While many in the United States are fussing over which Presidential Candidate has the best economic policy, how to keep guns out of the hands of lunatics, and how Donald Trump keeps his hair looking so great, I have been fussing over an issue which I deem equally, if not more important: the Environment. While I certainly believe that everyone should have the right to love who they want, have control over their own bodies, and have an equal chance at monetary success, I also believe that all humans should have the right to enjoy clean air, clean water, dense forest, and sprawling desert. I believe that pristine, clean, untouched outdoor space is an American tradition that is in ever increasing peril. The most overarching issue of our generation is the issue of climate change, and we are not yet fixing this issue. If we don’t change our carbon heavy ways, society as we know it today may cease to exist. And the journey down that path will make our current social issues seem like child’s play. Said another way, if humans continue to turn our beautiful planet into a hot, dry, dirty wasteland, there may be no Congress to debate in. There may be no President to blame for all our issues. There may be no people.
While this may seem like a worst case scenario, the environmental degradation that is currently taking place is also the worst case scenario. There is still time to change our ways, but the accelerating emissions of CO2 doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the future of this place we call home. Greenhouse gas emissions are only increasing, with no signs of slowing down. You know what comes next in this story: melting ice sheets, rising seas, extreme weather, food and water shortage, mass extinction, etc.
While I applaud President Obama for preserving more than 265 million acres(more than any other president), I also am scared by the many threats that the environment faces, and wish he and other politicians would do more, particularly around climate change. There are many other Environmental issues, such as air pollution, habitat loss, water pollution, overpopulation, overfishing, plastic islands, genetically engineered organisms, hydraulic fracking, deforestation, and acid rain. These issues are important. But if we cannot solve the most important issue(climate change), attempting to tackle these issues will be a lost cause. While it’s important to celebrate the victories won in all of these fights, I’m afraid that they are too little too late. How is it possible that we know so much about these issues, and their catastrophic consequences, yet somehow we don’t take the necessary action to prevent them?
Our current economic system overvalues short term gains, and undervalues long term risks. The current economy would gladly take a dollar today in return for a kick in the face someday next month. There are countless studies that suggest immediate action on environmental issues today is far cheaper than the costs these same issues will incur in the future. Why can’t we just plug this information into the algorithms that run our economy, and get it fixed?
How I see it, the folks making the big decisions about these big issues will never even see the effects of their decisions, either way. The folks making these decisions today will be super-heated, over-fertilized, GMO-planted, mercury-infested dirt by the time the consequences of their actions are fully realized. But it isn’t just the old-guard politicians that are to blame. Each and every human being on this earth makes decisions every day that will affect future generations.
While the economy as a whole doesn’t do a great job anticipating future risks, it’s the individuals that make up the economy that have the final say, and for some reason they are saying the wrong thing. When asked directly, every man, woman, and child, whether Democrat or Republican, rich or poor, male or female, claims they want to leave the world a better place than they found it. But right after they answer this question, they climb into their SUV, eat their steak dinner, and go to sleep in their 4,000 square foot air conditioned home. So why do we do this to ourselves?
I think it’s because our brains are programmed to care more about what happens today than what happens next week. The thick fatty steak we eat today somehow tricks the gray stuff inside our skulls into believing that 30 minutes in culinary heaven are worth the 2,500 gallons of water, 27 lbs of CO2, and increased risk of heart disease that come from such consumption. The dopamine dump that results from this combination of salt, fat, and protein temporarily affects our decision making skills. Too bad the environmental and health effects aren’t so temporary. When looked at from this perspective, I don’t understand why eating steak is such a common occurrence, yet somehow, I still crave the juicy, salty, and tender experience that is steak consumption.
Personally, my emotions towards environmental issues seem to swing on a pendulum. I mostly understand the science, and fully understand that change needs to come in order to ensure that the natural world will be there to provide food, air, and water for my body, and, equally as important, nourishment for my soul. Where I waver, however, is how I react to these facts. It feels like I swing between hope and despair, depending on the news dominating the headlines. Obama saves another million acres and I swing towards hope. BP spills another billion barrels of oil, and I swing into a mild depression. It’s hard to make conscious decisions each day to reduce your footprint, when you feel like your actions are minuscule in the grand scheme. And honestly, your actions are minuscule in the grand scheme. But collectively, over time, each of our actions are not insignificant.
What has helped me become more even keeled in this rough sea of environmental instability, is doing my part to minimize my impact, and enjoy each adventure out into this beautiful earth as if it could be the last. I believe action is, in fact, the best antidote to despair, whether that action is having a salad instead of a steak, chaining yourself to a tree, or writing a letter to your congressman about local issues. Writing this article makes me feel better.
So here’s my call to action for you: Focus on your impact on the environment. Don’t let others’ poor decisions influence yours. Rise above, and make more decisions with the environmental implications in mind, for you and for your children. Find the internal motivation and reward for making these decisions, and take pride in the decisions you make. There is so much that is outside of your control, and it isn’t worth fussing over. Educate yourself to the issues, but don’t let setbacks derail you. Educate others, especially those close to you, and use whatever power you have to better the environment. And remember, if everyone acted in this way, our issues would be met with solutions in short order.
Please, join me in this fight.
Here are a few more things you can do that will help you calm your despair, in no particular order:
Hug a tree.
Hug a friend.
Eat a plant.
Plant a tree.
Climb a hill.
Ride your bike.
Share a meal.
Read a book.
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