“It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.” – Sir David Attenborough.
Today, we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World Environment Day.
I know that many young people, including you and your friends, are greatly concerned about the future of this planet – particularly as that is where you will spend the rest of your lives. I understand that some 80 per cent of young people over 16 years of age are very concerned about climate change, and that many, like you, have been moved to personal activism, frustrated or outraged at the neglect of the issue from older people, corporations and governments.
Yes, Earth is home to ourselves and millions of other species, and while – like a beached whale that writhes and shudders a silent scream – segments of our home world are collapsing and dying under the weight of our populations and our possessions, and I hope that ways can be found to motivate more people towards enacting long-term change.
Yes, we should get angry and do something to stop the pending catastrophe. But on World Environment Day, it may be helpful to consider nuance as well as clear-cut black-and-white.
Many people are thoughtless or lazy – but we are all constructed in a way that makes us inclined to relate most closely to the micro rather than the macro. When approaching a jigsaw-sized problem, we tend to get enlightenment and understanding (and emotional connection) more readily from the individual jigsaw pieces rather than the big picture. In the real world, we can see one photo – of a crying baby in a famine, a Ugandan family killed in an unseasonably large mudslide, or a mother polar bear and her cub struggling to survive amidst the melting of Arctic ice – and such a photo can convey more emotional meaning and personal connection to us than all of the world’s websites and scientific lectures about climate catastrophe.
So I hope that your generation – and the older adults that you are trying to educate – come to see possibly the most important reason why it is important to save the Earth: because of its beauty.
Scientifically, it is beautiful. Our planet is a shelter from cosmic dangers, built from stardust and gas, meticulously crafted according to the natural laws of cosmology and stellar evolution and gravity. It is a natural laboratory sculpted by weather and geology, gravity and tidal forces, wherein chemistry and rock and water and wind and life intermix to form a glorious testament to the power of eclectic abiogenesis and evolution.
Biologically, it is beautiful. It is a cathedral in which a chorus of life chirps and tweets, bleats and barks. A choir of diverse voices is dressed in a patchwork quilt of colours and camouflages. Combined, they form a rich tapestry that has (so far, at least) been found nowhere else in the Universe.
Therein lies its arguably greatest ethical value: philosophically, it is beautiful because it is unique and indescribably precious. In a Universe that is so big that our mammalian minds cannot truly comprehend, our small planet Earth is the only known place where life exists, and multiplies in rich diversity.
Hosted this year by Côte d’Ivoire and supported by the Netherland, World Environment Day 2023 encourages us to beat plastic pollution. I hope this succeeds – but that they don’t stop there.
It is encouraging to see your generation taking a stand – and we can understand that this is a form of evolution. Survival of the fittest indeed – those best suited to adapt (and respond) to change will indeed survive the longest. But I also see a form of social evolution underway: your parents’ generation was raised in a culture that proclaimed Greed is Good; your generation proclaims that Green is Good.
Perhaps we should all be mindful of an early recollection in my own life:
In an old photo album belonging to my parents, one photo features me as a babe in arms, being held by my mother in the front garden of our home. With a mix of determination and curiosity on my face, I am reaching up to touch the leaf of an overhanging tree – using my infantile senses to timidly explore the touch, texture, shape and colour of this alien item in my young world.
Let us all rediscover anew this sense of awe and potential to be found in the world around us. Let us cherish our home, and do whatever we must, in order to preserve and conserve it for future generations.
Love from your Uncle.
©2023 Geoff Allshorn