This planet is not terra firma. It is a delicate flower and it must be cared for. It's lonely. It's small. It's isolated, and there is no resupply. And we are mistreating it. Clearly, the highest loyalty we should have is not to our own country … our own religion … our hometown or even to ourselves. It should be to, number two, the family of man, and number one, the planet at large. This is our home, and this is all we've got.— SCOTT CARPENTER, Astronaut for NASA's project Mercury.
ECO-TOPOGRAPHICS: CO-CREATING A PERSONAL SUSTAINABLE VISION
What germinated EcoTopographics? Ten years ago, Shadow Creek development, Lakewood, New York was surveyed and excavated to construct forty houses. The soil and habitat were bulldozed, folded under, scraped clean, or trucked for landfill. Utilities were installed; roads blacktopped. Sold signs symbolized new owners. The voiding of all habitat represented a new beginning or genesis of sorts (see preface and preface images). Would the neighborhood model best practices for sustainability?
James Colby vowed to “be the change he wished to see in the world.” He planted over 300 trees, bushes, and grass to shade, cool, and beautify his home. Today, earthen beds, water gardens, and flora hold water, restore habitat, and provide lush carbon sinks. Three rain barrels supply water for plants next to Colby's home. Roof-water washes over lawns and into beds before traveling to retaining ponds. Energy-efficient plantation shutters cover all windows. Lisa Colby is planting daylily and phlox, transplanting bee balm, and germinating lupine that will vivify flower beds and "brook-scape" areas. Propagating indigenous flora and culling invasive species are priorities. Solar panels provide 100% of the family's electricity and charge a Prius Prime, Plug-in Hybrid. Green steps are taken one at a time. As these actions become integral parts of everyday life, they represent a "sociobiological" shift.
Three years ago, Colby’s green landscaping and living became the subject for this documentary project; their newly fashioned environment supports local habitat, wildlife, and Chautauqua Lake watershed. In the end, this project demonstrates “Care for Our Common Home," as Pope Francis puts it. All ecosystems, large and small, are like threads or patterns within a biospheric tapestry; each element or form is interconnected and indispensable. Earth has lost too many vibrant threads, and the physical-ethereal lattices are falling apart. It's clear, Earth's ecosystems are out of sync with the nature of Nature and nature of humanity. No matter what your worldview (theistic evolution, creation science, intelligent design, or big-bang theory), the singular family of man must collaborate and cooperate to re-think, re-imagine, and co-create a well-ordered planet.
Colby's images of the four-seasons depict nature’s cycles and flux forces. Home and cultural artifacts are upstaged and/or veiled by branches, buds, leaves, and various states of precipitation and sunlight. Shoots, thorns, and tendrils animate as they stretch out towards "father sun" to absorb photons and actuate photosynthesis. Roots reach down to absorb mother Earth. Vegetation plays with light and shadow, feels first-frost, bends to snow, or decomposes and falls to replenish Earth. Rain barrels and drip lines, solar panels, and all energy-efficient or organic practices reflect an Earth caretaker or Zen "way of life." Each day, Nature reveals Yin-Yang or complimentary flux forces that challenge, refresh and sustain life.
Have we forgotten who we are, where we come from, and what sustains all life of which we co-exist? Why do modern cultures fail to visualize or understand nature's biological, physical, chemical, and molecular interrelationships? Our quantum energies touch all matter within a unified consciousness. Do men and women of the industrial age suffer from a post-hunter-gatherer form of amnesia? Many indigenous people have not forgotten the Oneness of life and the mysterious energies that fuse body, mind, and spirit with Gaia, the Cosmos ,and creator.
Shortsighted goals, flawed thinking, and selfish egotistical desires have caused the fraying and fading of Earth's homeostasis—the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interconnected and interdependent elements. Nature surrounds and permeates all life and functions like a vital external organ shared by all earthly life. Religious, philosophical, and scientific misperceptions have leveraged disconnections from nature. Zen "right living," has waned. Courage, collaboration, cooperation, and compassion must drive humanity's creative imagination to take hold to co-create Neo-nature.
What can countries, regions, and individuals do to reverse ecological disharmony? Can a fresh, idealistic era evolve, where urban, suburban, and rural designs foster integrated systems that recognize the need to maintain a healthy atmosphere, and support communities of organisms, flora, and fauna? Transformations are possible! Individual citizens, nations, and world organizations have healed Earth. Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” (1962) and her revelation of highly integrated ecosystems created a paradigm shift for environmental science. Citizens (along with and politicians) listened, altered perceptions, and supported change. Carson revealed the destructive cause and effect relationships inherent to the widespread use of DDT and other chemicals. Of national significance, Earth Day fever swept across America for a single day (April 22, 1970) with teach-ins and demonstrations. As a result, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was founded in 1970, the Clean Air Act was updated in 1970, and the Clean Water Act was revised in 1972. Also, the Endangered Species Act was signed in 1973, and the Soil and Water Conservation Act was passed in 1977. These acts received bi-partisan support.
Eugene Smith’s Minamata photographs brought international attention that supported the cause to stop mercury poisoning in Japan (1971). Lois Gibbs, a fervent Love Canal activist, whose community rested upon a toxic waste site, challenged industrial and political titans. In the end, she made them accountable for their environmental misdeeds and cover-ups. Her work led to Congress passing the Superfund Act to compensate citizens and restore contaminated landscapes. The Montreal Protocol (1987), an unprecedented global treaty, was designed to reduce ozone-depleting chemicals released into the atmosphere. The agreement succeeded; the ozone layer is steadily increasing.
Edward O. Wilson's biophilia hypothesis or “urge to affiliate with other forms of life” is a term Colby uses to describe the source of his environmental passions. Wilson proposes that nature, in all its diverse forms, is deeply rooted in our DNA, biology, and psyche. Does this surprise you? We are bound to and dependent on Mother Earth in innumerable ways. Wilson hopes that humanity’s altruistic, collaborative, cooperative, and compassionate genes will come to the fore to re-calibrate a new evolutionary path, one that re-engages innate understandings of Nature and reaffirms our “humble place” within.
Colby's photographs meld the artistic styles presented in "New Topographics" with Ansel Adams’ Idealism, and with Eliot Porter's Earthly abstractions. Adams and Porter transformed landscapes into holy sanctuaries or ethereal spaces worthy of taking communion. In stark contrast, "New Topographics" presented environmental spaces that were unnatural and unholy. Colby demonstrates reverence for nature as he creates and documents a sustainable environment. "I believe that preserving wilderness areas, cultivating green homes, and healing atmospheres will invigorate Earth's natural healing processes. Humanity has and can co-create sustainability," said Colby. “Solutions to current climate-change challenges require a near-Platonic Quest or call to excellence within nations, regions, and individual citizens.”