When we get up in the morning and go out into a world that’s as familiar to us as it was the day before it’s easy to forget, or to deny, that all is not well with it. But sooner or later a new headline appears that shakes us out of our comfortable delusion: extreme weather, melting ice caps, rising seas, pollution, ocean acidification, deforestation, animals pushed to the brink of extinction. The bad news is gaining weight and gathering pace, but during the periods of respite in between we somehow manage to pretend that it isn’t happening.
The environmental problems we face have become so great that the advice of James Lovelock, the scientist who proposed the Gaia hypothesis of Earth as a self-regulating system, is simply to enjoy life while you can, because in twenty years “global warming will hit the fan”. He is certain we’ve gone beyond the point of no return and nothing we do now can stop climate change and the havoc it will wreak. Reading the articles beneath those headlines it can sometimes be hard not to believe that all is indeed lost.
But should we really just give up? Even if reducing energy consumption, recycling, not using plastic bags, or being less wasteful can seem like futile gestures, perhaps they wouldn’t be if we all did them. Shares in SeaWorld recently fell 33% after a significant decline in ticket sales followed the release of Blackfish, a documentary that exposed the cruelty involved in capturing orcas and training them to perform tricks for human entertainment. The incarcerated killer whales might not be free yet, but if enough people stop going to see them they will be.
We can’t rely on corporations and governments driven by profit and economic growth to do the right thing on our behalf, we must do that for ourselves. Maybe James Lovelock is right and it is too late to save the planet as we know it, but if we can reduce our impact on it in even the smallest way, shouldn’t we at least do that? And if enough of us act then who knows, maybe we and our fellow creatures might get to enjoy more than the next twenty years after all.