Note: This remarkable essay and tomorrow’s were penned this past week by 14 year-old Lena Heinrich, daughter of Rachel Smolker, co-Director of BiofuelWatch and Berndt Heinrich, noted naturalist. They are both insightful and inspiring. We hope you enjoy them.
–The GJEP Team
By Lena Heinrich
One thing I’ve always known about myself and my sense of place is that I’m not so much tied to a specific and defined area, but more through an appreciation and respect of the natural world, which I channel through my feelings of needing to protect it, so for this project I put together a small article in hopes that I could educate some people and possibly spark someone else’s interest, which I’m going to read aloud now.
What people may be expecting from a speech about environmentalism is a convincing and sweet paragraph about why you should recycle, drive a prius, change your lightbulbs, and go vegan- what I’m going to give you today is not that. As sweet and symbolic as the notion of being able to make “big change through small actions” is, it is also extremely disempowering, and, contrary to popular belief, has little to no correlation to the dire environmental crisis’ at hand, even if the entire world was to do all those things religiously- this belief of change is less about making actual change, and more of a “selfish obsession with personal morality”.
Though using reusable grocery bags and biking to school rather than driving are all good things to do and these small actions within our individual lives may make us feel good about ourselves, they ultimately have little to no effect on our carbon footprint, and if any are replaced by more detrimental habits. An example of this is the person who gives up meat, only to start eating higher amounts of imported nuts that naturally have a higher carbon footprint than locally purchased meat.
Where did this idea of individual responsibility for the environment come from? Corporations looking to undermine green movements for the purpose of growth and profit. What corporations have made people believe to be change is no match whatsoever for the odds we’re up against if people are to continue living on our tiny and delicately balanced planet. Coke doesn’t want you to stop buying it’s products, so they have spread the mindset that as long as you’re recycling the plastic bottle, you’re safe. The car industry doesn’t want people to stop buying cars, so they spread the mindset that as long as you drive a car with better mileage, you’re making all the change you should be expected to make.
The idea that simple things like picking up litter can have any kind of effect on the state of our environment was produced and funded by corporations through commercials and companies, and made to diverge the attention away from the destructive ways of those very corporations and move the spotlight onto the idea of individual peoples’ roles in ruining the environment and their personal role and responsibility in fixing it. This idea has been supported and it’s traction has only increased from businesses and even well-meaning individuals and their movements within their own towns, schools, communities, and states.
Webpages like “10 simple and easy ways to save the environment” and blogs about simple lifestyle changes made while shopping for groceries or doing house chores have sprouted out of nowhere, all implying that we really can save the earth without even breaking a sweat. That is the type of environmentalism that corporations fund, because it still supports America’s unhealthy death-wish mega-consumer lifestyle. The truth is, though, that there is no way to shop our ways out of the crisis.
The kind of change needed is that of a much larger scale- what our world needs to save itself is not more recycling bins, but a complete social and political turnaround within our people, culture, government, policies and corporations; that includes a healthy environment, gay and lesbian rights, accessible health care for all, and a more democratic process, but there is no way we are going to achieve those ideals without banishing the notions and stereotypes surrounding activism and getting the youth population and general populations aware, educated and empowered about the state of the environment.
No single person can make change whilst staying in their own personal life or community- what is needed is a stand-up, and a fight back, and an iron fist from the inhabitants of the earth we are currently on the path of destroying completely. The materialistic and ignorant consumer lifestyle people in the United States lead, though comfortable, is inefficient and is leading humans down a rosy path of extinction in the next 60 years. On the course we are taking, our generation could be the first to die not of old age, but mass extinction.
To save our planet, we have to make fast and powerful changes throughout the world, but especially in the United States- and though the idea is nice, we can’t get distracted by the “feel good” tactics of change we’ve been brainwashed to believe is the be-all-end-all of what we can do to preserve ourselves as a species. Doing what is necessary to save Earth will not be comfortable and it will not be as simple as dropping your soda bottle in the right bin or switching a light bulb or two. It will require real power and a real revolution among our people. New laws and policies regarding the environment will need to be implemented along with a complete change in cultural norms and the ways in which we are using technology.
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