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.