agree with Shiva that we should focus on creating real solutions over superficial ones but I also believe that arriving to those solutions will take actions that will result in trial and error. In other words, I am now willing to participate in creating some changes than in ignoring the problem as a whole.

I do not want to claim that I have suddenly been reborn an outspoken environmental activist, but am very grateful to both of these women for truly convincing me that I do have a responsibility in changing our lifestyles because I am connected to the land. Maybe I had never understood this before having grown up in New York City, where having Central Park with its abundant trees is somewhat of a miracle, but I’m tired of making excuses.  However, I have felt disconnected to the land in big part because I haven’t really been surrounded by it. The only place where I have truly felt any sort of connection is in Colombia, where my parents are from. It is because of this distance between my body and the actual land that I am so grateful for reading these two books, which in a very small way have not only interested me in pursuing more connection with the land but in actually recognizing that it and its population needs help fast.

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