I’m about to confess to long-term crazy behaviour on my part. And then, I will read your mind.
First, the confession. For over a quarter of a century, I have devoted considerable effort to what may well be a lost cause: trying to encourage far stronger environmental protection.
I have done so as I became highly concerned about issues like deforestation and global warming; and I believed some authors who predicted things would change for the better if people were told of problems, and what should be done to make our way of life sustainable.
Well, I’m now even more concerned than ever by global warming, along with a host of other issues. Yet despite a wealth of information on problems and how we might solve them, we humans have not changed our ways. So perhaps my course of action has been crazy, not least as it failed to achieve one goal many share: it did not make me rich!
But enough about me; let’s move on to reading your mind. Give me a little time here while I concentrate on you. It might be best if you gaze at my photo, look into my eyes, and open your mind, let me see your innermost thoughts.
Aha! I am starting to sense some information about you. Yes, I’m sure of some things.
I’m sure you like to breathe clean air, free of smoke and smog. You also like to drink clean water, and prefer that it is plentiful and cheap or even free. You enjoy food, and want to feel confident the food you eat is safe, and nutritious. Not only that: you also prefer that food prices are relatively stable, which means that crops can be reliably grown and harvested.
Hmmm… I’m not quite so sure now, but I also think you appreciate living in a world where there are places of outstanding natural beauty, and where tigers prowl jungles, polar bears hunt on Arctic ice floes, pandas roam bamboo forests, and sharks patrol reefs, helping keep ecosystems in balance. If you have children, you hope they and their children can grow and live in a similar world.
Yes, this is very simple mind reading: we might hope that most people share similar aspirations. Desires to breathe clean air and drink clean water are common worldwide; while wanting to share the planet with wildlife we may never encounter might be more the concern of someone living in the developed world, perhaps in an urban area remote from many creatures.
Yet as this shows, the environment is important. Indeed, it is crucial: the natural environment is our life support system.
Why do we humans treat nature so badly?
So why do we humans treat the natural environment so badly? Why is the natural environment treated like a minor issue? And what can we do to ensure changes for the better?
Before these questions, it is perhaps worth considering whether there really is anything to be concerned about. After all, sitting in a comfortable apartment, eating food from around the world and perhaps watching television on a big screen, it can seem all is just fine with the world at large.
But imagine you and I were among people on a spaceship, and the technical experts reported serious trouble with the life support system. Wouldn’t there be a lot of concern and discussion regarding the problems, and great efforts to solve them and keep us safe?
Well, in a way we are all on a spaceship, though not one that was human made, and this earth is the only place we humans have ever called home. And scientists are indeed reporting serious troubles, such as with air quality; immense destruction of forests and coral reefs; plummeting populations of many species of plants and animals; along with the overarching threat of global warming as fossil fuel emissions cause temperatures to rise and weather patterns to become wilder, less predictable.
In response, what do we do? Not very much, compared to the scale of the issues. Some people even claim there is little or nothing to worry about, but they are rarely experts, and too often sponsored by corporations concerned that addressing problems will reduce their profits. The media treats the natural environment as a minor issue.
Corporations and governments are partly to blame for the indifference, but our casual mistreatment of the environment is ultimately the responsibility of every one of us; and in turn affects us all.
What can and should be done? There are no easy answers, but I am certain that small individual actions like turning off lights for an hour each year are woefully inadequate. We need to go way beyond this, and call for larger scale changes, using mass media as I am trying here, along with social media, personal interactions, any ways possible. We need to not just say no to many harmful developments, but also support developments that just might help get us onto a sustainable track, and support groups like local ngos and the growing global movement 350.org.
What do you think? I cannot read your mind here, but I hope you have ideas, and that you can take action that will help effect the necessary changes.
Translated to Chinese [was for publication in Ming Pao Weekly, Hong Kong; but editor wanted changes and I did major revision]: