Long before “zero waste” and “low impact living” were things we talked about, there was the notion of treading lightly upon the earth. “Treading lightly” is more poetic and inviting than the dogmatic newer phrases, but as the negative impacts we humans are having on the earth become more and more apparent, perhaps stronger language is needed as well.
As I walked along the beach recently, I got to thinking about the consumerism and climate change, burning rainforests and rising sea levels, and I once again pondered something that I’ve been circling around for a while. It’s a rather dark thought and when I’ve broached it with others, they tend to look slightly alarmed. I’m willing to risk it here though, and it is this:
The world will not end if the climate changes radically.
We might, though.
And maybe that’s for the best.
I know, I know. It’s a little grim. However it may be the kick in the pants that many of us need to finally accept that we are all part of the problem, but that we could be part of the solution too.
Think first from an evolutionary perspective. Evolution says that species change to suit their environments. If they can’t change in a timely manner, they die. What does that mean for us? Homo sapiens hasn’t been around that long in a geo-historical sense. It may be that we are entirely unsuited for the modern world and the end of our species (or our species as we know it) will soon come to pass. It may be our time to become relics and fossils for future inhabitants of the planets to contemplate.
Think second (if you’re so inclined) from a religious or spiritual perspective. As beings who have a sense of “creation” and a god or gods who created it for us, we are charged with being good stewards of the land, seas, skies and all the creatures that exist in those places. If we fail at taking care of what’s been entrusted to us, then don’t we deserve the “wrath” that follows?
Or, consider that if we ruin our world through our own actions, it is only just that it causes the end of our species. If we can’t use our intellects to think beyond our immediate comfort and into future impacts, if we abdicate all responsibility for tending the earth to someone else, perhaps we’re just too stupid to live. Like those island species who don’t know how to evade predators or the creatures whose mating rituals are so convoluted that they never get around to procreating, perhaps humans will come and go with relatively little fanfare.
After all, we are but a blip in the history of this planet. Our cities no more solid than a child’s sand castle in the face of the oncoming tide. We live on a planet of constant, rather drastic change. It just happens at a different time scale than the one in which we live our lives.
(Perhaps now you understand why people look at me a little askance when I start to riff on these ideas in conversation.)
All of these tough reminders can create action though, and action is a wonderful antidote to despair. Yes, the earth is changing – partly because that is the nature of the earth and partly because the individuals all over this planet can’t comprehend that they are actively ruining it through their daily, seemingly insignificant, choices.
Mostly though, as I wandered along the beach, these thoughts moved me to a tender new feeling. Instead of frightening me, it heightened my resolve to love the world more fiercely. To overcome my inertia and longing for comfort by making harder choices and enduring a bit inconvenience. To tend and nurture the small portions of the planet that I encounter, be that planting some native flowers or encouraging a small jelly fish back into the sea.
Perhaps it’s not really about treading lightly at all, or only worrying about single-use plastics. Perhaps it’s about loving the spinning ball of atoms we call home so devotedly, that we wouldn’t dream of causing it harm.
And the change has to start with each of us. As the saying goes, we must be the change we want to see in the world. Our choices and actions are the place to start. No plastic straw thank you. Wait, let me walk back to the car to get my reusable shopping bag. If I must fly a lot, what can I do to offset that? Plant some trees? Invest in “green” companies?
While the human species may be more endangered than any of us like to acknowledge, we also have a unique ability to anticipate. The adaptations we’ll need to make as a species can come peacefully, or they can be accompanied by war and humanitarian crises. We can go down fighting to save our species or simply fighting each other.
Love the world fiercely or disappear entirely into the refuse of generations of bad decisions. There’s really only one choice, right?