“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) “A little water is a sea to an ant.” Afghan Proverb
While staying at the resort near Ayer’s Rock (now called Uluru), I couldn’t help but notice the steady streams of ants flowing across the paving stones and sometimes intersecting each other, much like the vehicle traffic found in any city. One of our guides told us that whenever you see ants throw themselves into a flurry of activity, it is a sure sign that it’s about to rain and on their scale rain is very serious business, akin to flooding. We’re a lot like those ants in many ways, we go about our day to day always focused on the task at hand, the things that we think are important – a constant grind of business, sales and development for business, sales and development’s sake – and of course, the resulting financial profits. In the process of all this profit taking natural resources are depleted at unsustainable rates, our waterways and oceans are polluted, wildlife is displaced and ecosystems destroyed. Like the ants, we know those devastating rains are coming, as the environmental warning flags are everywhere we look. They are, in fact, planet-wide and none of us can really escape them. Australia is very much a microcosm of these foreboding symptoms – from prolonged droughts and forest fires, to environmental damage caused by introduced species (rabbit and fox prominent among these) and the loss of essential wildlife habitat to rampant housing development. That said, wherever I went in Australia I saw concerted government efforts to undo the long-term damage through such things as extensive reforestation projects, the expropriation of homes built too close to penguin habitat on the Summerland peninsula and frequent reminders to conserve water and energy. I also realize that I am a part of the problem too, as there is a real environmental cost (in terms of carbon production) to me visiting one of the natural wonders of the world in the middle of Australia – including the fuel used for the many jets it took to get me there from Canada, the additional costs of transporting goods to stock a huge resort in the middle of nowhere and even just keeping my room air-conditioned, so I could get a good night’s sleep – but unlike some, I tried to take the time to appreciate and learn from the cultures and ecosystems I had traveled so far to experience. On one tour I was flabbergasted as I watched an American couple read their Kindles (E-Readers) as the sun set on Ayer’s Rock. They, like the rest of us, had traveled half-way across the world to see it, and yet they gave Uluru little more than a passing casual glance and the token photograph. What that one incident taught me is that until we can appreciate this place we call home, we are never going to treat it with the respect and dignity it deserves. We are by far the most capable and selfish species on this symbiotic planet of ours and if we do nothing from henceforth but leave it alone to the best of our ability, then maybe there is still a chance that the Earth can heal itself over the course of a few hundred years. But if we hold fast to this ‘ant’ mentality of only providing for our own needs (or wants), then we really do deserve to perish – but it hardly seems fair for the other estimated 2 million species that inhabit this planet to share in such an abrupt end.