Why is it that so many in our communities are either clueless about environmental issues or, very often, averse to doing anything about them? Or, the position taken is something to the effect of “Oh I agree, but…”, and here a number of “reasonable” sounding protestations crop up. Ultimately though, these are just excuses and cover-ups.
I once had one of my neighbors say to me “some people don’t believe in recycling”. Huh? I hadn’t realized doing something that basic and common-sensical was a matter of faith.
I am teased frequently by my Armenian friends about my Sierra Club affiliation and activities. But why, besides the primal urge to needle friends, does this happen?
I had an insight lately when a friend mentioned having lived under oppression. The point was this friend’s child’s inability to truly understand what that’s like when learning about it from the news. This is one of those “I care about the environment but;” friends. That’s when it hit me. Since improvement on the environmental front generally requires government intervention, and since government can be oppressive, especially in the experience of many adult Armenia’s currently walking this planet, maybe environmental regulations are viscerally, intuitively, subconsciously perceived as just “more government B.S.”
Just last weekend, in a room of a dozen or so Armenia’s, only one agreed with me regarding the urgency of acting to save our planet. This one knew, because of regular business visits to China, what was being done to the planet. The description of coughing, of insufferably dirty air and surroundings, sounded like the stories of London and Los Angeles in the 1950s when people died on killer smog days. And therein may lie the irony. Because of a relatively timely response, the worst excesses of that time are largely corrected. But the more insidious, momre difficult to remedy activities and poisons of humans must now be addressed. But, these are much more difficult to perceive. A hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica? Phthalates leaching from plastic containers into the food and liquids we store? Flame retardant substances that get into the air an water in the California but travel through the web of life on this planet to manifest themselves in the mothers’ milk of Eskimos? These examples and countless others like them are not as in-your-face as black air, murky-oily-opaque water, or land with withered vegetation and the corpses of animals littering it. They seem remote, but are no less urgent than the lethal activities of the 40s-50s-60s that triggered the environmental activism and remediation of the 70s-80s-90s.
Overtly, the reaction to what we must do to live sustainably is couched in argumen’s of reasonability. “After all,” one hears, “there’s a price to be paid for everything. How much effort is justified given the cost?” I suppose the answer is “How much is your life, or your child’s, or your seventh generation’s life worth”. We’re talking about a quality life. Not one where huge proportions of the population, even in their youth, are sickly, diseased, or dying. From asthma to cancer, the linkage between what we’re doing to our surroundings and how we and all other life forms on this planet are suffering, is becoming ever more obvious.
Remember the U.N. report that came out a year or two ago documenting that our, humans’, ecological “footprint” was larger than the planet? That means we’re using up clean water faster than Earth, through its amazing systems can clean it; same with air, same with the land and all that live in and on them. We have become utterly profligate. This is most true in the developed countries. But, humans being how they are, those in the developing countries– the popular examples are India and China with a combined population of 2.5 billion– want the same “quality of life” as their wealthier counterparts. Armenia’s no exception.
But now let me ask, at what cost? Those of us living beyond the Earth’s means already must cut back, but in humanly workable ways. Telling someone to quit driving his car tomorrow won’t fly. But providing comprehensive public transit systems powered by the sun and wind will entice her out of the car. Those countries not there yet must take a different approach to developing their economies than the destructive route taken by the current world leader. How long do we think the oil that fuels the economy of today’s world will last? How long before the carbon dioxide and pollution we dump into our air reach a critical point of no return? No one has exact answers, but the direction is clear. We are near the edge of the cliff. We can either run off it with our eyes closed or step back.
We as survivors of genocide should know better than anyone what the threat of extermination is like. We should be leaders in this field. Instead, we’re busy building huge houses and driving Hummers. We’re busy living wastefully, as if we’re trying to “make up” for previous generations’ lost consumption.
We’ve got to smarten up. When helping Armenia, we should provide ever more means of using solar, wind, and other so-called alternative sources of energy. When living our lives, in the Diaspora or Homeland, our use of poisons (pesticides and herbicides) should be moderated or eliminated. The food we waste should be reduced. Our thermostats should not be set at 80 degrees in winter and 65 in summer. Our use of public transit and consumption of sustainably produced food should increase. Our attitude towards our home, planet Earth, should be one not just of stewardship, but “coorcoorank”.