By: Sarah Ansari
Scan the world around you, and evidence of human presence entrenches you. Humanity begs for the cosmos to take notice of it. We build boats to traverse the oceans and skyscrapers to touch the clouds. Satellites and rockets move through the stars, telling the vastness of the universe that humans are here, that we exist. Our curiosity has revealed to us the wonders of the Earth, but it has also riddled her with scars.
To be human is a beautiful thing, but our success as a species has imbued us with an acute case of egocentrism. Were it not for Copernicus and Galileo’s discoveries that the universe is heliocentric, we might have thought that everything revolved around us. We are of the Earth, yet we fancy ourselves separate and superior to the other life forms that inhabit it.
When I began drafting this article, I had no idea what direction I wished to take it in. I knew I wanted to talk about the environment and perhaps animals, but the subject felt too broad to compress into a single issue. The news is riddled with horrific tales of tortured creatures; we’ve heard of elephants ripped from their mothers and used as tourist attractions, the ivory trade, trophy hunting. The climate crisis infuses itself into all our political discourse (as it should), but a majority of the stories we hear are not triumphs– they are tragedies. Time and again, we see reports on legislations shot down, polar bears clinging to icebergs, and coral reef bleaching. We hear about brutality, apathy, and human selfishness so often, we have, to some degree, become desensitized to it.
I’m going to call myself out right now: I see these stories and sometimes I shed tears, but in the end, I click away, feeling powerless in my own capacity to change the world. Perhaps that’s selfish of me. Perhaps I’m a hypocrite for advocating so emphatically for animal rights and sustainable living when I’m nothing more than a self-interested bystander. But my admittance of those faults is the first step towards betterment, both for myself and the world we live in. The truth is, people like me– those who are willfully ignorant– are the reasons why the world remains stagnant. Acknowledgement is the stepping stone to change. Sometimes we get so caught up in thinking that we can’t change anything–ourselves included– that we fail to realize we never even made an attempt.
Last summer, my cousin went on a trip to Alaska. She told me about how beautiful the land was, but when I asked her what memory stuck out to her the most, her face fell. Ingrained in her mind were images of glaciers calving, making sounds like thunder as they fell apart. She told me that many of the people around her erupted into cheers while a steady stream of tears poured from her eyes.
The Earth is not a vessel for our entertainment. Humans profit off the exploitation of natural resources and animals, telling ourselves that it’s okay because we’re an intelligent species. But is that truly the case if we express jubilation at our home falling apart before our eyes? If we make a spectacle of the land as it bleeds out?
It’s not just flora and fauna that will meet their end if we continue down a destructive course. If we recklessly exploit nature for the sake of profit, one day our resources will dry out and we’ll be the next to go. Humans fancy themselves superior to animals because we are self-conscious and seek out purpose in life; we have souls, depending on your beliefs. Regardless if it’s in the form of fame or the memory of family, we want to live on. We build temples and cathedrals, write books, sing ballads, paint, and take pictures because we thrive on remembrance– on leaving an impact. But set as we are on a course for extinction, one day, no one will be left to remember anything. The Louvre will be another pile of rubble on Earth. Shakespeare’s words will fade to time. Even without us, Earth will heal. It may be unrecognizable, but it will still exist. The collateral damage to environmental apathy is our own destruction.
Perhaps, like I mentioned earlier, we are resigned to our fate. It’s too late now to undo the effects of climate change, so why should we bother trying, especially when the majority of us will be long gone before we begin to see its major effects? But the truth is that it’s our responsibility as inheritors of the planet to make the earth a better place for those who come after us. The future is directly impacted by our actions in the present; it is not a separate sphere of time that we have no jurisdiction over.
Scientists have created RCPs (Representative Concentration Pathways) depicting four possible scenarios for Earth’s future, depending upon the types of global policies enforced today. We can’t eliminate the taint of carbon emissions, but we can curve it. The argument that our change will be meaningless is directly contrasted by the evidence of the RCPs. In the best case scenario, our carbon emissions peak, but then they begin a decline. Any efforts we make to spare the planet will not be in vain. We still have a chance, but change has to start now.
Let’s go back to the Google definition I gave at the beginning of this article.
“Humanity” in the way I used it there simply refers to our species, just like “animal” typically refers to something outside of our species. We are humans. Humans are us. Earth and its systems are dominated by our people, so much so that we fancy ourselves its possessors.
But “humanity” is also synonymous with benevolence, kindness, and compassion, traits which nowadays, we are sorely lacking. We must find a way to return to those ideals, to live up to the descriptors we gave ourselves. We must show love towards the systems that give us life and all the creatures that call this little planet home. We must stop seeing Earth as solely for humans and begin to move towards a world for humanity.