The Balancing Act

The big question is how do we move forward, isn't it?

I mean, not in the sense of what do we do now, I'm more clear on that. The answer to that one I know right off - we be better people, more responsible people. Because if there's one thing that I learned from this interesting article on the Icelandic collapse, it's that it's very easy in this day and age to be a supremely irresponsible person and be honored for it - and even after they're done honoring you, because you may or may not have been directly responsible for causing the collapse of an entire country's economy, you still get to lie low with a ton of money. And if there's a second thing I learned from that article, it's that apparently Icelandic men are very rude - so there you go! And by being more responsible, less rude people, we can all live in our socialist paradise, which consists of a government willing to tell you that maybe ruining the environment for short term profits isn't a good idea - and actually able to stop you, when the whim strikes them.

So that's easy. Isn't it?

But what about this question of making people realize that? How do we do that? On the one hand, it could be very simple - we could all get ourselves elected to government, somehow make the other people in government go away, and then somehow make people care. Not only simple, just very straight forward in general.

But, being the cynic that I am, the world may be such that that isn't always possible. So how do we go about this?

The common idea, at least in environmental circles, is to scare the bejeezus out of people, which is fine - and come to think of it, that's the common idea in most circles as well anyway, so it might as well be good, right?

The other common idea which is gaining a little bit more in power is that well, we shouldn't scare people, because that's not nice, we should just show them how much money they stand to gain by going green. Sometimes this is true and sometimes it's not - in general, I don't think there's any argument that reversing the entire idea behind the industrial revolution - more is better, cheaper is more efficient, yay profit - may be somewhat hard to do.

So, it seems to me, most environmental groups go in for a combination of these two general thrusts. Which is fine - except that beyond introducing the world to words global warming and then letting the chips fall where they may, these movements don't seem to have reversed our course a whole lot. And I'm totally being mean about this - environmental groups have created a ton of good things for a whole lot of people, and very definitely put us in the general area of the right track. From where we're standing now, we think we might be able to see the track, somewhere off over there, even if it seems like a bit of long walk.

And is that the best? Well, maybe so.

But at the same time I just can't stop myself from wondering whether, hey, maybe we're selling ourselves a bit short. I mean, yes, human nature, survival, profit, just general crassness all around - but when it comes right down to it, people aren't that bad. Some people are, without a doubt (there was this guy named Adolf once who not only ruined a lot of countries and people's lives but also singlehandedly brought down a popular form of moustache) but in general, people are really not that bad. Even someone like George Will, who is really trying his damndest to make sure that everyone is thoroughly confused about an already-confusing issue for no particular reason - he's probably not actually that bad a guy. We could probably have coffee without one or the other beating each other up. (George, when this shows up on your RSS feed, consider it a date.)

So if people aren't that bad, and trying to save the environment is a really great thing to do... well, then why aren't we doing it? Despite all the scary/profitable logic spewing out of random people with green binders on busy downtown corners, it can't be denied that we haven't really taken any huge steps to halt this problem, you know? I mean, yes, you can say that the real hard evidence hasn't been there for that long, and there's a lot of interests being all annoying about it (speaking of which, I should do another hoax-watch, they're fun), but that's setting aside the fact that we've always really known that this wasn't good for the Earth. I mean, smog kills people. It has killed people. And worse than that, it smells bad.

So what's going on?

Well, I don't know. Do you? No? Well, I have a few theories, anyway.

The biggest issue, the way I see it, is that we don't really think the environment needs to exist anymore. I mean, really. I mean, it's less of an active, pave-it-all! kind of mentality and more of the idea that hey, nature, you were good to use for a long time, but then we discovered concrete, you know? It's not you, it's me. We've moved on. And scientists talking about how the cure for cancer might be buried in a rainforest that's about to be cut down - that just doesn't help. After all, why do we care? We have laboratories for that kind of stuff.

I find myself thinking this way sometimes. Again, not in an active burn-it-all-down kind of way - not even thinking any sort of way. More of a lack of consideration. Even living in the Pacific Northwest, in Portland - renowned for its natural parks and all - and growing up camping and hiking and doing all sorts of wonderful activities that more kids should do these days, I forget about the environment sometimes. And I run an environmental blog!

Or even worse, maybe, we end up thinking of nature as kind of a theme park with nice sounding names. Like, do whatever you want to the environment, as long as you don't mess up my favorite hiking spot Eagle Creek, because I want to go there next weekend! Don't you dare harm the glaciers - they look very pretty! Or, we must preserve this species because it is rare, and beautiful!

I have a professor who believes that as cities have grown we've become separated from nature - even as our cities rely on it more and more - and it makes a lot of sense. What do we need nature for - my apartment building has 12 stories. Twelve! Take that, nature!

All of these ways of thinking are both extremely harmful and extremely familiar, I think, and that's a very unfortunate combination when it comes to thinking. It's the same kind of attitude that leads us not to care that thousands upon thousands of people die every year because of car crashes, I think, and yes, you should be shocked and surprised, even if you already knew that.

I don't really know what the cure to this is. Research has proven that people are happier with lots of parks and green space - but a city part is really just a parking lot with grass and trees, it's not really nature. Nature is icky - it involves bugs, and worms, right?

I don't think many people are willing to lift much of a hand to save bugs and worms just yet. Not for personal sacrifice - and maybe not even for personal gain.

So, yeah. Guess we're screwed. What's the alternative?

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