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Complacency and the Environmental Catastrophe

Ask any reasonably well-informed person what the cause of climate change is and the chances are they will say greenhouse gas emissions (GGE’s), but they would only be partially correct. While it is true that man-made GGE’s are clogging Earth’s lower atmosphere, trapping heat and resulting in widespread climate change, the underlying 21st century cause, in contrast to the 19th and early 20th century when information was scarce, is something much more personal and lethal: complacency. Widespread complacency among politicians, big business and to a lesser degree, the general public, is the reason why, despite the various cries for restraint, global GGE’s continue to increase.

Complacency is why air pollution is getting worse in cities and towns across the world, leading to a range of health problems and premature deaths; complacency has caused the destruction of the planet’s rain forests, 85% of which have been lost through human activity, and it’s why the oceans have been poisoned and robbed of fish. Complacency is fueling the greatest extinction of animal and plant species in our history, it’s setting forests alight, filling the oceans and rivers with plastics and other pollutants, and is the reason why the ice mass in the North Pole is melting at unprecedented rates, leading to rising sea levels, flooding and the erosion of land, destroying homes and natural habitats, taking lives, displacing people – potentially millions.

It is complacency, which a wise man once described as the root of all evil, that is causing all of this and more – the ‘I’m all right Jack’ mentality’. And no matter how many reports are published and forecasts made, or how often someone speaks or writes about what is the greatest crisis in human history, few listen, even fewer act and nothing substantive changes, certainly nothing that matches the scale of the catastrophe. Do people even know there is a crisis, really? The level of apathy amongst governments and corporate power beggars belief, as does the lack of coverage in mainstream media, such as the BBC. Environmental issues should be headline news every single day, but scan the websites and publications of the mass media and the environment is barely mentioned.

Complacency is reinforced by greed and ignorance, greed for limitless profits, short-term gain and material comfort and ignorance of the scale, range and urgency of the crisis, and of the connection between lifestyle and environmental ruin. The fact that animal agriculture is responsible for more GGE’s than any other sector, for example, is not common knowledge, and when it is known, changes in behavior, where they occur at all, are slow. Cutting out meat, fish and dairy reduces a person’s individual GGE’s more than any other single factor. In a positive sign, and for a range of reasons, more people than ever are adopting a vegan diet, particularly in Europe and America. But globally 90% of the population continues to eat animal produce, and this needs to dramatically change. Dissipating ignorance and cultivating greater awareness is badly needed; to this end, a coordinated public information program is needed throughout the world; this is a worldwide crisis and, as all those working in the area know, it requires a unified ‘Environment First’ response.

S.O.P.: Save Our Planet

Restoring the planet to health is the major need of the time; together with a shift in lifestyles, this requires economic systemic change and a reorientation of political priorities. Knowing there is an environmental crisis, claiming to be concerned but doing little or nothing is pure hypocrisy; to their utter shame the vast majority of politicians are environmental hypocrites; weak and devoid of vision, they constitute the very embodiment of complacency; they are indebted to big business and have repeatedly shown that they cannot be relied on to initiate the radical policies needed to keep fossil fuels in the ground and repair the environmental carnage mankind has caused.

The number one priority of governments around the world is ‘the economy’. This is the sacred cow around which they tiptoe and to whom they make their reverential offerings in the hope of being blessed by limitless economic growth, no matter the environmental cost. Where they exist at all, Government policies to reduce GGE’s are designed and limited by the impact they will have on economic development; as such they remain totally inadequate.

Development takes place within the constructs of an unjust system that is dependent on constant consumption, encourages greed, produces huge quantities of waste, and is maintained by the relentless agitation of desire. These thoroughly negative elements work to the detriment of human beings and are the driving impulses behind behavior that has led to and is perpetuating the environmental crisis. The system demands that irresponsible consumption not only continues, but deepens and expands into areas of the world hitherto relatively untouched by its poison; it obstructs environmentally responsible policies and lacks the flexibility required to face the challenges, certainly within the time-scale needed if the planet is to be restored to health. Given these facts, the only sane, rational solution is to change the system to one that allows for an urgent meaningful response: a sustainable and just system based on altogether different principles and reasons for being. Neo-liberalism is not a living organism without alternatives, as some devotees of mammon would have us believe: it is a man-made structure and can therefore be redesigned to meet the urgent social and environmental needs of the time.

Systemic change and shifts in government policy will not just happen by themselves, it is up to all of us to demand that the environment becomes the number one priority for governments across the world. At the same time, we all need to examine how we live and ensure that we do so in a way that is determined, first and foremost, by environmental considerations – not by pleasure, convenience and comfort, as is often the case, but by love, for living in an environmentally responsible way is an act of love.

The decisions we make today and in the coming years will affect life on Earth for thousands of years to come. Sacrifices and the breaking of habits are required and within the spirit of collective individual responsibility these should be gladly accepted. Every political, business and lifestyle decision needs to be taken with an understanding of how it affects the environment, and a simple question posed: ‘will this action add to or reduce GGE’s’? If it will increase them, then don’t do it.

Consider how you get around: do you really need that fossil-fueled car (private ownership of cars needs to be drastically reduced, particularly in cities)? What you buy and who you shop with, who supplies your energy and does it come from renewable sources? Where you go on holiday and can you avoid flying and go by train or bus? If not, go somewhere else. What do you eat? If your diet is based on animal produce then reduce your intake. Shop based on need, buy secondhand, limit how often you wash clothing, reduce waste, boycott environmentally abusive companies, write to your political representatives, call for a national public information program; live responsibly and encourage family and friends to do likewise.

Complacency, apathy and hypocrisy coalesce to form the most noxious causes of climate change and environmental vandalism, and until this Trinity of Destruction is overcome, and the crisis is taken seriously by the political class, corporations and the public at large, nothing substantive will take place; and unless fundamental change occurs, and urgently, life on Earth will become increasingly uncomfortable, ecosystems will continue to collapse, and one dark day, in the very near future, it will be too late. The Shroud of Complacency needs to be thrown off now, today, and widespread action rooted in environmental awareness initiated; where there is concerted, sustained action therein lies hope.

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Graham Peebles is a British freelance writer and charity worker. He set up The Create Trust in 2005 and has run education projects in Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and India. 

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