Thursday, August 18, 2011

The most important question

The Republican contenders for the White House have been all over the news lately, and (at least on the news sites I frequent) their constant attacks on the EPA, science in general, and climate science more specifically, has been a big part of their coverage. Rick Perry has apparently written scathing emails to the EPA, while taking vast campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry. (You can read this article, and this one, about some of his environmental policies, then this one about how crazy they are.) Michele Bachmann keeps claiming that climate science is all bunk. The fact that they are generally acknowledged to be the "frontrunners" makes me want to cry. (And cross my fingers that people in this country aren't a)stupid enough to elect them or b)fed up enough with the president to elect them.)
But I really think that they (and the people who, apparently, are stupid enough to think that they're brilliant) are focusing on the wrong issue when it comes to the climate. At this point, it doesn't matter whether almost every credible scientist is wrong about climate change and its causes. The more important question is, can we afford the consequences if they're right? The answer to that is clearly and overwhelmingly no. We can't afford the catastrophic loss of species (both in marine and land animals, and plants) that we're causing. Who can really gauge what the long-term consequences of those losses will be? We can't kid ourselves that it's just environmental problems that we're causing. What unknown benefits to our own species are we losing out on because we haven't cared enough for these creatures and plants?
We obviously can't take the health effects to ourselves, either. We're creating new diseases to wipe ourselves out (if you don't think so, google MRSA), and contaminating our bodies (which are, if you think about it, our most precious natural resource--at least on an individual level; you only get one body, so keep it safe and healthy) with toxic substances which have never been checked for human health. All kinds of chronic diseases have been on the rise for a while now, and the rates are continuing to climb higher. Asthma and cancer alone have catastrophic consequences to the family affected and to the community, not to mention the healthcare system, and are directly linked to environmental contaminants. How much is this costing the world, to treat (or in poor places, not treat) these diseases? What are the long-term impacts? I don't think there's a single person on earth who can fully comprehend all of the ramifications of what we're doing to ourselves and the planet.
So can we afford it? No. Can we do something about it? Yes. Will the government do something about it? As bashing the environment gets more and more popular, that looks less and less likely. Can individuals do something about it? Absolutely. I don't mean letter-writing campaigns to make your opinion known to politicians (although I do, also, advocate that), but the actions each of us takes on a daily basis can do good. Each time you bike rather than drive, what's the ripple effect of that? Not only are you doing yourself and the environment good, but you're actively not supporting an industry that has proven itself to be underhanded and greedy, and which works against the public good. (Even if it wasn't for the health and environmental problems, I wouldn't want to support the fossil fuel industry!) Every time you create a little bit less trash, can you really picture how much you're not adding to a landfill over your lifetime? I certainly can't. But I know that's what I'm doing, and it keeps me going. In this fight, where the consequences are so far-reaching and unthinkable, knowing that I'm doing my part (and maybe helping others to change their habits a little?) is a victory.
Any time I get depressed about how much impact my little actions are really having, I remind myself that Ghandi was just one man. Mother Theresa was just one woman. Nelson Mandela was just one man. Joan of Arc was just one woman. Martin Luther King, Jr., was just one man. Rachel Carson was just one woman. The evidence is all around that just one person can change the world. Even the "lowly" can cause such a stir that the world is never the same. If all I change are a few lives around me, I will have done some good and that is enough for me. If all I do are to change my own habits and do a little bit of good that way, that's enough for me. It kind of has to be, doesn't it?
There are times when I don't do so well, either. I broke down last week and bought a box of chai tea, even though the packaging had to be thrown away. You know what I found later that day? A recipe online for how to make your own chai tea concentrate. But now I know, and I can do better in the future. I have to remind myself that changing my mindset was the easy part and even that didn't happen overnight. Now I have to completely overhaul my habits, and that is the hard part. My transition period is turning out to be messier than I'd hoped (in so many ways). I'm trying to change my spending habits, the way I shop for everything, my eating habits, my driving habits...and so many more things. I'm changing my lifestyle drastically, all at once. By focusing on the important questions--like does this or that matter to me, and what can I do better next time--it keeps me focused on what my goals are and why I'm doing what I'm doing. "Is climate science right" doesn't enter into it at all, because ultimately that doesn't matter to me. Believing in it or not doesn't make it true or not. But stating your skepticism about it does go a long way toward showing what kind of person you are.

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