Do One Thing Only

Edward Burtynsky, "AMARC #5, Davis-Monthan AFB, Tuscon, Arizon, USA, 2006.

You’re looking at a photo of just one US military aircraft “boneyard”, this one in Arizona. These abandoned warplanes, for which we spent billions of borrowed dollars, sit here, in the desert sand, being harvested for their spare parts, while we struggle to find money to educate our kids and pay for our healthcare. Clearly, There is “something wrong with this picture.”

“When rich speculators prosper

While farmers lose their land;

When government officials spend money

On weapons instead of cures;

When the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible

While the poor have nowhere to turn –

All this is robbery and chaos.

It is not in keeping with the way.”

Lao Tzu (500 BC)

Transl: Stephen Mitchell

My good buddy, old Lao Tzu, articulated this perfectly 2500 years ago. Not much has changed. Clearly, we humans aren’t quick studies. Will we learn before it’s too late for us? Stay tuned!

Not long ago, I was privileged to view an exhibition of photos taken by Canadian artist Edward Burtynsky, juxtaposed right next to some gorgeous photos taken by renowned nature photographer Ansel Adams. The contrast was horrifyingly breathtaking. Adams’s work you are probably familiar with. Burtynsky, maybe not.

Edward Burtynsky, (born 1955) is a modern-day counterpart to nineteenth-century landscape photographers He examines the intersection between land and technology, creating images of highly unorthodox “beauty”. His subjects include locations that have been changed by modern industrial activity. His work is housed in more than fifteen major museums worldwide.

His life’s work is to document humanity’s impact on the planet, and his riveting photographs are as beautiful as they are horrifying.

His images of scarred landscapes – (from rivers of bright orange waste from a nickel mine in Sudbury Ontario, mountains of used tires in Oxford, UK and open pit mining in Australia) – are eerily pretty yet ugly at the same time. They  “prettify the terrible”, offering us a second look at the scale of what we call progress, so as to confront us with the ramifications of our lifestyle.

So, for this post, I thought I would shut up and let Burtynsky talk to you. There is nothing I can say which could be more powerful than these images offered to us by this remarkable artist.

(BTW, I’m not sure if these images will turn up in your email. You may have to click on the title of this post, which will take you to my actual site).

Nickel Tailings, #34, Sudbury, Ontario 1996

Oxford Tire Pile #9, 1999

Silver Lake Operations #1, Lake Lefroy, Western Australia, 2007

Breezewood Pennsylvania, USA 2008

Guandong China, plastic dump

VW Lot #2a & #2b, Shanghai, China, 2005

Highway #1, Intersection 105 & 110, Los Angeles, California, USA, 2003

SOCAR Oil Fields #3, Baku, Azerbaijan 2006

Recycling 2; Chittagong Bangladesh, 2001

If this isn’t insanity, what is? I think that’s enough for now…don’t you?

Practice tip:  One Thing Only

I thought about this practice tip  a lot. What could I possibly offer you? The problem seems so big. Too big for just me? Hopeless maybe?

But that’s it: that’s where we mustn’t go – to despair.

A while back, I was at a book signing by Paul Hawken, a friend and the author of “Blessed Unrest” a book about this very issue. While he was inscribing it he asked me: “so how’s it going Michael?” I was feeling discouraged about all this suff that day, and the word “despair” crept into my reply. He looked up at me over those half glasses of his and said “Michael, despair is a sin.” Wow!!

Despair means “I give up”, and we mustn’t go there. We don’t have the right.

So, today’s tip is to point out that even though the problem is gigantic, and even though we don’t know if we will succeed,  (this last part is really important), our responsibility is to be on the right side of history – the right side of the problem, the solution side.

That is the reason to do even only one thing. Even only one!

This link was just sent to me by Green Sangha, a local spiritually engaged environmental activist organization. It contains a great idea: something really easy, but hugely impactful. I beg you to check it out:

Dear Readers, please be kind to yourselves, and each other.



About Michael Scott

Michael Scott is a life coach, author and teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area. After spending 35 years in business - coaching found him - and he's never looked back. Michael uses his coaching training and experience, in the service of his clients, as their constant and loving guide towards joyous, fulfilling lives which are genuinely their own. He lives with his dear wife in Sausalito, CA.

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