Why I care.

Kevin and I drove to the coast yesterday on a whim and spent the afternoon watching the interplay of tide, sand, bird, and wind. Wet sand reflected azure skies, then began to dry into undulating patterns of darkness and light. Feeling small against the expansive blue of the sea, we sat there and talked about the planet, its fragile beauty, and the problems we’ve helped to cause.

I tend to think of environmental problems as a failure of rationality. If we were rational creatures, we would be willing to accept overwhelming evidence, see probable outcomes and consequences, and make quick, far-reaching changes. Kevin, in contrast, thinks of them as the result of an underlying spiritual problem, an inability to see beyond oneself or an indifference about anything beyond oneself. (Some day I will persuade him to guest blog about this.)

I don’t like his perspective.  It means that educating people won’t necessarily make them care, take responsibility, or make significant changes. And if offering that information isn’t enough, I don’t know where to go from there. How do you make people care?

I wish I knew. The answer probably depends on the person; we all have different buttons to push. These are mine, and this is why I care about the fate of this little blue green world.

I care because I am a rationalist. I don’t believe in gods or an afterlife.  This life, this world, right here, right now — that’s where my attention and responsibility belong. I don’t think we can afford to count on having someone or something save our asses if we really screw this up.  The foreseeable future really isn’t looking all that rosy right now. Our lives depend wholly upon the planet and its health, so we’d better start being more responsible renters if we want to stick around on it.

I care because the great diversity of life and its ability to adapt on this planet are amazing, and we’re ruining it. Is it even possible to look at butterfly wing scales, watch a chameleon’s eyes swivel independently of each other, or even share a home with a cat without being astonished, grateful, and awed at living on a planet where this is possible? Not for me.

I care because our planet came so close to ending up a barren wasteland like Venus. I care because I appreciate natural beauty. I care because I am a part of this world, and a part of its problems. I care even though caring breaks my heart, even when it seems like caring will make no ultimate difference.

I care because I have no choice but to care.

You?

7 responses to this post.

  1. I guess that I care because I have to, also. Because it matters to me that we are losing things, every day, due to human carelessness … things that I don’t want to live without. To me … living a green life is just the right thing to do. It’s hard to understand why others don’t feel that way. I believe that part of it is ignorance … but there’s another part … maybe it’s more spiritual. It’s the concept that everything is here for us and no matter how much we use (or abuse) more will be provided. The evidence, of course, totally negates that belief but getting those who buy into that idea to see the reality is tough. Not impossible, though. So people like you and me keep talking about it and trying to reach others … and maybe some will hear. I have to believe that … just like I have to care!

    Wonderful post, as always!

    Reply

  2. I’m right with you on being a rationalist. And I think that’s where the problem lies – most people don’t operate rationally. Who are they learning from? Monkey see, monkey do. If everyone else is going with their impulses, what sucker is using their logical thinking? They’ll be left out, isolated, and that’s all that matters. I think I have to agree with whatever evolutionary biologist said we weren’t hardwired for thinking in the long-term.

    I understand the spiritual perspective. Because people respond more strongly to spiritual experiences, a spiritual connection to other living things would definitely help move one towards the right perspective.

    This is definitely the quote that’s got me stuck: “It means that educating people won’t necessarily make them care, take responsibility, or make significant changes. And if offering that information isn’t enough, I don’t know where to go from there. How do you make people care?”

    I read an article the other day that said the best way to make people go green is by telling them ‘everyone else is doing it! it’s the cool thing to do’ rather than any other logical argument. Imparting information is important and crucial, especially to recruit intelligent thinkers to continue raising awareness. But it’s not enough to convert everyone.

    Reply

  3. Excellent, thoughtful article. One of our founding principles is to address the disconnect much of our modern world has from our natural surroundings. When nature is seen as something to overcome, rather than something to appreciate and learn from, it sets up a win/lose scenario in which ultimately we all will lose.

    We don’t know if you can make people care, or take responsibility, or make changes. But we do believe we can empower connections with the natural world and create experiences that will lead to responsible actions.

    There will always be those who, literally, can’t see the forest through the trees – so they tear down the trees until there is no more forest. Our job is not necessarily to keep them from the forest, but show them that the forest is more than trees: It is discovery, it is knowledge, it is what connects us all to each other.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Lisa on 10/31/2010 at 10:26

    I have to think both of you are right. Some people will not care because they cannot see beyond themselves. Other people once they learn something and learn to see beyond themselves, will care very deeply.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Dulce on 06/03/2012 at 16:47

    I agree with Kevin, whoever he is.🙂 I think people need to become more selfless and stop thinking solely about themselves. If they all realized that we are all brothers and sisters then they would realize that all of their actions affect other people as well. People that they are linked to. Also, being a well centered and spiritual person, not necessarily religious, makes a person feel content and happy so that hopefully they will not need to buy more stuff to make themselves feel happy. Going green because others are doing it can be good but, isn’t it ironic how that has also become another form of consumerism? Aren’t we trying to reduce our own carbon footprint by purchasing less?:/

    Reply

    • Hi Dulce,

      Kevin is my long suffering spouse who talks me through many of my blog posts before they make it on the web.🙂 I think he’s right, too; I just want people to behave more rationally! One of my friends has made the point that we can’t just keep throwing facts at people and expect them to change their behavior; we have to make it personal, get it deep into the core of stuff they care about.

      I’m with you about the ‘green’ consumerism bit. I don’t think that’s really the right path, but I suppose it can be a way to start. I know I started by buying differently (recycled paper towels instead of regular, for example), before realizing the problem and the necessary solutions were much bigger.

      Reply

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