The environment has played a prominent role in the rise and fall of civilizations throughout history and will have an out-sized effect on industrialized society, but people raising awareness of problems with greenhouse emissions, fossil fuels, the arctic, dams, rain forests, and endangered species are dismissed as alarmists. We have a firm grounding in earth sciences and understand the factual dangers facing our world. Unfortunately, most scientists speak in measured tones about climate change. Climate-change deniers and other groups with vested interests in maintaining the status quo are willing to use hyperbolic language, scare tactics, and outright lies to discredit the careful words of climate scientists. We chose to set aside the measured language of science and speak from the heart: climate change is real, we are the cause, its effects are terrifying, we have passed the point of no return on global warming, and we must stop emitting greenhouse gases immediately in order to protect our grandchildren’s chance at survival.
Environmentalists are painted with a broad brush: to many, these tree-huggers seem more concerned with the lives of salamanders and polar bears than people, but the situation is more nuanced. We would like to call attention a cleft in the environmental monolith. In 1973, a Norwegian ecologist and philosopher, Arne Naess, divided the environmental movement into two halves, the shallow and the deep.i Shallow environmentalists are those interested in preserving the Earth and its creatures to create a more comfortable habitat for human beings. They would say, “Don’t pollute that water, I drink it!” In contrast, a deep environmentalist would decry the pollution because thousands of species depend on each body of water. Deep Ecologists (as they are called) recognize the interconnectedness of all life on Earth and that all organisms have an intrinsic right to exist. They champion ecological diversity and symbiosis, as well as classless, democratic, self-sufficient, small-scale, autonomous communities. Their critique of mainstream environmentalism and conservation for the benefit of humans is central to our future as inhabitants of this planet.
Anthropocentrism, or the belief that we as humans (or worse, as a specific group of humans) are special, is our biggest social problem. Buddhists and Deep Ecologists got it right: we are just bits of carbon on a little speck of real estate on the outskirts of a massive universe. Furthermore, our lives last but the blink of an eye compared to the four billion years that life has existed on this planet. We do not say this to make you feel inconsequential, but to remind you to think beyond yourself, your family, your friends and acquaintances, and even beyond everybody alive today. Although we as individuals are rather inconsequential, we must recognize that our actions affect other humans, animals, plants, and ecosystems. Humans’ ability to think and understand the world is profound, but with greater knowledge comes the responsibility to live within our resources.
i) See Naess’s (1973) original article, the essays in Sessions’s (1995) Deep Ecology for the Twenty-First Century, and Naess’s (1989) Ecology, community and lifestyle: Outline of an ecosophy (“ecosophy” is the term he uses to describe his ecological philosophy).