Everyone needs to get involved if we are to have a chance at altering our environmentally destructive trajectory. At present, environmentalism is largely the domain of a minority of elites. While there are numerous exceptions, environmentalists tend to be better educated and more affluent than the general population. While the support and leadership of these elites is entirely laudable, we will never see the degree of changes we need to see as long as environmentalism remains a minority concern.
Environmentalism is an attempt to balance relations between humans and the various natural systems on which they depend.
Environmental concerns have recurred in diverse forms, in different parts of the world, throughout history. For example in 1272, King Edward of England issued a proclamation which banned the burning of sea-coal after its smoke had become a problem in London. However, this early effort to clean the air in the UK did not protect the country from the industrial revolution and rampant air pollution.
More recently we have seen some contemporary governments, businesses and NGOs assume leadership roles in defense of the environment. These efforts have been invaluable, but on their own they have not turned the tide. This may be because action which emanates from above is rarely as deep or enduring as actions which reflect embedded values.
A review of human history reveals that we once abided by ecological values that were sewn into the fabric of our daily lives. Traditional hunter and gatherer societies lived close to the land and were of necessity ecologically minded. While there is no way of going back to an earlier time in human history, we can learn something from “primitive” societies.
The hierarchical structures of the modern world as well as the rise of immense cities are two factors which have helped to insolate us from nature and undermined our interest in environmental stewardship.
If the general population does not value nature or understand the impacts of human habitation we cannot be expected to collectively address the environmental threats we face.. Likewise if we leave environmental action to governments, business, NGOs and other elites we will not make the necessary changes on the required scale.
To make the environment everyone’s concern, we must cultivate an understanding of our personal relationship to nature, not as as abstract theory but as an aspect of our experience. Most importantly we need to inculcate environmental concerns into our popular ethics and morality.
© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.
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