With humans so short-sighted & industrialization proceeding at a furious pace around the globe, what will keep us from destroying our environment?

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lhc | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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This is a very broad question with underlying assumptions that make it difficult to answer.  For example, the "humans" mentioned could be any number of people:  Americans, Israelis, scientists, politicians, college professors, people with the EPA, or the neighborhood tree-trimmer.  Similarly, when looking at industrialization "around the globe", one would certainly not find much evidence of the process in Haiti, Malawi, or any of the rest of the world's poorest countries.  Furthermore, one might be able to make the argument that it is not industrialization that is proceeding around the globe at a record pace, but rather what has been called the Information Age, or the Digital Age. 

While the Industrial Revolution is credited with moving developed societies from agrarian lifestyles into machine-driven, assembly line factory jobs, the internet and digitalization is being described as the Information Age:  the current time period during which society is becoming less about production of goods and products in factories, and more in the instantaneous transmission of information from all over the world, thanks in part to the invention of the World Wide Web in the late 1980's. 

The ramifications of this societal shift are still unfolding, but in terms of the environment, one obvious advantage for many people that could have a positive effect on the planet is the trend of many companies and even schools to "go paperless" when conducting business.  Electronic memos, files, billing statements and class assignments surely must have a positive effect on the environment; after all, every item handled electronically results in a reduction of manufacturing related pollution and paper consumption.  When that reduction in consumption and pollution is multiplied by thousands of billing statements a company might issue each month, or the hundreds of documents a company generates to conduct business, or the lengthy term papers and dissertations submitted by the college students of any large university, one begins to understand how electronic communicaton might have a long-term, positive impact on the health of the planet. 

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There is no particular and specific answer to this question.  Thinkers have posited their own points of view.  Some of them are optimistic in that human beings can do things differently and better and recognize the finite nature of where we are and guide things to effectively get to where we need to be.  Others are not so optimistic, indicating that there is little evidence to indicate that our current road to nowhere is changing.  In his essay, "Easter's End," Jared Diamond speaks to this:

By now the meaning of Easter Island for us should be chillingly obvious. Easter Island is Earth writ small. Today, again, a rising population confronts shrinking resources. We too have no emigration valve, because all human societies are linked by international transport, and we can no more escape into space than the Easter Islanders could flee into the ocean. If we continue to follow our present course, we shall have exhausted the world’s major fisheries, tropical rain forests, fossil fuels, and much of our soil by the time my sons reach my current age.

Diamond's essay points to the destruction of the Easter Island civilization.  Its parallels to our own condition are striking.  Diamond suggests that part of the reason that Easter Island civilizations disappeared was that they did not realize the path they were treading ended only with their own destruction.  It might be here where we are different.  The fact that this question can be raised and more people are understanding its implications could contain hope in that human beings right now can understand that we are on a treacherous path and there must be something done about it.  In this light, I think that the short- sighted nature of human beings does not preclude reality from being apparent to us.  Interestingly enough, Diamond concludes this in his essay:

It would be easy to close our eyes or to give up in despair. If mere thousands of Easter Islanders with only stone tools and their own muscle power sufficed to destroy their society, how can billions of people with metal tools and machine power fail to do worse? But there is one crucial difference. The Easter Islanders had no books and no histories of other doomed societies. Unlike the Easter Islanders, we have histories of the past—information that can save us. My main hope for my sons’ generation is that we may now choose to learn from the fates of societies like Easter’s.

This is the singular element that makes our predicament fundamentally different from others'.  We can examine what happened in the past and do something about it.  The "furious pace" at which we operate does not preclude us from understanding it and seeking to control our way on it.  There are some elements out there that can help.  The web is filled with sites and individuals who are seeking to do something about the condition of our environment, voices that seek to make environmental awareness something more tangible and real do so without being silenced.  Schools are understanding the need to teach children about the environment in a more meaningful manner.  Recycling is not something arcane, but rather something that we engage in actively.  Small things such as water conservation as well as energy efficient lights and appliances are standard.  By themselves, these actions don't constitute change.  Yet, they are a start and this might be where we find success in the idea of "choosing to learn."

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