Only changes in behavior will save the planet

Only changes in behavior will save the planet

“How does one act while the planet’s sixth extinction unfolds?” Gail Cochrane’s question last week already suggests answers, as do the actions of people, particularly the younger generation who have staged actions around the world demanding urgent actions of political leadership.

Evidence has long established the dire situation the planet is in, whether in the statistics of endangered and extinct species, reports of air and water quality, and swiftly disappearing glaciers.

Here’s my suggestion for the first thing anyone can do: look at some ads and reflect on how manipulative and usually ridiculous their premises are as they promote ever more consumer activity. If we are to see a shift in values to favor all life forms, a little restraint in what we collect would be a good start.

Consumerism as a way of life doesn’t suggest that any one of us is doing something evil, yet collectively the results have been a catastrophe disguised as economic progress. Let’s have more economists look at how fuel-efficient practices can help clean the air and how money can be made, and jobs created by promoting sustainable energy.

Don’t be afraid of a discussion with a person who might begin by taking issue with you, even if the one who won’t change his ways because a neighbor won’t change his may be a lost cause. It is a good idea to step away from political ideologies. Look to solutions. Don’t be distracted by exploitive messages from any side.

Whether God created the Earth 6,000 years ago or it has evolved through time from the Big Bang, surely the impetus to treat nature well and protect our earthly home should be equally strong.

What can we do? Eat less meat. Refuse to use pesticides. Get to know the natural Arizona and see what needs protecting. Use no plastic bottles. Recycle. Travel selectively. What can’t we do, at least as individuals? Plenty, which is why getting to know what advocacy organizations do in taking on legal and other battles is important. Support them.

I grew up in a region of England dominated by factories and smokestacks. It looks cleaner now, but those factories and their emissions had been around for a long time before practices changed.

When they were built, there was no precedent to suggest the amount of pollution they would produce and the damage it would do, but today we have no excuse for ignoring industry’s legacy, under both capitalist and communist regimes. You don’t need to cite big, powerful, systems to come up with examples of major pollution. People living by a river in Nicaragua, for example, toss their garbage in. Away it flows, out of sight out of mind, perhaps like the plastics we throw away that wind up in the oceans.

Yes, it is often a drag to read labels on the boxes that contain our food and then look up online why it is bad to use palm oil. But it has to be done. We can’t escape being consumers in this society, but we can be wiser consumers, and more imaginative ones.

Imagine no cancer clusters, no forests disappearing and all the people appreciating their place on the planet beside elephants, whales, coyotes, warblers and eagles. On the other hand, imagine the planet without animals, and only television to distract from our sadness at letting them go.

Whatever we do, it will be less than we could have done, but as Leonard Cohen wrote in his Anthem, “Ring the bells that still can ring/ Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in”.

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