I was originally going to call this article ‘A Meditation on Our Planet’, although I hesitate to use the word ‘planet’ and think that ‘environment’ is a better substitute. After all, our planet would still be alive and well even if we dug up every last shred of uranium on earth and detonated it, or burnt every last ounce of fossil fuel. Indeed, this is about our environment – a much more fragile and dear entity which we must fight to protect.
The environment is a topic that we hear about more and more every day. Essentially, humanity is facing an ultimatum: to save or to abandon our planet, which translates to saving or abandoning ourselves. Those who refuse to accept this reality often bestow an argument of economy vs environment – that somehow becoming environmentally sustainable is unhealthy for the economy. This is just another example of the ignorant and disposable mentality that has blinded us thus far, while we’ve continued to destroy our ecosystem, decimate the wildlife and poison the atmosphere. As is human nature, we fail to see beyond the near future and only seemed concerned with what’ll bring us the most immediate gain. This short-term mindset is dangerous and unfortunately too prevalent in today’s society. We need to look beyond the alleged benefits of short-term economic gain and focus on what is really at stake. The thought of great wildernesses like the Amazon becoming consumed by a web of drilling rigs, pipelines and roads is saddening, and yet is becoming the reality. We must stop tearing open the heart of our greatest refuges, and instead choose to become more sustainable.
Humanity is playing a crazy game with the environment. It’s taking billions of tons of carbon from deep underground and spewing them out into the atmosphere. It’s creating untold numbers of pollutants and bombarding the environment with them. The reason we continue on this path while the science stares us in the face is that there’s an inherent subsidy when you pollute and damage our planet. When coal power plants and diesel cars run, they spew out greenhouse gases which consume the carbon capacity of the atmosphere. Later down the line, this consumed carbon capacity will cost us a lot more than sustainable energy does right now-in the grand scheme of things, burning oil and throwing out toxic waste is a lot more expensive than using wind power and processing harmful waste. Despite this, no-one right now is even paying for this subsidy though: we’re leaving future generations to have to suffer the burden. In fact, there is a certain level of greenhouse gases that we can emit before the damage is too great and irreversible. Think of it as an event horizon of a black hole: every greenhouse gas molecule we eject pushes us one bit closer and once we tip over the edge it’s too late. Nonetheless, this isn’t surprising – behavioural economics dictates that if something is incentivised, it will occur. Our short-sighted nature means we don’t see this. Or perhaps we just don’t care.
How do we change this? It’s clear we need to make the move towards a sustainable existence before it’s too late and the damage is irreversible, and we are making progress towards sustainability, although that progress is far too slow. There are a plethora of ideas constantly being thrown around to try and accelerate this change, however the truth is that governments and corporations would rather deflect the blame onto the public, ignore the severity of their involvement and ridicule the figureheads of climate protests. The one thing that could singlehandedly solve this would be drastic policy change, however politicians won’t undertake this sort of action – it’s too radical and poses too much of a threat to ‘their economy’. Thus, the only foreseeable way to convince them is with activism. Those who genuinely care for the planet can live sustainably, but the only way to get others to comply is by forcing the government’s hand with substantial policy change. And so, we need Greta Thunberg. We need Greenpeace. We need Elon Musk. Easy as it is to hate them, they are in the end our greatest allies.
The future is uncertain, but there’s no need to panic yet. Technology is advancing every day and the brightest minds in the world are dedicating themselves to this fight. The problem is real and serious. If humanity plays its cards right, we may never again have to worry about the future of our planet. Furthermore, we’ll be able to stand triumphant – to leave this extraordinary planet untrammelled would be the greatest gift we could pass onto future generations.
On a final note, I’d like to say that all this talk about problems is very pessimistic. It often seems that today’s world is solely about solving problems, which isn’t great: life needs to be about more than that. A reality where you’re only trying to survive is an overly-depressing one. When you look at the news or take a glance at the world around you, there isn’t much to be excited about. When you’re being bombarded about the latest death toll of COVID-19 on an hourly basis, the world may seem to be quite dark. This isn’t true though – we’re just being fed a distorted view of reality. If you look a bit deeper, there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic, to feel that there’s a reason to live. Finding out about our universe and answering life’s biggest questions, thus expanding the scope and scale of human consciousness, is a cause for zeal. The revolutionary moon landing in 1969 inspired a generation of people and provided a beacon of hope. Albert Einstein revolutionised our understanding of the cosmos.
And even if that doesn’t convince you, a closer look reveals that the world really is getting better, even though our ever-increasing connectedness doesn’t make it seem so. The global absolute poverty rate has halved in the last 10 years, and we’re living in the most peaceful and prosperous age to date in human existence. While this article may seem pessimistic on the whole, it’s simply a warning and a signal to exercise caution. Sometimes, it’s important to remind yourself the world isn’t so bad after all.