Scientists tell us that the threat of climate change (not to mention the other issues associated with the depletion of natural resources in the face of population growth) is the most important event facing mankind in the entire history of humanity. That’s quite a thought, when you reflect on it. After 10,000 years of our living in organized society, we’ve come to the point at which our ability to limit the damage we’re doing to our environment over the next few decades will mean the difference between our success and failure as a species.
Given the urgency, can anyone believe we’re responding effectively to the challenge? Let’s take a moment and look at the balance of positive and negative forces at work here. Let’s begin with the forces whose effect is positive (slowing population growth, limiting consumption of non-renewable resources, migrating to renewable resources), of which there seem to be two distinct kinds:
1) A minute percentage of people who make huge personal sacrifices and work tirelessly and selflessly on behalf of humanity. These include both household names like Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as many millions of other people, working in relative (or complete) obscurity, doing their best according to their lights. Of course, this is not an all-or-nothing proposition, and thus in this class we need to place all the scientists, writers, honest political leaders, honest business people, teachers, social activists, men of God, etc., who have shown the bravery to stand up for unpopular or unprofitable beliefs in the face of criticism — and even ridicule — in order to promote what they believe in their hearts to be right.
2) The positive effects caused by individuals and business entities working on a profit-motive, whose products happen, accidentally, to help. Here I include the divisions of the Global 500, e.g., G.E. and Siemens, that are focused on owning the world as it goes green. While we don’t ascribe a moral goodness to this, we acknowledge the fact that its effects are positive nonetheless.
Now, let’s think about the forces whose effects are negative (promoting consumption of non-renewable resources, diminishing the health and well-being of the world population, etc.) Here, famously, we have the fossil fuel industries, intent as they are, despite the contentions they make so convincingly in their PR campaigns, on extracting and selling the last drop of crude or lump of coal from the ground, at the expense of the health and safety of all living things now and in the future.
Obviously the list doesn’t end there. Why not mention the fast-food industry, aggressively destroying the forests to make room for beef cattle — groups whose ultimate effects are child obesity and malnutrition? Why not talk about the psychiatric drug industry and what it’s done to put 8 million American school children on Ritalin?
It’s quite the battle. I guess we can all root for the good guys, while hoping that more people in the middle, who compose the huge majority of the world’s population, figure out that this really IS the time when we either turn this around — or we don’t.