Monday, April 25, 2011

Are we fighting the right battles?

The impacts of human behaviour are felt throughout the natural world. If you just scratch the surface of the ecological issues facing us, you'll see that there are issues of all sorts regarding air and water and land degradation, biodiversity loss and persistent organic pollutants ending up in breast milk. Places that we have never even been to are now feeling the repercussions of our collective choices. And more likely than not, there are scores of environmentalists focusing on these issues. There are people that are trying to make sure that the air is clean, that our waters are unpolluted, that the soil isn't eroded. There are people trying to get certain plastics banned, and there are people that are trying to get coal-fired power plants reduce mercury emissions so that they don't end up in tuna that their children it.

As environmentalists, it seems that we're always fighting battles on many different fronts. Yet, as soon as one battle is won, the next one rears its head. There is no time to catch your breath. Oil spills are happening all the time. Once we've dealt with one toxic chemical being released into our waters, industry comes up with another chemical that we soon realise is toxic, too. Then we have to fight to ban that chemical. (Such is the same with human rights violations, which are, to me, the same issues as environmental issues.) There's something wrong here.

It seems as if we are tackling important issues (albeit slowly), but we are missing the most important point. We are saying, "Stop using chemical X," and then we quickly trust and hope that chemical Y that will end up in bottles will be benign. What we aren't doing with our approach, is taking down the systems of oppression, systems that will inevitably result in the constant abuse and mistreatment of our Earth and its people. I don't have to name these systems; it is plain to see what drives ecological degradation and injustice.

I believe that those who are vested in the current norms would have it no other way. They would rather have us fight these individual battles, have us compromise on these single issues, and not have criticise and reform what it is, truly, that results in the multitude of problems facing us. They are probably sitting in their offices and boardrooms, disconnected from the issues, not seeing the faces of people affected by an oil spill, not seeing the birds choking for air.

What we need is a radicalism that drives at the very heart of the crisis they face us. Our societies are founded on inequality and disrespect. We treat the Earth as inferior to ourselves, and we disrespect it. We "use" the Earth to provide us with rare earth metals for computers. We probably blasted a big hole in the ground to get to those ores. We treat those in "developing" countries, or those in places less powerful here in the US, those whose "natural resources" we're using here as inferior to us by disrespecting their lands and mountains and water.

The other day, I wrote a post titled I am not extreme. Indeed, our behaviours, different than those defined by the norms today, need to be those that would be normal in the world we want to live in - a world of equality, humility and respect towards everything. Yet that does not mean that our efforts today should not be viewed as different. In fact, our efforts and thoughts today do need to be radical. We cannot be satisfied with just keeping our oceans clean. If we commit ourselves to such a battle and see satisfaction in that, we will have allowed those that polluted the oceans ample opportunities to find new ways of degrading the land.

Our efforts and thoughts do need to be radical today, and we must reconcile this radicalism with the hope that there will be no need for such radicalism in our world. And we must always remember that we cannot hope for others to think and act radically unless we think so and do so ourselves.

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