How Sex, Politics, Money and Religion are Killing Planet Earth

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sneeches, Money and the Real Value of Wilderness

I was born into a concrete jungle in South Florida, where sawgrass rivers were dredged, drained and cut into neat quarter-acre, paved and cultivated parcels. Between the grid of asphalt and single-car garages, narrow glimpses of green could be seen, but the only unobstructed view of wide-open, unspoiled space was that of the blue sky. Even then, one had to blot out the overhead wires and frequent jet trails that obscured a clean view of an undegraded world.

Like a wild animal or prisoner in a jail cell, my childhood self always felt trapped by the each of the little human destructions of nature many refer to as “civilization.” I carved out an ecological niche amongst the broken cracks in the sidewalks where the ants and earthworms dwelled. Or in the sodden recesses of an old ficus, where pigeons laid treasure troves of small, white eggs. My home was a leafy, sheltered cave under a cycad or a perch, high up in a friendly tree. Even in the total absence of wilderness, my childish soul craved and sought out wild, natural spaces. Doesn’t everybody?

When my family and I first moved to the Turks and Caicos Islands over twenty years ago, I felt like I had been freed from my captivity. The TCI of those days was a largely naked wilderness. One could walk for miles down pristine shorelines or scramble through endless forest and shrubland, discovering new individual species in a seemingly infinite wilderness of biodiversity. People lived close to the land. The bountiful sea provided ample subsistence for all and a general isolation from the commercial centers of the world meant that consumerism was entirely unknown. We had no television. The tyranny of stuff and money was non-existent, so people simply got on with enjoying their carefree lives.

It wasn’t long before the speculators found paradise. First, Club Med arrived, which wasn’t too bad. Part of the Club Med philosophy at the time was to blend in with the surrounding community. For the most part, they remained relatively unobtrusive, but they opened the door and then every investor with dollar signs in his eyes wanted his own slice of paradise to develop for profit.

As each of the finite pieces of virgin beachfront succumbed to bulldozers, a more insidious change began to transform the land. Televisions now blared the mantras of commerce and large container ships delivered the now much-sought-after things to a land that once only knew seashells and hand-made toys. Instead of simply enjoying life, hearts were now set on procuring dollars and a frenzy of land sales ensued. People who once cooperated as a matter of existence now scrambled over one another to see who could collect the most pieces of the coveted capital pie.

I can’t understand what people are thinking when they survey a perfect, unspoiled landscape and lust for its dollar value destroyed. What do men think when they view a wild beach unobstructed by the inferior constructions of humans and imagine marring them with sterile monuments? How does one reconcile a caribou-swept Alaskan wilderness and imagine it cleared and blackened with the sickening stench of crude. This must be a disease. A disease called money. Money alone has the ability to render people senseless. Its pursuit becomes paramount to the extent that one forgets what is lost in its wake. When nature is converted to dollars, what does one gain but a few meaningless pieces of paper?

Dr. Seuss tells a tale of a group of island birds known as the Sneeches. The Sneeches in Seuss’s tale fall victim to a fix-it-up Chappie, who engages the Sneeches in the meaningless commerce of placing and removing stars from their bellies, convincing them that status is afforded to those who have exactly the right arrangement of stars. The Sneeches fall prey to this lunacy, just as modern humans are convinced that various automobiles or articles of clothing will set them apart from their peers. After the Chappie relieves the Sneeches of all their capital, he laughs as he makes his way to the next gullible consumer with the adage, “you can’t teach a Sneech.”

In Seuss’s fairy tale, the Sneeches actually do learn from their mistake and enter into a new lifestyle where stars or “whether they have one or not upon thars” becomes irrelevant. When will we learn?

With the recent economic global collapse, the Turks and Caicos Islands are enjoying a lull in their development boom. Vast areas of wilderness still remain unscathed. Let’s hope the people of these precious islands gain insight into preserving what is left before the next onslaught converting the priceless into meaningless paper ensues.


  1. Here I go.

    I'm angry. I'm angry. I'm very angry.

  2. Twice I stayed in a luxurious cottage at Point Grace, about 8 years ago. My employers at the time had a G20 we flew down on. It was the most gorgeous ocean water I had ever seen. But all the lush plantings at the resort had been brought in by boat, and they had to replace them frequently and spray them constantly as they were being consumed by insects. I had the sense that I had no idea what the island really was meant to look like.

  3. Tsisageya, sometimes getting angry shows you are still breathing. It is the people who aren't angry we should be worried about.

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  5. Just when I think your posts can't get any better, they do.

    Money is a disease and what's so insidious about it, is that we are all infected to a certain extent. We have to work to make money to pay for our food, shelter and clothing (not to mention the thousands of things we are brainwashed into believing we need for comfort, prestige, or what have you). So we HAVE to have money to live -- at least the way our system is set up now. That makes us go along, in many cases blindly, living within the parameters of that system.

    I just read a related post over at Nature Bats Last, where the writer discusses the systems that are in place and the cultural values perpetuated by them:

    Thank you again for your thought-provoking pieces.

  6. Thank you Eam for your kind remarks, and thank you very much for the excellent link. Mr. Duffy certainly evokes some powerful imagery.