The Environmental Crisis: A Human Issue

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John Hlavin, Notre Dame

The environmental crisis is not a political issue, it is a human issue. We have arrived at the point where it is no longer a matter of opinion, but a matter of fact. There exists today an immense divide between scientific consensus and the agendas of technological progress, political discourse, and the culture of consumption. Every discussion regarding these controversial matters must be predicated on the unbiased interpretation of evidence. In regards to the environmental crisis the world faces today, there is an impasse in constructive conversation as a result of the failure to relinquish biases and accept facts. Many people, often on the conservative side, are inexcusably refusing to recognize the conclusive data. The scientific community agrees there is no doubt that the global ecosystem is facing a unique challenge in the form of human-induced climate change and worldwide ecosystem collapse.

The public stance on the environment today holds that it is both an inexhaustible resource and a bottomless depository. Society thinks its resource consumption can be maintained. In essence, we are killing the proverbial goose that lays golden eggs. Our greed is not sustainable.  The benefits we derive from the natural world will fail us eventually if we continue to suck the lifeblood from Mother Nature at such an unviable rate. Not only do we take blood but we replace it with poison, as we deposit inordinate amounts of waste, from industrial toxics to noxious fumes, into the environment. At the hands of pollution, the economy falters, disease bourgeons, and the natural world becomes robbed of its beauty. Yet these obscene abuses occur at an alarming frequency.

What drives these attitudes, one might ask? Our culture. We live in a consumerist society that is dependent on the acquisition of the newest and latest fad. We live in a materialistic society that associates status with amount of possessions; our dependence and fixation on these goods have become an enslaving addiction. There needs to be a paradigm shift away from consumerism and materialism. The natural world cannot bear the load placed upon it much longer.

In addition to social status, convenience has become another modern tyrant that cracks the whip over the world’s ecosystem. For instance, plastic is simultaneously one of the most important modern scientific discoveries and one of the greatest scourges to nature. Disposable water bottles, plastic straws, and plastic bags are used one time and discarded, and from there, if we are lucky, end up in a landfill. More often than not, however, our trash escapes into the wild where it wreaks havoc. I encourage anyone who has never seen what happens to wildlife at the hands of plastic waste to go online and perform an image search for “plastic and wildlife.” Drinking a bottle of water does not feel as refreshing afterward.

The feeling of insignificance in the face of this tragedy is not unusual. Everyone must realize that no amount of effort is too small. But regardless of any environmentalist motivations, people who are accustomed to such a lifestyle are wary of implementing such drastic changes, which are so directly antithetical to the status quo, due to a reluctance to relinquish comfort or fear of social reproach. Instinctively, one looks to scientific innovation to solve this current predicament. Through technological developments we hope that our behaviors will be justified. Yet man’s grasp will ever exceed his reach and systemic greed will not stop here. First, science will not be able to keep pace, and second, too much damage is done to ignore the sins of the past.  From a more philosophical approach, detachment from material goods will benefit more than just the environment. We cling to physical goods as if we are clinging to life itself. Willingly, we chain ourselves to worldly desire and consequently surrender the freedom that comes when one shakes off the shackles imposed by the aforementioned societal norms.

It is high time that we cut loose the fetters which have constrained us, the fetters being the social order which has besmirched us since birth. Hunched over, so intent on looking at ourselves and satisfying our personal desires, it has become increasingly difficult to look up and see the needs of others, especially those who are impoverished due to environmental neglect. Consumerism and materialism are diametrically opposed not only to care for the environment but care for the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized. By looking beyond ourselves, we can live intentionally and deliberately so that no action is performed without premeditation of its consequences in relationship to the natural world and fellow members of our global community.

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