When it comes to social justice, I’m a commitmentphobe. There is no one issue that I’d be comfortable dedicating my life to. But the environment is at the top of the list in terms of severity and urgency. The earth is beautiful, delicate, and irreplaceable, and I think we should put some dedicated effort into not mucking it up entirely.
If you have a spare 19 minutes, I’d recommend this video (it’s relevant, I swear). If you don’t have time, here’s the bottom line: for many astronauts, looking at the earth from space elicits a sense of unity with the planet and other living beings. The impact of that experience on one’s perspective is vast, and it acts as a striking reminder of humanity’s responsibility to our planet.
A web of delicate systems created the environmental challenges we face, and a web of delicate systems will respond to them. This makes trade-offs inevitable. Say a mining company wants to begin an operation: there’s demand for the resources they’ll acquire, and there’s support from the target country’s government. The mine will be lucrative enough to strengthen the nation’s infrastructure and improve the quality of life for its people, many of whom live in abject poverty. But, as with all extractive industries, mining poses risks: sacred land and water may be irrevocably altered or polluted. Though the operation will create jobs, workers risk injury and even death.
It’s difficult to make judgment calls in situations like this even when you’re distanced from them, but the potential repercussions are much more immediate to someone experiencing such circumstances first-hand. Would you work in an operation that will destroy a culturally sacrosanct landmark because you want there to be good schools for your young daughter? Would you sacrifice the money you’ve invested in a company because you know it’s at the root of violent political upheaval in the target country?
That’s why all of this talk about unity and spirituality is important: in order for us to make the best decisions about environmental policy, we have to reconnect to that big-picture perspective while not losing sight of the pragmatism of our day-to-day reality.
Everyone is affected by the conditions on Earth, and consequently, there’s a place for everyone in the process of improving them. We need scientists to develop sustainable technologies. We need economists and sociologists to examine and improve behavioral trends. We need entrepreneurs to make eco-friendly buying, building, and living habits the norm. We need to, as both consumers and producers, make responsible decisions with our resources.
But most of all, we need to collaborate compassionately and innovate realistically. (And bask in the splendor of the cosmos every once in a while.)