Let’s not waste this crucial moment: We need to stop abusing the planet

By making us more aware of the nature around us, COVID-19 lockdowns could inspire us to fight back against climate disaster.

Nature, enduring: Bristlecone pines in eastern California can live 4,000 years or more.

In the spring of 1858, three years before the Civil War, a young engineer named John T. Milner rode into Jones Valley, at the tail end of the Appalachians in north-central Alabama. He’d been dispatched by the governor to plan a new railroad. There were riches in those hills: The state geologist had reported coalfields to the north of Jones Valley and, just to the south, cropping out at the crest of Red Mountain, a thick seam of iron ore.

Milner rode up through ancient woods to see it. “I rode along the top of Red Mountain and looked over that beautiful valley,” he recalled much later, after he’d helped fill the valley with Birmingham, a city of belching smokestacks, intersecting railroads, and dark, deadly mines:

“It was one vast garden as far as the eye could reach … nowhere had I seen an agricultural people so perfectly provided for, and so completely happy. They raised everything they required to eat, and sold thousands of bushels of wheat. Their settlements were around these beautiful, clear running streams … It was, on the whole, a quiet, easy-going, well-farmed, well-framed, and well-regulated civilization.”

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