Wednesday 6 January 2016

Overdevelped Nations

Everyone loves Disneyland and it's not difficult to understand why. Disneyland is an idealized, amplified reality offering sanitized fun and excitement, with all the danger removed. It's life-candy. And who doesn't love candy?

Recently, I was standing in line for the gondola ride at Disney Sea, in Tokyo, and noticed a lone duck casually swimming about in the canal. It struck me that I had rarely seen a duck unaccompanied by a flock. So why was this one alone? Because, in Disneyland, a wild duck is a contaminant. Disneyland is a completely controlled environment and so to the caretakers at Disneyland, that duck must represent potential chaos and will surely be "taken care of" the moment it is not in public view. I checked the high windows and didn't see any snipers, but that doesn't mean they weren't there.

Disney Sea, Tokyo. The world's most beautiful ecological scar.
For more on Disney Sea: CLICK HERE!

I can relate. I know how difficult it is to control my own little patch of Earth. I have to maintain a relatively dead, foot-wide gravel space around my house in order to deter pests: Once a year, I spray insecticide all the way around. Every year or two, I cut and haul away encroaching tree limbs, to prevent their leaves fouling the gutters, and I am constantly pulling up Ivy and Morning Glory to keep them from twining their way under the siding. The house itself, has been constructed from lumber infused with anti-mold, water-resistant chemicals and all the concrete has been sealed to repel water. This, and constant vigilance, is what it takes to encourage some flowery bits of nature while keeping all of the rest at bay, for a single dwelling. Imagine what must be involved to secure an entire theme park. And, Disneyland does more than keep nature at bay. It eliminates it entirely, then re-imagines, re-engineers and reproduces it in sterile plastic or tightly controlled environments. Imagine the lengths they have to go to in their semi-tropical, coastal locations to deter such things as seagulls, crows, ants, spiders, ducks, mold and mildew.

There are more little brown birds at a single McDonald's, than I saw in all of Disney Sea. Canals and artificial lakes surrounded by food vendors coupled with the absence of mice, rats, mosquitoes, ants and houseflies implies the heavy use of pesticides and insecticides. Fabulous, continually blooming gardens devoid of weeds means fertilizers, herbicides and more insecticides. It's simply impossible for this to exist, otherwise.

I still love Disneyland and am filled with awe at its perfection, and gratitude for the experience. But, because I have to wait in line with my mind idly spinning, and because I am who I am, the hidden costs and implications of the theme park cascade, even as I am smiling.

(Note to Disneyland Execs: long waits in line encourage authors to overthink. 
It might be best to automatically move all writers and their entourage to the head of the line.)

Most view Disneyland is an icon for happiness. But, really, it is the icon for the first-world pursuit of happiness. As we lose natural relaxers such as free time, elbow room and nature, we manufacture intensified, amplified versions to make up for it. Disneyland jams artificial, exaggerated landscapes into a space a tenth the size of it’s parking lot in order to help the beleaguered, misguided millions get away from the very life they are clamoring to create. Similarly, indoor water parks offer artificial beaches, eternal sunshine, moderated surf, designer palm trees and ant-free concessions. Again, jamming what was once commonplace and accessible into minimal space, sanitizing the experience and charging people money—the physical manifestation of time spent doing something they don’t want to do—for time spent doing something fun, in the hope of achieving some balance.

Of course, we have always been involved in this trade off. Millions of years ago, our ancestors struggled just to survive. Eventually, we became so proficient at survival that we gained some free time. We've been busy generating free time, ever since. But free time, is not free. A hundred years ago, one hour of free time might have cost fourteen hours of farm labour. With the invention of machines and factories, the cost seemed to plummet. But it didn't, really. It just seemed that way because the planet Earth began to subsidize our project.

Earth has been so generous, that we have come to regard "free time" as being truly free. It's not, and we need to become more sensitive to the costs, or risk blindly working longer for all of those "labour-saving" devices, rather than working less because of them. Due to our lack of foresight, the machines are taking control, and without the aid of anything as sophisticated as Skynet.

The most obvious example is the automobile. Think of the effort and expense that has gone in to paving 12 billion miles (19 billion km) of roadway through mountains and forests, building bridges, tunnels and large ferries and then allocating space for parking—at home, as well as at every possible destination—just so that every single one of us can travel where we want, whenever we want. The enormity of this undertaking, alone, is difficult to imagine. And, beyond the cost of our vehicles, we continue paying for all of the infrastructure, every time we make a purchase or pay taxes. Add to this the environmental impact of manufacturing a vehicle with all it's exotic, high-tech components then multiply that by the billion units made, so far, and the impact of this single device on the earth can't be anything short of devastating.

We thought that things like cars could save us from drudgery. But, actually, factories, farms and governments did that, reducing the cost of survival to the point where, each day, we now trudge to work and do stuff we don’t want to do, mostly in order to purchase more toys. Then, at the end of the work day, we crash in front of the TV thinking, "I’m too tired to vacuum." Which leads someone to invent a robot vacuum. And the circle tightens.

 I'm not saying that we have to take a step backward. It's too late for that. But we should take a careful look at this mindless urge to push “forward,” manufacturing ever more unsustainable comfort zones.

It’s a kind of religion, the belief that technology will be our saviour; no less than a belief in divine intervention. And, it fuels a crusade to race pell-mell into the future, process the world and remake it in a form custom tailored for the human race.

We often hear about the plight of underdeveloped nations, but a larger problem is overdeveloped nations pushing to build bigger, better, faster progress-treadmills, and with obsessive-compulsive zeal.

Developed nations are missionaries to underdeveloped nations. But, along with aid, they serve a message of technological salvation: Selling the idea that progress is, in fact, progress.

The reality may be more that misery loves company.


I don't mean to slam Disneyland. In fact, my minimal research shows that the theme park is conscious of all of these issues and has made many innovative changes designed to minimize its ecological impact. Still, its environmental impact remains enormous.

related articles...

What is the Ecological Footprint of Disneyland?
by David Ng (May 5, 2009)

Fallout Over Disneyland
by Amy Davis and Gar Smith


If you've made it all the way down here...
Why not buy my time travel, action/adventure novel?

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