We need to change the conversation we are having about climate change. Evidently, the current approach is not working. Far too many people doubt the impact humans have on our planet. If they do acknowledge that our climate is changing, the realities of environmental catastrophe remain removed, far-flung, a future generation’s problem. If the crisis is the future’s concern, after all, how could they not prioritize their home life, career, family’s health and safety, and passions? Humans are fundamentally selfish beings – our survival demands this. But what if subjective wellbeing and environmentalism were not at odds? In this case, it would be not only possible, but advisable, to prioritize sustainable living. Doing so ensures the most selfish of futures. This is the only opportunity for our progeny to continue human history, to prolong the influence of our species upon this universe.
If the wish is to wipe humanity off the face of the planet, following along our current trajectory of materialistic and mindless consumption is a safe bet for destruction. How would this happen? There is a pandemic of short-term thinking that plagues decision-makers and consumers in our world. In the near future, clearing an acre of forest to plant crops to feed your cowherd seems like a profitable and reasonable decision. No farmer is individually responsible for deforestation that increases toxic atmospheric gases, but they are not alone. With the colossal impact compounded by billions of humans demanding animal protein or fossil fuels, each unsustainable action pushes us further into the path of destruction. There are finite quantities of freshwater, oil, coal, topsoil, and precious earth minerals. We either adapt to the environmental and resource challenges before us, or we let them defeat us.
We only have one planet. In the idealistic future painted by Elon Musk, there is a chance we may be able to colonize Mars. If this plan succeeds, it will require generations of investment, adaptation, and sacrifice. Early human settlers on Mars would live entirely indoors with brief excursions in specially crafted suits with artificial oxygen. They would not be able to breathe fresh air, grow plants in the ground, or experience wildlife in a natural habitat. Every experience on the Red Planet would be marred by careful scientific planning and precision. Gone would be the spontaneity entitled to humans on our home planet, the natural habit that has cradled our species throughout our existence. Certainly, any successful human colony on Mars would be an impressive and commendable feat. However, this should not encourage us to abandon Earth. The future of humanity on any planet requires immediate action to curb our emissions and change our lifestyles to conserve energy and resources.
Why? What might a future look like where humans have abandoned any environmental concern? Let us paint a picture of environmental apathy. It is one we should carefully consider, as a refusal to act on this knowledge guarantees a grim future for everyone.
Let us imagine that environmentalists around the world cease and desist, instead pretending the planet will be fine. Earth will live on in some form, surely, she is a resilient rock; but how hospitable will the world be after humans have wrought all the havoc we are capable of wreaking? This practice takes little imagination. In fact, all we must do is look at current behaviours and consumption patterns around the globe, and imagine we add 3 billion more humans into the mix. Currently, the Earth disproportionately provides for 7.8 billion humans. By 2050, forecasts predict a global population of approximately 10 billion. Disparate growth and living standards indicate that coming years will see explosive demand for middle and upper class luxuries enjoyed by the western world. The needs and wants of humans in 2021 have already deforested the Amazon, depleted fisheries, extinguished wildlife, polluted waterways, paved over countless habitats. What further destruction could we reap before people wake up to the fault of our actions?
There is a fundamental disconnect between what we want, what society has told us we need to be happy, and what our planet can supply us with. Minimalism, consuming with a sustainable mindset; these are not austere activities of penance. Mindful consumption is necessary to ensure the future of our species. To provide for 10 billion humans, we must drastically reconsider our lifestyles. It is absolutely possible to be happy, successful, and live a fulfilling life while providing for your family without robbing the environment of all its natural glory.
To meet the exponentially accelerating human demand, we have strained oil, phosphorus, freshwater, coal, natural gas and rare earth element reserves to near depletion. Within the next few decades, humanity’s fate will be sealed. We either face the threat of climate change and revolutionize our relationship with our planet, or life does not continue as we know it. Humanity might survive flooded coastlines, higher global temperatures, more frequent catastrophic weather events, toxic levels of atmospheric pollutants along with a litany of other problems too numerous to detail, however, there is another option that requires far less human sacrifice.
The behaviour change sought by environmentalists requires a rapid reconditioning of deeply ingrained beliefs and practices. If our goal is to reimagine sustainable human societies that coexist with healthy, balanced and thriving ecosystems, that respect, rather than neglect the natural world, we must change our approach. After all, if you want to do something that has never been done, you must think and act in ways that have never been thought or done before.
We ought to look to human societies that thrive without destroying their natural environment. There are many groups today and throughout history that have sustained their population without the use of fossil fuels, industrial agriculture, and plastic. Environmentally-friendly living is possible and enjoyable, it simply requires a shift in values. The maintenance of the Earth we love is worth every small sacrifice. In switching to regenerative agriculture that heals the soil, choosing less carbon-intensive, healthier plant-based foods, and favouring low-energy transportation options like walking, bikes and public transportation, we will have a profoundly positive impact. Is it not worth it, to preserve the planet for future generations, so that they might know and understand the simple joy of Nature?