So, I got back the response paper I wrote last week for my Nutritional Ecology class and the professor quite liked it. So, I'm going to share what became of that post I wrote on September 11th. And yes, I'm posting this publicly so it's not just my f-list who will see it.
Perhaps it was a little ironic – or maybe even appropriate – that I was thinking about how to write this paper about America’s role in climate change in response to Bill McKibben’s Eaarth on September 11th. It was indeed a tragic event that happened on that date in 2001, but it was something that should have made us Americans think about our place in the world and the way other countries perceive us.
Most of us generally dislike “those people” who are cocky and arrogant. Those people who believe themselves to be the epitome of society and are superior to everyone else. They talk (and talk non-stop) about their successes with grandeur and barely acknowledge (if at all) their faults. They don’t usually listen to others who have something different to say. Most of us who find ourselves in the company of such people become aggravated and annoyed before long. If someone like that was in your face for long enough, you might even want to punch them.
As a whole, we Americans are hardly any different from “those people”. We are a cocky and arrogant bunch. We tout ourselves as the one of the top nations – if not the top nation in the world – and believe that other countries should emulate our ways so that they can be as wonderful as us. We even try to push our values on other countries in the hope of “helping” them move forward and progress, even if they don’t want our help. It is no wonder other countries want to take a punch at us.
Are we really so superior? Is our lifestyle really something others should emulate? We consider ourselves to be at the forefront of industry and world economy, encouraging other countries to mimic our ways, but it is clear that our practices – ones we want more of the world’s countries to adopt – are killing the planet with pollution, gouging of natural resources, and even causing what many scientists are calling The Sixth Extinction. We had already begun to worry that we may be damaging the planet and passing onto our grandchildren a polluted world with a hostile environment. But in Eaarth, McKibben believes that we’ve already destroyed the Earth on which our ancestors thrived, that what we live on now is a changed planet, and that if we were to encourage all developing countries to mimic our practices towards “progress”, it isn’t our grandchildren who we should be worried about. We could see an uninhabitable world develop in our own lifetimes.
In recent decades, we’ve attempted to grow our country and economy with little regard to long-term consequences, and we’ve encouraged the rest of the world to do the same. But it is clear that growth cannot be unlimited. We only have so much space and so many resources to work with, and many think we’ve already exceeded the limits dictated by the Earth. Some, however, still believe we can grow indefinitely – that technology will help us find substitutes for the limited resources we rely on. McKibben, however, points out a long list of evidence of how we’ve already pushed the limits and created irreparable harm to the planet we call home.
For example, McKibben discusses the arctic glaciers being major source of water for the cultures that live below them. Their survival and livelihood depend on the run-off but global warming is causing these glaciers to melt far faster than precipitation can regenerate them. When the glaciers recede enough, that land becomes uninhabitable. Those glaciers are also necessary to reflect much of the sunlight back into space, but without them, land and blue ocean absorb the sun’s rays instead and transmit heat to our already warmed atmosphere, leading to more frequent and damaging storms. We don’t have (and are likely not to develop any time soon) the technology to replace these glaciers that took tens of thousands of years to build up.
Another victim of our careless lifestyle is biodiversity. The ecosystem is highly complex, with millions of living species interdependent on one another for survival. It has been shown that the loss of even just one animal or plant can have very drastic consequences on the balance of the ecosystem, and those effects can be seen to trickle both up and down the food chain. In what scientists are calling The Sixth Extinction, many known species are disappearing at an alarming rate, and this doesn't even take into consideration the species that we have not yet identified. Once those species are extinct, no amount of technology will be able to bring them back and we will continue to see ecosystems collapsing as species dwindle and disappear.
Many in the rest of the world, including Americans, are recognizing that it is indeed too late to stop climate change and that things need to happen to slow it down. We are gradually adopting “greener” ways of life, but in the grand scheme of what must be done, we’ve only just scratched the surface. Much more drastic changes are needed – and soon.
True, change cannot happen overnight, but we nonetheless are held back by a strong reluctance to let go of a very wasteful, consumption-oriented lifestyle to which many of us are lucky enough to have grown accustomed. It is a culture we Americans have boasted about and promoted to the rest of the world. Perhaps it is time we admit that we aren’t as great as we have thought ourselves to be, that we are flawed and have many weaknesses to address, and that maybe it would be better that other countries not attempt to copy this lifestyle we currently live. Perhaps we should take actions that look beyond our own wallets and to the Earth instead.
And maybe if we become less pompous and arrogant about it all, other countries will stop trying to punch us.