There is beauty in the world so breathtaking that it hurts. And it seems sometimes as though it is arbitrarily destroyed faster than it’s created. Sometimes it’s the way of things; A snowflake melts and loses its crystalline perfection. Sometimes chance; Jeff Buckley’s voice is smothered by the muddy waters of the Mississipi. Sometimes it’s something more tragic. It’s a decision; The Amazon is looked upon and declared to be nothing more than a profitable resource. Unthinking we create an island of garbage the size of the US, like an open sore on the blue pacific ocean. The great barrier reef has its colours leached away in a climate distorted by car exhaust and cow farts.
In becoming materialistic, we are in fact denying the real joy of worshipping the material. Who can notice the marbled rainbows that paint the scales of a tuna, when it comes in a can? And who can see the earthy beauty of fresh food of every colour and variety laid out at a market table any more? Everything is sold in garish packaging under the fluorescent lights of the supermarket. There is something vulgar about the Macdonalds world that economic growth created. The way we reduce everything to a price, package it, take it for granted, and throw it away. We even define ourselves by what we buy, subsuming our beautiful psychological complexity under the simplistic lies of Chanel, Hollywood and property in Mosman. Truly, it feels sometimes as though ugliness is winning.
The pursuit of sustainability is an aesthetic one as well as a struggle for social justice, a balanced biosphere and survival. We aspire to live within beauty. We love to live among trees, with space, near water. We admire the wonder of nature revealed to us by the David Attenboroughs of the world. We marvel at views of mountain ranges, the age of stone, the shine of gold, the height of trees, and all the curious and wonderful creatures that we share this planet with. We romance underneath the sunset and the moon. We take profound joy from sailing on, swimming and playing in the ocean. We trek across every surface, humbled by the expanse and power of our home, the earth. We are perhaps most beautiful ourselves when we are childlike in such a state of wonderment.
Some say that beauty is subjective. In some ways, this is true. But I cannot accept that we would prefer to live in a world without coral, rainforest, glaciers, untouched wilderness, birds or clean rivers. I do not accept that we would be satisfied with a world where the eye is constantly confronted by nothing greater for the soul than a relentless mish mash of cheaply constructed concrete blocks, roads and rubbish. I reject the state of affairs where instead of art or nature we are only visually stimulated in our public spaces by advertising. I’m afraid of how much more ugly we could become when faced with a world that has fewer resources than there are people.
We still have a chance to decide whether the path we are taking is the path we want. We can still choose the new path. I am convinced that if people of the world were asked whether they would prefer the beauty provided us by nature to the banality of a chip packet that there would be one resounding answer in favour of what we are potentially destroying. We might be accustomed to hearing that we can have it all, but we can’t. It’s time we recognised that these are the choices we’re making.