What do you need to survive? What is essential for a good life? How does your response affect your environment? ? Humans have unconsciously asked this first question from the beginning of time. The second question is perhaps a more modern variant. The third question now takes a larger part of our awareness than ever before.
Survival, after all, is the essential life effort. As a group, if not individually, we will kill for sustenance. We primarily think of sustenance as food, initially for the body and more recently for what we call the "soul" or "spirit." Congruently, we think of sustenance in the form of power, as supremacy over a specific area often meant survival for a group of individuals in primitive times. This group survival was eventually extended into cultural or even racial survival, until now it is for many of us national survival or preeminence.
We conveniently forget that carnivorous humans actually kill other beings to eat. Even vegetarian consumption involves manipulating the life cycle, however. When it comes to agriculture, we eliminate certain plants to allow room for others, thereby affecting our environment in previously unseen ways. In both instances, we may be so invested in our desired result that we ignore inevitable consequences.
How does the second question, "What is essential for a good life?" compound the first? Here we move from bare survival to life quality according to personal or community viewpoint. We may have options of vegetarian or carnivore diets, for example, and choose one, or even a mixture of both as preferable in terms of what we consider good for personal and community wellbeing.
So far, this model presents all individuals as closely involved in food production. Environmental effects of our choices only compound as some of us find fulfillment in occupations far removed from what we would see as hunting, fishing, agriculture, or, by extension, energy production. All occupations produce a desired product, however, and that product, no matter how far removed from actual food, may come to be viewed by many or all of us as "essential."
The point here is that our concept of essential moves from elements of physical survival to psychological desire or even need. For some people, music is essential for a fulfilling life. Books are essential to others. A stimulating sex life is essential to still others. Some of us may find all three elements as necessary and therefore feel "starved" with a perceived lack in any of these or other elements.
This observation shows that our wants become ever more complex as our society develops. Steadily growing complexity of desire produces ever more complicated environmental effects. These effects may become environmentally devastating if we remain unaware of their possible consequences.
The present Gulf of Mexico oil spill presents an immediate and full-bodied example of this premise. Most United States citizens collectively view abundant and inexpensive energy as necessary for personal and community -- extended to national wellbeing. In turn, our collective sense of personal wellbeing extends from physical comfort to personal and ultimately national security. Our sense of national security and wellbeing is further enhanced by a communally held concept of national power and supremacy. We then collectively fear loss of this security should we abandon actions that brought us to this point, in favor of actions that could jeopardize this standing, even though recognized as being more environmentally sound.
The result is that we engage in ever more risky operations for oil discovery and procurement, considering environmental risks as "minimal" and extremely unlikely. The problem here is that our definitions of minimal damage may actually include extinction for some species of plant or animal, as well as eradication of some cherished environments. We acknowledge these risks as "acceptable" to the extent we turn our backs on their possibility. In her June 2ed interview with Rachel Maddow*, Barbara Boxer provides an example of this effect in her discovered Bush II administration description of what they saw as "minimal" and therefore acceptable damage to the Gulf environment from unlikely accidents.
Our environment is at risk to the extent we collectively view possible damage as "acceptable." If we have "zero tolerance" for possible damage, then we will be most likely to protect our environment, as we then make environmental protection our ultimate concern. By making environmental protection an ultimate concern we establish a preserved natural environment as necessary for our overall wellbeing and we view environmental protection as at least as important as abundant energy. More importantly, we may then find added incentive to develop energy sources that pose no perceived environmental threat.
Our developing decisions concerning environmental protection will prove of ultimate importance. Science-fiction may become science-fact should we damage our planetary environment to the point that Earth becomes inhospitable to us and indeed to all life forms. We may then find an equitable balance between environmental care and energy procurement and production to be inescapably vital for our ultimate survival.
Is it too early to collectively reach this conclusion now and begin to nourish and protect our environment before more irrevocable damage is done?
(c) Copyright. Douglas Boyd-Robinson.