Saving the Planet?

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“Purchase a bag-for-life and be good to the planet” declared the voice at ASDA as I lost myself in the aisles this week.

It’s clear now that everybody seems to be aware of the importance of doing “their bit for the environment”; we re-use carrier bags, switch off the lights when not in a room and make an effort to recycle. But what is the motivation for these adaptions to our daily routine?

All too often we hear about what is good for the environment and how to “save the planet” but we rarely link this with what is good for us. It’s all very well to do these “green” things but in doing them for the sake of the “environment” are we missing the real point?

The environment doesn’t need saving; it changes naturally over time and adapts to the varying conditions of the climate. So it doesn’t really have a desired state to be in, in the way that human beings do. So when we talk of being good to the environment, we surely mean being good to ourselves, both in the present and in the future.

This is because it is not the environment that will suffer as a result of climate change; it is us. Human beings will be the ones who have to flee their homes because of flooding, go hungry because of crop failure and fight with their neighbour for living space and food, not the environment. When it comes down to it, as we recycle, double-glaze and set out on our bikes, we are actually trying to prevent the collapse of civilisation and the end of the human race (as dramatic as it sounds).

So, why do we persist on citing the planet as the beneficiary of our “green” attempts, when the planet doesn’t care it is hot or cold (or somewhere in between)? Perhaps it is too early for us to grasp what climate change actually means for the future of the human race, or perhaps we would rather not consider a future world of unknown disaster and drastic change.

It may be that the reason our individual efforts in attempting to avoid serious environmental disaster are so small and disjointed is because we have no real motivation in “saving” a planet that we don’t understand all too well. Is it too much to ask people to think about changing their ways for something that is infinitely bigger than themselves in an economic system where it is becoming increasingly apparent that looking after number one must be the priority?

Given that it is (arguably) human selfishness that has caused global warming; via overconsumption and mismanagement of the land to suit our short-term needs and wants, as well as other reasons, shouldn’t this selfishness also be used to promote sustainability in our lifestyles and actions? If people can see the link between changing their lifestyle and safeguarding their future (or that of their children) then perhaps more profound and significant steps would be taken to achieve environmental sustainability. Ones that amount to more than flicking a light switch when we leave the room.

It may be that in naming the planet or environment, rather than ourselves, as the thing we are trying to save, we are reducing our chances of seeing the kind of change that is really needed.

But if real action is not taken soon, I suppose we could always turn the telly off when the news comes on reporting of mass flooding in Bangladesh. You know, to help save the planet and all….

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