Ecology cannot be a peripheral concern anymore.

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May 30, 2017 by Cláudia

Ecology is usually seen as an alternative subject, something that only a small niche of the population cares about. If compared to other areas, such as economy, politics or medicine, it is manifestly in a subaltern position and many (most?) people believe that it is not as important as these. It is something distant and unimportant because it is still not a main concern of a society focused on profit, economic growth or fame.

Companies (and Governments) prioritise profit over sustainability and everyone treats this attitude as natural and unavoidable “Companies need to make money”. Individuals do the exact same: even admitting that an eco-friendly lifestyle is necessary or desirable, generally speaking, someone will give preference to a cheaper or more convenient product even if it’s not the most sustainable option.

Therefore, I assume that ecological concerns are not a priority, even though this is extremely irresponsible and ultimately suicidal. Everyone knows that we cannot possibly survive if we continue to act like this. Everyone knows that the Earth is strained and that human action has put an expiration date on it. Health, social and climate problems have already arisen and we know that it can only get worse. If I sound dramatic it is because the situation is dramatic. But it is useless to insist on this any further since we have all seen documentaries that bomb us with terrifying facts.

It’s not necessarily due to lack of information: all the information is available if you look for it. It must be something else. I think a big part of it is the individual feeling impotence. A lot of people, even if they believe that something needs to change, also believe that it should be the Government to do something, that only Governments can actually change things. Wheels are in motion and people feel like they will continue regardless of one person’s behaviour. This is true, to a certain extent. There has to be a massive change in order to turn this situation around. However, it is not irrelevant that one person changes. One person changing can have a rippling effect and create new change and so on. Even if Governments pass laws, nothing will actually change unless the people do as well.

Because sustainability is not a main concern of today’s society, most of our daily actions have a bad impact on the environment but they are so intrinsically ingrained in our daily habits that we don’t even consider them. For example, we know that plastic is an environmental trouble but it is an intrinsic part of modern life: the food on the go, the coffee cups, most products in the supermarket. Basically, reducing or eliminating plastic from our lives would require a conscious reflection for every purchase and a real effort to change habits. Change is hard because we have to go against the current, do the less convenient, sometimes the less economical and, on top of that, look extravagant to everyone else. 

As I mentioned before, ecology is too often overpowered by economy, and it is usually considered that economy is the more worldly subject while ecology is somewhat ethereal. However, economy deals with the present and near future while ecology thinks further ahead. Ecology deals with real problems in the real world: natural resources, destruction of habitats and ecosystems, pollution, biodiversity. Everything is deeply connected through networks that are so complex that we don’t fully understand them sometimes. Human actions frequently have unexpected consequences and sometimes trying to solve a problem creates a new problem.

Our attempts to tackle ecological problems have been based on a trial and error attitude and it is clearly not enough. To be able to build a truly sustainable society, ecology needs to be a central subject, and part of everyone’s general knowledge. Nothing will matter once life on Earth is unsustainable: not economy, not politics nor anything else. And to turn this around, we need to realize that a sustainable society is not unrealistic, what is unrealistic is to think that Humanity can continue like this and have a future.


From: Human Ecology: Basic Concepts for Sustainable Development, written by Gerald G. Martin.



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