Our own worst enemy

Just saw a presentation by the photographer Edward Burtynsky at TED. Burtynsky, for those of you not familiar with his work (a group which included me until last night) photographs “manufactured landscapes” - places that bear the scars of man’s impact upon the environment. Not the pretty stuff like pyramids and cathedrals and structures that celebrate man’s seat at the head of the evolutionary table. No, Burtynsky photographs the quarries and the mines and the dams and the junkyards and the factories of our voracious species. The photos are in turn ironic and eerily attractive...always thought provoking.

While watching the presentation, the first thought that formed in my head was anger towards the corporations that defiled the earth in such a manner. But even before the thought could crystalize, it occurred to me - corporations are just a proxy for our own appetites. I look around me, at the computer that I am typing on, at the radio that is playing, at the various objects of modern life that fill my peripheral vision. Each of these objects represents another shovel of dirt, another lump of coal, another pump of a petroleum well, another cloud of noxious smoke belching forth, another subject for Burtynsky to photograph.

We, all of us that live “modern” lives, are part of this machine that is changing the face of the earth. So the next time you curse at your computer screen at the latest act of corporate environmental malfeasance, look around you. Are you an accessory to the crime?

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