It would be useful to re-frame the way we talk about effects of climate change: we are not killing or doing irreparable damage to the planet, we are only killing ourselves (and taking some other species with us). The planet itself will be fine, especially when we are gone. The extreme weather events constantly in the news are worrying but they are either not seeing the bigger picture by asking ludicrous questions like “Do you think this will ever happen again?” (to which scientists respond with “Yes, with absolute certainty”) or they swath it in doom and gloom rhetoric that makes it sound like we are destroying the world. I can understand when people don’t buy that. It is also perfectly understandable to think that the world is naturally changing, like it always has and: 1. It is happening so slow that we have time to figure something out and 2. there’s nothing really we can do but deal with it when it comes.
But I think that what we are really learning in this stage of our development as humans is that the planet is really not that big. We truly are a part of an enclosed unified ecological system. And there are SO MANY of us, that we are having measurable effects on our ecosystem.
I’m sure everyone who witnessed Neil Armstrong be the first man to walk on the moon was tremendously excited and proud of this human achievement. Let’s now listen to what astronauts have to say about what it felt like up there. What can we learn from what they saw? Check out this amazing short film that talks about the Overview Effect described by many astronauts as “awe for the planet, a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment.” They have insight because they saw what we can mostly just symbolically imagine —
In many ways the planet functions very much like the human body, and all the species on it are like the bacterial flora that cover both inside and outside of the body. Right now we are behaving like an invasive species. We are wrecking stuff because that is how we function as a species on autopilot. Let’s not be a virus, let’s be the planet’s consciousness instead. Think about it, we, as we like to think of ourselves, are the smartest species on the planet, and are capable of prolonging our existence on this body we call the planet. Much like our ingenious capabilities allowed us to increase our own life spans, we can improve the longevity of the human race as a whole. If you have or want to have kids, you want them to have a great future. I imagine no one is envisioning that their children will live in poverty and desolation. But an impoverished environment will do just that. I do not wish this on anybody’s children.
We need to come together to stop our own self-destruction by examining what we can all do to help. Paradoxically, I think that the way we do this is by going local. For many of us on this planet, there are better things to worry about – like putting food on the table or trying to survive in a war-torn zone. But those of us who can, should take it as our mission to restructure our society to support communities and small businesses. We will still all be interconnected through the web, but it’s time to think big and go small. Live IN your community – learn about who you share it with, support those who are trying to make it better (in both fun and necessary ways), and keep sustainability in mind when you are making day to day decisions and do what you can. Only by being present, by researching products, examining our habits, by spending time in nature and realizing we have to take care of the place we live in so it can sustain us, can we effect some kind of change. Little by little, everyone can pitch in a lot. This will transform lives and it’s really truly important. You and everyone you love will benefit from this effort.
Lastly, I think that the youth can be a drivings force for this. We are in an uncertain time; we can’t find jobs, and when we do there will be no such thing as “full time” “full benefits” “retirement savings” (or in my case, this magical fairy unicorn called “tenure”). Who knows, maybe even “union” will be gone. So maybe we should rethink what we are going to do with our lives, because the formula that appeared to work for our parents is not going to work for us. Maybe more of us should be more focused on creating citizenship unions, and contribute to projects in our communities, and learning how to apply our skills to solve world problems. Many such efforts are already in place. For example, locally we have GenNext by United Way that brings together young professionals and allows them to contribute to the community in meaningful ways using their skill sets. But we need to learn how to make this work for us so that we can make a living. Soon most jobs that can be automated will be, so we need to educate ourselves so we can do things robots can’t: think creatively and wisely.