A Starting Point

If there’s one thing the Environmental movement has in abundance, it’s moral certitude. It’s accepted that educating people is the way forward, that if we dissolute and decadent Westerners realize the destructive impact our lifestyles have on the Earth, we will change. We swim in a sea of platitudes. Even those campaigning against the environmental movement pay lip service to the value of a healthy earth.

The climate is changing, and human activity is largely responsible. The science on this is beyond question, never mind the babbling of a handful of researchers-for-hire on the corporate payroll. Framing the debate about climate change in scientific terms is a lie, and a pernicious one at that, because it distracts all of us from the more important question: why should we care? The answer to that question, unfortunately, is neither clear nor comfortable.

The unfortunate truth about the destruction that will be wreaked by climate change is this: the vast majority of the suffering will be borne by those who can least afford to bear it. As we sit here in fat, rich, complacent Canada we look in morbid fascination at maps projecting rising sea levels; to us, these are geography. To millions of Bangladeshis, they are a death sentence. Therein lies the crux of the climate change issue – no Western government can legitimately claim to care for the lives and livelihoods of people who are nothing but poor, brown-skinned anonymities to us. Climate change will cost the world trillions of dollars and almost certainly cause immense economic dislocation. For us, of course, this is a problem – but our living standards provide a golden parachute that is unrivaled in human history. We can absorb a 25% cut in our living standards; it will hurt, but we will still be on top of the world. As for the rest of the human race? Millions will suffer and die.

Many would call this a cynical outlook. Perhaps it is – there are many who are devoting their lives to change. Perhaps politicians will realize the destabilizing potential of all this suffering on the world at large. Perhaps we’ll get smart. But reflect, for a moment, on human history. When, in all our years on this planet, have we been smart enough as a race to deal with a problem before it is at its worst? The nature of politics and human society is inherently reactionary, even when it is one’s own citizens being affected. Transport the problem across a few oceans and a few shades of skin colour, and you have recipe for callousness unmatched in crises past.

I am a Laurier student, and like each and every other Laurier student however ethically aware, I live the life I do through exploitation. Exploitation of the Earth, of the poor, of the different, of the voiceless, of the future. If I truly believed that all people are equal, then I could not bear the realities of day-to-day life. But bear them I do, with the knowledge that this makes me a racist, a classist, and a bigot – as it makes each of us. When we go out to change the world, we all bear this original sin. Each of us is directly, personally responsible for the ecological holocaust that we have the luxury to be concerned about, and yet it continues. Where is the place for optimism here? Perhaps when we start to bleed.