It's Time to Rework Our Approach to Environmentalism

Today we are living in a "post-truth" world where what we believe becomes ever more detached from reality. Scientists see clearly that we are on the brink of multiple environmental disasters as a result of human disturbances, yet mainstream discourse is filled with an emphasis on technology and entertainment news instead. Rather than working toward solutions, America is engaged in denial, racism and escapism. Does human nature make the environmental apocalypse inevitable? Our society is looking to the "free-market system" to provide us with a technological solution to all our problems of climate change and plummeting biodiversity. We have put our trust in the effectiveness of neoliberal economic theory, where monetary circulation is a loop with no reference to biophysical reality.

The next threat to our survival is ecological global collapse: we must evolve or die. We are currently facing more complex problems than ever before. Humans, by instinct, are short-sighted and prone to discount future consequences for present benefits. A number of disasters confront us today that need long-term comprehensive planning if we are going to avoid global collapse.

The question we face is whether or not we can get past divisive politics and greed and instead opt for a sustainable, healthy world by making constructive long-term commitments. If history has taught us one thing, it's that humans don't learn from history. Optimistically speaking, however, we can at least change our individualistic and reward-seeking brains and adopt socially conscious behaviors. This behavioral change will allow us to work on envisioning the kind of planet that we want to leave to our grandchildren in a hundred years — a healthy and diverse planet. The future does not depend on God or fate. It depends on us -- on the decisions that we are making now, day by day. It depends on whether we have the energy, resolve, good judgment, and patience to fight for the lives of future generations.

I believe that in order to move past the chaotic and counter-productive place our country is at now, we will have to improve the traditional environmentalism approach. The first steps that we need to be aggressively pursuing in the next decade include environmental practice marketing, tax-supported pilot programs for sustainable practices, and cultural acceptance  of the spiritual value of nature.

We need to promote sustainable lifestyle practices to the mainstream in a way that gets its attention and creates a new cultural norm. Just as now it is the norm to throw leftover food in the garbage, it could become a norm for people to compost that food instead. Now it is the norm to use disposal paper coffee cups; with effective marketing people may begin to bring their own reusable cups.

Tax-supported pilot programs will help to make costly and new sustainable practices seem more accessible and attractive. This is incredibly important for areas such as renewable energy and energy-efficient buildings, as these small experiments can serve as the prototypes for larger initiatives taken by the public, individuals and private companies.

Most importantly, we need a cultural shift in the way we see environmental action – we need to move from thinking of green actions as unnecessary “icing on the cake” to essential. I would like to argue also (and feel free to disagree with me) that since religious desires have historically been a strong motivator in the past, we find a way to harness irrational spiritual capacity for good. We should have a vested interest in belief systems that encourage a close sense of connection to the natural world. Some religions that show this emphasis on the value of our biophysical reality include the Japanese Shinto beliefs in animism, European pagan rituals, and Native American beliefs of the kinship of human to all wild animals.