One With the Earth

Universal Symbol for Environmental Awareness

Facts & Opinions continued


Too Hard To Believe
For thousands of years we evolved a worldview that defines development, growth and abundance as progress. Success is measured in material wealth. Exploitation of the environment is encouraged. Wasteful consumption is an essential element of a healthy economy.

Until a few hundred years ago it didn't much matter- there was plenty of undeveloped space and the Earth seemed limitless in its abundance. Until very recently, these values were nearly universally celebrated and rewarded. Many still believe this is as it should be. Our survival will require that our values be redefined.

There are many reasons why there is little appreciation of the seriousness of the problem. Mostly, it is because we don't want to know. We don't want to know that the quality of life that we worked to achieve comes at the expense of the quality of life of our descendents. We don't want to feel the moral shame of knowing that we are acting irresponsibly. We don't want to abandon our claim that we are entitled the luxuries we possess. And we are angry that fate has chosen our generation to carry the burden of making the change to sustainability or forever be faulted for our failure to do so. We have no excuses. The science is conclusive. The evidence is overwhelming.

We are also afraid to face the truth because we doubt our ability to fix things and the consequences of failure are tragic. So we elect to listen to those that don't challenge us with the truth. We are both contributors to and victims of a conspiracy of denial.

"There is something fundamentally wrong in treating the Earth as if it were a business in liquidation."
--Herman Daly

Over One Billion People Have No Access to Clean Water
Deforestation = Water Loss and Soil Erosion
 New Challenges Require New Thinking
A major reason conservation and environmental protection efforts are not more effective is because the problem is not well defined and the consequences are not well stated. Most arguments still approach the problem in terms of life-style values, not of life survival. This seems reasonable considering environmentalist thinking date back 100 years or so when few ever imagined the planet running out of room and resources. For example, in one piece of activist training material, two reasons given for controlling sprawl are to reduce traffic congestion and to preserve open space. Those reasons relate to personal values not moral ones.

To some, life in the suburbs is worth the long commute and being free to use one's own car is an earned and appreciated convenience. If these values are immoral, why aren't there laws to deal with it like there are for littering?

In the debate over energy costs versus saving fish species, neither side sees themselves as selfish. Is saving some old trees more important than providing a livelihood for thousands of loggers? Is it wrong or is it healthy wholesome fun for a family to spend the day riding snowmobiles through wooded terrain?

The core values of our nation include being able to enjoy the fruits of our labor and the freedom to live as we please as long as we obey the law. If it is legal to buy a 100-acre field and build houses, why should those who do be faulted? If it is wrong to develop the land, the argument is with those who make the laws, not those who live within them.

As long the justifications for condemning environmentally degrading activities are argued in terms of personal values, conservation and environmental protection efforts will be insufficient to stop the ongoing degradation of the planet.

In addition, many people question the motivation and authority of environmentalists. They are often seen as trying to impose their values on others. They are seen as anti-progress and anti-capitalist obstructionists. It is presumed they are pro-abortion and against having fun. Because of their influence, there are environmental regulations on almost everything.

Environmentalists are often considered part of the problem and as obstacles to creating a strong economy and country. They make it more difficult for manufacturing, mining, transportation, building codes, energy production, animal and crop farming, land development and trash disposal.

By having environmental positions put in terms of sustainability will change the content of the dialog from lifestyle choices to survival of the planet for human habitation. This is a far more compelling argument.

There danger in doing this. The problem will seem too large and the solution unattainable. It risks leaving people feeling powerless to stop an inevitable collapse of civilization. This could generate feelings of despair and futility that could lead to an abandonment of moral conscience. Why care about the planet, or anything else for that matter, if there is no hope?