Enough Environmental Blabber, it’s Time We Take Action

Deborah San Angelo, Staff Writer

No one would dispute the fact that we’re not doing enough to correct the damage we’ve caused to our environment. The more closely you look at the facts, the more you’d rather not. It’s not just the problems themselves, but our inability to address them.  A depressing and distressing state of affairs, it’s tangled up in a myriad of social, economic and political complexities that no one knows how to sort out. Since little is being done, scaring us into it might be necessary.

Nothing motivates quite like fear. A powerful new threat turns enemies into allies. Resolve kicks in, steps get taken, things finally get done.

In the film “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” Keanu Reeves’ character, Klaatu coldly explained the logic of exterminating the entire human race in order to save the valuable ecosystems of planet Earth. Immediately, earth’s inhabitants sprung into action. They stopped debating and arguing and got their act together. We need a wake-up call like that.

On the issue of the environment, we’re stuck. We’re caught in a cycle with a life of its own, a design for life based on rampant consumption and wasting our resources. We know we have to change, but we’re unwilling. Our common sense has not evolved at the same rate as our technology.  As our toys become smarter than us, we assault the delicately balanced systems giving us life.

Changing our design for living won’t come painlessly or easily, but we’re not even getting started with the task at hand. We’re not ready to free ourselves from the vicious cycle of hyper-consumption and hyper-productivity. We know what needs to be done but don’t do it. We blabber on, though.

The United Nations’ World Summit on Sustainable Development has chatted for over three decades. This global conclave meets regularly to chase the elusive goal of “sustainability.” The vague agreements coming out of the meetings rely more on good will than obligations. Treaties get signed and industrialized countries pledge to strive for improvements. Of course, cat- fights break out as to which nations should take which steps first. In essence, it’s a nice get-together making people feel better.

Ecologists talk too. Seven billion people can’t suck up every possible resource without creating huge changes in the environment. While it’s true the earth is no stranger to change and upheaval,  now the cause of the changes is us. John Kress, director for the Smithsonian’s Consortia for Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet says, “The current rate and scale of these changes are unparalleled by any time since the beginning of human civilization.”

Geologists painstakingly piecing together the years of Earth’s history debate the merits of declaring a new epoch. The rise of humanity since the last ice age has encompassed the past 12,000 years, known as the Holocene Era. Now some think we have actually entered a new era, one in which humanity shapes the world to its own purpose. It does this to such an extent that it will have permanent effects in the planet’s geological record. They’ve already named it: the Anthropocene Era.

It’s great people keep themselves busy. Given the facts, there’s certainly a lot to talk about. Couldn’t the amount of effort put into forecasting the future be directed toward working to secure it? Instead of cataloging the thousands of plant and animal species likely to face extinction, couldn’t we take action now to save them? Might we harness the same inventiveness that got us into this mess to pull ourselves out of it? It’s essential that we do things differently right now. Simultaneous work on multiple fronts awaits us. But we’re not motivated enough yet, and possibly won’t be unless we’re scared into action.

While the human population grows indefinitely and countries strive to live as comfortably as Americans, the attack on the environment picks up speed.

The National Geographic Society estimates the whole of Earth’s population, all seven billion of us, could fit into Los Angeles with room to wiggle our shoulders. But space is not the problem. The environmental impact of our desires is.

Satellite images now map out this impact. Earth is seen from outer space as a ball of glowing lights: power grids, cities, transportation routes, moving vehicles and McDonald’s golden arches. The nighttime signature of human activity lights up the heavens like an all-night diner. Although an impressive sight, it’s hard not to gasp at the scale of what we’ve done. Like a glowing beacon traveling in time and space, planet Earth is going down.