It’s a catchy slogan, and it’s everywhere: “Save the Earth by changing a lightbulb!” “Save the Earth by not using plastic bags at the supermarket!” “‘Save the Earth by buying recycled toilet paper!” The real message: you don’t actually have to do much, give up anything, or go significantly out of your way to feel that warm fuzzy feeling that you are part of the solution. You are green because you took ten seconds and swapped your incandescent for a CFL. Congratulations.
I have news you don’t want to hear. You are part of the problem. I am part of the problem. In order for us not to be part of the problem, we’d either have to take drastic measures to reduce our impact and put conspicuous effort into undoing the damage we’ve already done, or we’d have to be dead. Unless you’re No Impact Man (and I suspect that even he isn’t really no impact, although he sure tries a lot harder than the rest of us), you are part of the problem. Full stop.
You can (and should) certainly do things to be less of the problem. By all means, mitigate environmental impact by changing a lightbulb. Be less of the problem by eating less meat. (Not very catchy, huh?) I think we should continue to make every possible effort to reduce our impact, preserve our environment, and respect the many lucky coincidences that allowed life to thrive here. But as far as saving the Earth goes, well, at this point, we’re left looking at damage control. Even if we stopped all our emissions producing activities like, today, we would still need to deal with the climate change juggernaut we’ve already set off.
Moreover, the Earth doesn’t need saving. The Earth is a solid, rocky sphere. Some watery bits on top, some molten bits in the center. But basically rock. Regardless of what humans do, the planet itself will be absolutely fine until it’s engulfed by the dying sun in the far distant future. (My guess is that we won’t be around to see it happen.) What needs saving is the Earth as we know it, with its staggeringly awesome biodiversity, fecundity, and ability to support a couple billion humans comfortably.
I understand that ‘Save the Earth’ is a useful and catchy marketing phrase that might inspire more people to make more ecologically conscious decisions. But I’m also concerned that it paints too simple, too optimistic a picture when we desperately need people to do more than screw in a CFL.