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Author and environmentalist Janisse Ray says imagination needed to save planet

POSTED: April 22, 2009 11:43 p.m.

The root cause for environmental destruction is global and industrial capitalism, author and environmentalist Janisse Ray told a crowd on Earth Day.

"Capitalism promised prosperity to all the world, but we know now that prosperity is limited to a small percentage of the world’s population — and we in this room are among that percentage — and it has accepted pollution and destruction as the normal costs of doing business," said Ray.

Americans’ belief that the Earth has unlimited resources that humans have a right to deplete in the pursuit of greed, convenience and pleasure has broken the Earth’s ecological systems, Ray said.

"Thus misguided with these false beliefs, we have been forced to stand by and watch our
landscapes and their communities disintegrate — fragment," said Ray.

Ray spoke Wednesday to a near-full auditorium at the Featherbone Communiversity, describing the impact that fragmented ecosystems have on humans. She said the global economy is depleting the Earth’s resources and resulting in communities where people do not know their neighbors.

"As we chop up ecosystems we also fragment human community," Ray said.

Ray, a Baxley resident, has become a folk historian and an activist for the preservation of old-growth forests and wetlands in Southeast Georgia.

Her first major book, "Ecology of a Cracker Childhood," focused on Ray’s upbringing in Appling County and the disappearing ecosystem connected to the longleaf pine forests in the region. The book won the American Book Award and caused The New York Times to dub Ray the Southeast’s Rachel Carson, who founded the contemporary environmental movement.

Ray, who called herself a "pilgrim on a journey toward a sustainable life," said Wednesday that the biggest challenge for people wanting to fix communities fragmented by environmental destruction is figuring out how to repair what has been damaged and learn to live without destroying humanity, community and the atmosphere.

Isaac Hopkins, a 15-year-old member of Gainesville High School’s Environmental Awareness Club, called Ray’s words powerful. Hopkins said Hall County’s conservative majority may react differently to Ray’s speech, but he felt there was a lot of truth to her statements.

"She made some bold statements, but they make a lot of sense," Hopkins said.

Oakwood resident Cheryl Shedd said she attended the event to celebrate Earth on Earth Day. Shedd, who said she has tried to be vigilant against destructive developers near her home, said she found inspiration in Ray’s words that she will keep fighting to restore the Earth, even if she has no hope.

"It’s not always about hope; that’s a very important thing to be aware of. We still need to keep up the fight," Shedd said.

One way to fix a fragmented society, Ray said, would be to step away from the global economy and return to community-based, local economies.

"The best way to revolt is to refuse to join it, to doggedly create a life that puts the sanctity of creation first," Ray said.

"...Big problems need farmers markets, community centers, bike paths, walking paths — all of the infrastructure that helps us remember the magnanimity of our community."

She urged those present to get together and create a network of ideas for living more sustainable, less destructive lives.

"If we fail this time, it will be a failure of the imagination," Ray said. "We’re desperate for thinkers, not consumers. We’re desperate for risk takers, people of courage. We’re hungry for true greatness."


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