The environment, as most conversations on the subject would have you believe, is ‘something out-there’, something optional, a nice perk. Many environmentalists commonly describe it the abstract, something that needs to be protected, cherished or empathized with. It’s detractors, as funny as that sounds would have you believe that they do in fact ‘care about the environment’, but insist we can’t afford either with time or money to prioritize at the cost of other issues.
I’m sure the detractors themselves would prefer ‘realists’, but you can decide for yourself at the end of this article. The foremost issue deserving of our attention they will tell you, is ‘wealth’, which can theoretically can be used to solve any pesky ‘environmental’ problems which may arise from this pursuit. To the extent that they do value and prioritize ‘the environment’, it is primarily as a resource to be monetized and extracted. I would propose that in fact, neither of these is (completely) true.
The environment is literally what the word means, what is around us. Concrete and steel is as much our environment as trees and grass, dogs and cats as much as beavers and birds. By thinking of the environment as ‘out-there’ we miss a fundamental component of what an environmentalist is and stands for. An environmentalist most of the time is someone who simply tries to be aware of the effects of our collective actions, a public role that is more and more necessary as we race faster and faster forward in the name of progress. Yes, many environmentalists are passionate but they are also practical and more often than not their passion stems from a frustration with how dangerous our national and global pursuit of ‘progress’ is. Progress towards what exactly? A resource depleted world full of toxic rivers, plastic filled oceans and entirely paved over for the convenience of cars we can’t drive because we’re out of oil?
There is an extreme danger in the arrogance of thinking that we can’t possibly run out of resources or damage the earth enough that we can’t innovate our way out of it. The same ‘lag’ in the system that has prevented most people from having to confront what incredible damage we have already done, is the same lag that will occur to our R&D efforts to solve these problems while everything we rely on for our comfortable lives withers and dies.
Danger with a capital D means poisoned rivers, from which we need to drink from in an increasingly fresh-water deprived world. Danger means catastrophic and unpredictable storms smashing our infrastructure faster than we can rebuild, not even to mention the mind-blowing costs. Danger means damaging the ecosystem so much that we can’t grow food regardless of how much we mix up its DNA.
It’s not that environmentalists don’t realize that the economy is powered in many ways by resource extraction. Rather they take an extra moment to think about how just because we found a 40oz bottle of rye doesn’t mean that we have to chug the entire bottle all at once. Those who say we need to push forward with oil extraction and use the wealth to fund the solution to these issues might as well be telling a drug addict the best way to kick a drug addiction is to snort it all and then use the energy to get themselves to a meditation class.
In the children’s story ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ the moral of the story is that slow and steady wins the race. We should think about this story when discussing the environment. Many people think of our ingenuity and enterprise as the tortoise and our problems as the hare. Problems always seem vital in present, and then over and over we prevail. Our species has overcome many urgent and urgent seeming issues in our history. One such example, often used for comparison for the type of neo-industrial revolution we must now undertake to combat climate change is World War II.
In the story however, the hare lost because of overconfidence and arrogance, in our story we are both the tortoise and overconfident. What’s more, global environmental issues like climate change are not subject to these failings; unlike Hitler’s army planetary systems are cold mathematically dictated physical systems, beyond our ability to fully comprehend. Toxic oceans, mass extinctions and climate change are unlike any challenge the human race has ever before faced, and will not be resolved by bluster and confidence. If we are to prevail into the future we must conquer ourselves, not the planet.
Learn about energy efficiency in your home on April 5th. Visit Transition Toronto’s event page.
Hope to see you there!
To learn more about Transition Toronto (the presenters): http://transitiontoronto.ning.com/
To learn more about the Toronto Tool Library (the event hosts): http://torontotoollibrary.com/
Daryn Caister – Host and Green Majority Media Principal