7 Indispensable Ways to Protect Your Sacred Place
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IN A EYE BLINK of history, our civilization has managed to radically change the chemistry of the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, cause wholesale disruption and destruction of natural ecosystems, and trigger global wildlife declines and extinctions, all the while risking its own future. Only 3% of Earth’s land and 13% if her ocean remain ecologically unaltered by human activity. That ought to shock the pants off everyone, but the fact that it doesn’t reflects how numbed we’ve become to our own excesses.
While nations profess to address climate change, proposed measures appear too little, too late. Countries fail to meet minimal targets to protect biodiversity. It’s not surprising — the obsession with economic growth guarantees environmental chaos.
If you’re frustrated and angered by this mess, join the club. I was recently asked by a Scale Down member what we as individuals can do to make a difference, while maintaining our sanity. My advice? Launch a personal plan of action based on these requirements for true sustainability:
Cut consumption of energy and just about everything. Most of us in affluent countries can generously do this. Those of us in less affluent countries should be aware of the pitfalls of consumerism, and choose to avoid the addiction. Not only reduce or limit consumption oneself but urge other people to do so as well. The best way is by example. Don’t try to force them or you may get opposite results. That’s just the way we humans are. Emphasize the benefits of less consumption. Take further steps by going online with your scale down messaging, by writing columns or letters to the editor, or by otherwise speaking out through the media. Haranguing political leaders about policies that waste energy and resources is another option, but be thick skinned, persistent, and, above all, don’t let the effort wear you down. Strive to “resist” as well "reduce, reuse, recycle." This fourth “R” is important because systemic political and cultural reform, as well as individual lifestyle change, is a must.
Deal with overpopulation. Be child free or resolve to at most two children per couple. What I’ve said about urging others to cut consumption also applies here: emphasize personal and environmental benefits of small family size, use various media to get the message across, badger politicians about your concerns and express the reasons why, and take on the challenge of advocacy more as a hobby rather than a chore. Don’t get discouraged by “politically correct” pushback against the need to limit population. After all, you’re fighting for both human rights and ecological justice!
Stop ecological destruction and promote habitat conservation. Don’t buy a house or property in a subdivision imposed on a natural landscape — no matter how “green” the developer says it is. If you own land, consider putting a conservation easement on it. Take actions to protect and restore wildlife habitat at all scales, from your backyard to the global level. Promote strong Half Earth proposals. Support organizations, land trusts, and only political leaders who take conservation seriously. If there are no such candidates for office, maybe become one? Make shrinking your ecological footprint a priority (as per #1 and #2 above). Don't be fooled by propaganda that society can save nature without reducing consumption, lowering population, and vastly increasing protected areas.
Embrace renewable energy while minimizing its environmental impacts. This is a tough one. Overgrowth has gotten us into a terrible catch-22. We are now forced to choose the “lesser of evils” and thus ensure dismal if not catastrophic outcomes. A rushed, massive shift from fossil fuels to solar and wind energy will come at huge costs to the environment, and may not avert the worst consequences of climate change. So, what to do? My advice is: a) make sure your friends and everyone else you can reach understand the “evils dilemma” and how it’s tied to overgrowth, b) insist that huge cuts in energy consumption go hand in hand with alternative energy development, c) fight to ensure that most new energy infrastructure be sited in existing industrial parks, on roof tops, along roads and highways, and other such impacted areas, and d) demand that society generously compensates for resulting loss of wildlife habitat.
Push for a steady-state economy. The idea of an economic steady state isn’t at all oddball—it dates back to classical economists like John Stuart Mill. Whether you’re for or against capitalism, the current world economic model must be tossed in the waste bin of history! Nothing grows forever. (I sense that the liberal-conservative debate over economics is losing relevance given how global power is concentrated today). If you’re at school, share the steady-state concept with students and teachers. Hold a discussion on the topic at your local library, speak out in the media, and inform elected officials that a steady-state economy is essential for our long-term survival and wellbeing.
Don’t chase the sustainability phantom. The prevailing, all-too-convenient myth of sustainability without drawing down consumption and population is code for business as usual. Investors, economic institutions, international agencies, corporate media, and politicians want us to believe that more technology will save the world. Or, that we simply need to be more “efficient” at producing stuff and using resources. Bull! History proves otherwise. Encourage other people to understand the shortcomings and limitations of technology and efficiency as solutions to environmental problems. Be clear that the global establishment’s narrative of “green growth” is at best driven by a flawed world view, at worst by greed and an unending quest for economic power. It’s worthwhile and gratifying to challenge faux sustainability when it rears its twisted head!
Dispel human supremacy. If I had to pick the biggest obstacle to true sustainability it would be the prevailing belief that other animals, plants, and all of nature are merely resources to be exploited as humans see fit. Regardless of how this ideology came about — through religious or pseudoscientific narratives — it has proven environmentally catastrophic. When a society accepts wholesale destruction of other life as an unavoidable outcome of “progress,” it becomes morally bankrupt. Karma then dictates that the margin of error for its wellbeing is infinitesimally small. If wrecking wildlife habitat, like that of polar bears, corals, and bison, was deemed wrong in and of itself, I’m confident we won’t have a climate crisis today. And we wouldn’t be worried about diminished natural resources and ecosystems failing to support us. Sorry to say, I find no easy antidote to human supremacy. The ideology seems to have thoroughly poisoned our humanity. It has managed to define important concepts like “sustainability” and “environmental justice” to exclude more-than-human life. My advice is to speak from the heart on this matter, and draw on Indigenous beliefs and knowledge that value Nature in her own right. Speak out in church, at dinner parties, at scientific meetings, and environmental forums, not about treating all life equally, but about treating it justly.
This world is a sacred place. Whether we are talking about the Amazon or the Arctic, Mount Dzil Nchaa Si An or Mount Sinai, the Himalayas or the Mekong, Lourdes, Mecca or Jerusalem, the Serengeti or the Gonawhpotera pool, the Mahayana Temple or Borneo…it’s the whole shebang.