Pitiless Refuse
Austin Smith

Spring 2017
    In the Summer of 2016 I came across the remains of a great bush. Its once lush, green foliage had mortified into a rust colored shell. Walking through San Francisco in the proceeding weeks, I found myself confronted more and more by the remains of plants left to rot. I was surprised at the ease with which I would walk past a tree stump, a dead shrub, a street tree that was growing through its grate, without considering the morbidity of it. The more I probed my lack of concern, the less surprised I became. The 21st century, in many ways, suffers blunders from previous eras of activism. We receive the benefits of previous actions without understanding the trials and tribulations it took to get them or the consequences that result in effect.
        Through the concerted efforts of naturalists in the 19th and 20th century, the United States established the National Park Service which allowed for the preservation of enormous swaths of natural land. This is wonderful in the sense that nature is being protected from anthropogenic destruction, but problematic in that it leads to the belief that nature exists for our pleasure and our health, not that nature simply exists and that humanity is a part of it. National parks represent the majesty of nature. They are the most extreme examples of the sublime that Earth has to offer. As National Parks came to be known as the embodiment of nature, nature came to be identified as glorious, sublime landscapes. In this way ‘Nature’ became a collection of icons that were only protected if they were deemed worthy enough. If a natural environment cannot be videotaped, photographed, or camped in, it is forgettable. It is bulldozed to make way for highways, houses, offices, or farmland. Our interactions with nature were sculpted by the same hands that designed cities to be sprawling artificial landscapes. For this reason, it is impossible to untangle natural environments from those persisting solely as a result of human intervention from human destruction.
        The current layout of cities creates an environment in which natural objects seem out of place or decorative. Often times street trees experience stunted growth or die prematurely due to the conditions in which they were planted. When new developments occur, existing plants are most often cut down to make way for the new structures and pavement. Plants are viewed as ornaments as opposed to living organisms. When a plant dies, it can be replaced. If a plant is in the way, it can be removed. Furthermore, a dead plant brings to mind no pity, rather a sense of material obstruction or aesthetic malignance. The sight of a stump in a sidewalk does not garner the same reaction a decapitated dog would, yet it is essentially the same thing.         Our interactions with plants highlight a fatal flaw in humans. We have no sympathy for the things we do not identify with. We have exploited our world to the point of impotency, and polluted it to the point of mass extinction.  As the demands of the coming millennia grow heavier, humanity finds more outlandish ways of meeting them. Instead of finding solutions for our actions, we have opted to avoid them by forging paths to colonize and harvest distant astral bodies. As the notion of leaving earth as an escape of anthropogenic problems becomes increasingly realistic we must ask ourselves at these final questions: Will there be a place for plants in the world we have designed? Will there be a place for us?

Monday Nov 5 2018