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It’s Not About Saving the World

November 11, 2011

By Matt Artz

“The world is dying, and it’s all our fault.”  Any environmental writer worth their salt could fill you in on the details, using flowery language to spin an emotionally compelling story about climate change, loss of diversity, our unsustainable path, mass extinction, certain death via fossil fuels, and the toxic post-apocalyptic wasteland we are so intently creating.

The use of dramatic imagery to communicate environmental gloom and doom is commonplace because it works.  Al Gore mastered this technique in An Inconvenient Truth, turning on a whole new generation of climate advocates.  I’ve been guilty of writing like that on occasion myself—though not nearly as successfully as Gore.  There’s still plenty of room left on my mantel for an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Nobel Peace Prize.

I was once writing a brief bio for a very smart man, and characterized him as an “environmentalist” intent on “saving the world.”  He objected to the characterization, stating “I’m not an environmentalist, I’m an environmental scientist!” and “It’s not about saving the world, it’s about fixing the world, and about creating a better future for ourselves.”  I stand corrected.

“I’m an environmental scientist!”

Environmentalists have an emotional attachment to the environment—which is fine.  But when it comes to making objective, rational decisions about the environment, we need to separate ourselves from the emotion and base our decisions on cold, hard facts; that is, on science.  A well-informed, science-based approach to the environment is our best hope for confronting the unprecedented challenges we face today.

“It’s not about saving the world.”

The world isn’t dying; it’s our comfortable habitat that is being threatened.  We pursue our activities with abandon, caring little of the negative effects they have on our ability to maintain the tenuous hold we have on this planet.  We are our own worst enemy.

We are not trying to save the polar bears because they are so cute and fuzzy; we need to save them because they are part of the natural system, and all components are important to the heath of the overall system.  And if the system dies, we will too.

But the earth itself will survive.  It will take a lot more to destroy this four and a half billion year old hunk of rock than a single species scurrying around on the surface and mucking up the life zone for all species.

It’s not about saving the world.  It’s about saving ourselves.

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