Our world is in a scary place right about now. No, I’m not stoking fears about technology or political extremism again.Literally, planet Earth is starting to look like a scary place to live. Wildfires and hurricanes are getting more severe and common. Biodiversity is going down as more species die out. Even locally, I have noticed our weather getting weirder and weirder. Of course, weather and climate are not the same, but the fact that Connecticut weather has been feeling more extreme and erratic is no coincidence.
Basically, we are going to exterminate our species if we don’t fix something fast. We may hold on for a while, of course, but the next few generations may be some of the last. That being said, with all of the innovations humans have come up with to proliferate themselves, I do have some faith. If we have any hope for long-term sustainability, it is in the advancements in science and technology that might reverse the damage we have done. Of course, the planet can repair itself on its own, but it will not do so fast enough without our help.
From this perspective, it is important to take action to slow the rates at which we are killing Earth as much as possible. We need the all the time we can get. Unfortunately, the system by which our planet—or at least, the western world—is run is against this by nature. That’s right, our planet is being destroyed by corporate greed, propped up by ignorance and allowed to survive by the incompetence of our elected officials.
Plainly put, capitalism cares only about profit, environment be damned. There are a plethora of examples of how short-sighted we all have been in allowing this. Amazon may be a modern marvel, but one-day shipping forces near-constant emissions from trucks delivering packages back and forth. Nestlé, one of the top producers of water bottles globally, has been hated for years for their commitment to waste. And I haven’t forgotten the impact that oil companies like BP have had on our oceans and land even before their products are bought and burned.
Make no mistake, we are all complicit in this. The reason that companies do this is because they know we don’t care. In our cold, calculating system, they are just doing what’s optimal for business. One could easily place the blame on human nature, then, for being so driven by greed and order. Grocery stores probably have as much plastic as food in them, but it’s not the more sustainable markets that are raking in the revenue from us. We all want to believe we’re environmentally conscious, but personal sacrifice is difficult to popularize.
Blaming the individual also seems wrong, though, as many have pointed out. Any one person’s ability to effect change is small—consumerism is too ingrained in our society. The solution, then, is that we need people to make these hard-but-smart decisions for us. This is where the government should come in.
I have previously spoken about how government does not need to be at odds with development and business. In this context, however, I am saying they should be. I don’t care how bad the growing pains will be for people, companies and society. We need to do better, and that starts with more regulation coming from our government. If we don’t expect the average person to do better and we can’t expect private groups to pull their weight, it falls on the public sector to fix this mess. The future of the human race depends on it.
Does this mean that we should immediately go back to the stone age? Of course not, but sacrifices have to be made, especially in the first world. Whether that’s by carbon taxes, incentives, refactoring of our system or some other scheme, I don’t care. If companies have to shrink a bit as a result, all the better. If the individual is shifted with some of the costs, get used to it. Well, fix problems with inequity and then get used to it. Whatever changes need to happen to save ourselves from climate change, local and national governments need to take more action now, even if it is unpopular. Trust me, future generations will thank us for it—at least, if we get that far.
Peter Fenteany is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.