Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"Saving the Planet" is Selfish

News flash- the planet Earth is a massive ball of rock hurtling through space at 30km a second. On that ball of rock there are more complicated and varied natural systems, supporting more kinds of life, than any one person could hope to even see in a lifetime. At this time, many of those natural systems are vulnerable, along with their attendant forms of life, and this is because of things that we, as a species, have done to this planet.

That said, there are many forms of life that are not vulnerable, and most natural systems will find a new equilibrium during the course of geologic time. Cockroaches, for example, will probably not experience a massive die-off, nor will ants, no matter what we humans do to the planet. Even a full-fledged nuclear winter is not, over the long term, going to bother the planet we live on.

Let us be clear. When we say that we want to save "the environment" or "the planet", we are being extremely selfish as a species. What we want to save is not some generic concept of planet Earth, which has survived untold devastation in the fullness of her life, nor even the planet's ability to support life, which it will go on doing no matter what we do to her. What we are saving is the planet's ability to support us, humanity. We are trying to save the planet's ability to support agriculture, commercial fishing and the like- to support, in essence, human civilization. Make no mistake about it- in a post-global warming world, life will carry on. I even think humanity will carry on, just because we are so very adaptable and there are so very many of us. What will falter, causing untold suffering, sickness and death, is the global civilization that we have built over the past several hundred years, and the advantages that it confers- communications, transportation, medicine, agriculture, leisure.

It's time the environmental movement stopped asking others to Save the Whales, to Save the Delta Smelt, to even Save the Planet, and time we started being honest about what we want to do- and that is to Save the Humans.

3 comments:

  1. People definitely have a lot at stake in protecting the environment. Whether it's securing clean air, water, homes and workplaces, or preventing climate change from disrupting agriculture, inundating cities and intensifying storms, there's a ton at stake.

    Just ask farm workers exposed to pesticides or people in Bangladesh coping with rising sea levels.

    I don't have a problem with protecting nature for its own sake, but people definitely have a huge stake in it.

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  2. I don't have a problem in saving nature for its own sake either, but that's a lousy message to get people to change their habits. It's a well-documented effect that people care less about the environment when the economy tanks. The logic is apparently "let the corporations do whatever they want to the planet, so long as they'll pay me to do it." "Save the Planet" is an admirable goal, but it's terrible messaging. If we are to get people to care beyond the narrow cadre of greenies that we inhabit, we need to make it matter to them.

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  3. Yeah, I feel ya on that.

    Being economically secure is definitely #1 on most peoples' priority lists right now. Luckily, there's a lot that can be said about green jobs.

    Also, making the connections between other species and human interests clear, like, if there's an oil spill that wipes out a fishery, lots of people lose their jobs.

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