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.

Photo by Roz Savage
Photo by Roz Savage

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? 

6 Comments

  • It matters to me and I believe it matters to everyone – even that shuttle bus driver.

    Not to leave a legacy, but because humans are inextricably linked to nature – no, we are part of nature. Until the recent aberration in history where humans have succumbed to machines fueled by cheap energy and have told lies to ourselves that we are separate from nature, we have always embraced nature, respected and revered it and lived within its abundance and perils.

    Reverance for nature is innate but suppressed for many by circumstances and conditions of our own creation.

    To make it matter to more people again is to remove the blindfolds and reawaken the senses, the intangible feeling that everyone gets when looking at a landscape. The call of the wild!

    Chip Conley expresses it well in this TED talk – we need to start measuring the intangibles, which we know are important, but which we don’t know how to measure:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/chip_conley_measuring_what_makes_life_worthwhile.html

    My vision is to reconnect people to the knowledge we once had about trees and forests. The more we understand about the wonders of the source of our life forces, the more reverence for it. People protect what is important to them. It’s just a matter of teaching people what is important again!

  • We all should remember that we share ONE Earth. There is no plan(et) B. Earth is still our only home. If we are to survive as a species, we have to take care of our only planet, its resources, and all of its creatures.

  • I would like to respond, in a small way, to your words: “It seems that talking about the environment is just not sexy. It’s not fun. It doesn’t make us smile or feel good.”
    Most environmental issues stem from the human convenience factor. It is convenient to have paper or plastic bags supplied to carry out grocery items from the market; it is convenient to use a plastic bottle filled with water one time prior to disposal; it is convenient to use a paper towel one time in-lieu of a terrycloth towel; it is convenient to use paper plates and plastic forks on a picnic and not have to convey the soiled items back home to be washed; and, it is convenient to use our own vehicle when traveling instead of taking public transportation. Additionally, all of the above practices are considered more chic, sanitary and socially acceptable than the old conventional methods.

    As I see it, the message must somehow make the old methods sexy and fun so that they will make us smile and feel good. Just stating the problem, as bad as it is, does not get at its root and people get tired of hearing about it. I think a good place to start would be to out the mostly untrue idea that water in a plastic bottle is healthier than tap water. In most areas of the western worlds, that is just not the case. As a retired civil engineer I have worked some in water treatment systems and know this to be true.
    Just a tired old engineer who gave your concerns some thought. Thanks for what you do.

    • I completely agree – that we need a “new cool” definition of being ENVIRONMENTALLY hygienic, that would overrule the current obsession with squirting toxic chemicals at anything we deem to be “unhygienic”.
      The myth of bottled water is well debunked in the movie “Tapped” – highly recommended. We are being righty royally ripped off, and it’s not even good for us. Crazy.
      And agreed again – that we need to look at the positive, the things that we are doing well, and do them more. Not to guilt-trip and browbeat people into doing the right thing.

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