Passionate though I am about environmental issues, I recognise that this feeling is not universal. If it was, our world would be a very different place. It strikes me that most people are not interested in the environment because they’re just trying to get by, keep their job if they’re lucky enough to have one, pay the mortgage/rent, feed the family, be happy – or at least, content. How can we wake them up and engage them?
I appreciate the inherent presumption in this question. Just because I think the environment is important, why should other people agree with me?
First, IS the environment important?
A shuttle bus driver once said to me, without knowing of my environmental mission, “I’m not interested in the environment”. I had to bite back the retort, “So what are you going to live in, then?” The environment is not a standalone issue, separate from us. It doesn’t just AFFECT our health, our food, the air we breathe, the water we drink. It IS all those things. We are a part of the environment, and it is a part of us. In my view, that makes it pretty important.
Second, why should the environment be important to ME? (ME in this context being the generic individual, not ME Roz Savage.) “The impacts won’t be felt until after I am dead, and I have more than enough immediate worries, so don’t bother me with long-term hypotheticals.”
Putting to one side for now questions about how long it will be before serious impacts are felt, I’d just like to challenge this mindset by asking: Where is your sense of legacy? If you believe that this generation is seriously impacting the long-term health of our species and our planet, do you not care how history will judge us? If humans of a couple of centuries ago had bequeathed to us a right old mess and an impoverished biosphere, wouldn’t we feel justifiably aggrieved? Is that how you want your grandchildren to feel about you?
Third, nothing I do as an individual will make a difference, so why should I bother?
It is true that there are now 7.1 billion of us, and so it is easy to feel that anything we do is just a tiny drop in a very big ocean. But never underestimate the power of accumulation. I use the metaphor of my ocean crossings. It took me around 5 million oarstrokes (give or take) to row across 3 oceans (more stats here). Every oarstroke mattered, not because it got me very far, but because to have taken fewer oarstrokes would have left me drifting around somewhere offshore, short of my destination. Every single action counts, taken by every person, every day of their lives. It all adds up.
But of course I can’t make anybody believe something they don’t want to believe, or behave a way they don’t want to behave.
There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences.
(P. J. O’Rourke)
What do you think? Does the environment matter to you? If yes, do you have any ideas how we can make it matter to more people?