Facing — and solving — environmental challenges today can seem daunting, to say the least. For example, just when you think the clean energy revolution is taking off, presidential candidates continue to tout domestic drilling for fossil fuels, both on and offshore, in order to “solve” our energy crisis. Huh? Shouldn’t we be pushing for wind, solar and geothermal on a larger scale to create clean energy jobs while meeting our domestic energy needs? Shouldn’t we also be focusing on reducing energy consumption and promoting energy efficiency?
Let’s be honest: solving the climate crisis is a massive endeavor that’s going to take much more than political jargon, or turning off the lights before you leave the house. We’re going to have to revisit our standard way of living, consuming and ultimately, being. That means giving up some things, but gaining others and, most importantly, it means connecting the dots like never before.
Take car-sharing. Companies like RelayRides and Getaround use a model that promotes sharing existing cars with people who lack a car. Using this model, you’re not only taking a potential car off the road, but the owner of the existing car makes some side cash to boot. And membership is growing, implying people no longer want to deal with the burden of car ownership, on many different levels.
Programs like these also foster an enhanced sense of community and wellbeing as sharing is generally shown to benefit one’s psychological, physical and social state. What’s particularly interesting about car sharing is that it’s not inherently environmental; on the surface, you’re still driving a car. The many benefits of car sharing, however, can be directly applied to environmental policy: decreasing demand for new cars, decreasing pollution, abating climate change, etc. Perhaps the open, sharing mentality can also trigger a renewed awareness of social and environmental issues that resonate in other areas of life.
Now, consider hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, an energy-extraction process that has received both positive and negative press, depending upon which side of the argument you fall. Yet, when examined with a holistic eye, the dangers of the industry become much more apparent. The sheer amount of water needed for each fracking well is nothing short of mind boggling, never mind the massive quantify of chemicals used, a number of which are known carcinogens. Residents living in areas where fracking is rampant often see their property lose value dramatically because of poisoned water wells and seeping gas.
Fracking, when viewed this way, now becomes much more than just an energy issue — it’s a public health and environmental justice issue, which brings other concerned parties to the table. Uniting parties that initially appear to share little in common is an important step in gaining political traction and social awareness, especially for the environmental movement, which by itself is often fragmented and on the defense. As Rex Weyler stated in a recent blog post:
In practice, human efforts to protect and restore Earth’s ecological health have focused on a “species” or a “habitat” or some thing that needed protection. But this has failed to account for the fundamental nature of living systems. Earth’s ecology is not a collection of things. Rather, Earth’s ecology operates as interlocking, co-evolving systems, driven by feedbacks and interactions.
In order to fix the gamut of environmental issues of our time, examining each issue as it connects to the greater whole is key. For example, one of the important factors in fighting climate change is psychology and behavior change, but psychology is rarely mentioned in GHG scientific reviews. And what about our intrinsic emotional and spiritual connection to our natural surroundings? Are those feelings any less important than hard data? What’s critical is not to lose sight of the very circuits that connect us all to each other and, ultimately, to the very fabric of life. From here, I believe, we can create real, systemic change.
Easter Island, the popular example of a civilization that disappeared after using up all available resources, is a harsh yet valuable reminder of what can happen on a global scale if we fail to connect the dots. Now, visualize Earth as an island floating in space and remind yourself that in fact, yes, we’re all in this together.
Photo Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
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