“Let’s Save Nature!”
Good advice;
Unless we have
To sacrifice.

Protecting the environment has billions of supporters worldwide. Unfortunately, they’re not the people who count. Earth’s biggest polluter, for example, is the U.S. military. Understandably, the Pentagon has higher priorities than saving the planet. Its job, pursued by means of global armed superiority, is to preserve its own dominance and to enhance the profitability of the military-industrial complex.

Energy companies, too, have a loftier mission than conservation. Their job is to supply oil for our cars, coal for our power, and gas for our heat. This sacred trust needs to constantly combat the rear-guard troglodytes of environmentalism who, energy moguls believe, would be happy to see our nation freeze in the dark. Luckily for both the military and energy companies, most of us agree that the paramount unspoken role of business and government is to assure plentiful gasoline and cheap power supplies.

Humble agribusiness shoulders a similar burden. It’s charged with providing food and fiber for everyone who has enough money to pay for it. Naturally, there’s an environmental price to pay here as well–poisoned soil and farm workers, depleted water sources, and shrinking biodiversity. Much of that price is paid in distant lands.

Just as agribusiness is busy despoiling the land, its cousin “aquabusiness” is busy despoiling the sea with vast underwater fish and shellfish farms. The chief result of “teaching a man to fish” has been destroying his fisheries. Some species will never recover. Tuna and swordfish are perhaps already over that brink. We now see the growing popularity of calamari in restaurants, the next species down the oceanic food chain. Jellyfish may be close behind–get out the recipe box. Today, even krill is threatened, tasty as it is for farmed salmon. This trend seems likely to put seals, whales, penguins, and many Antarctic fish on short rations.

Even religion plays a pernicious role in eroding God’s provenance. Whether Christian, Muslim, or Hindu, adherents’ sacred role is to reproduce and cover the earth with believers, even if they turn out to be sick, hungry, and short-lived.

Unfortunately for our bedraggled old planet, and for us, the future looks no better. World population is booming and world resources are receding. While world wealth remains fairly stable, all those new individuals will understandably want more protein, more transport, more heat (or air conditioning), more kilowatts, and more niceties for themselves. This leads to more deforestation, more poisonous mineral extraction, more plantation farming, more grazing, more exploitation of sea and air, and more depletion of water life.

The truth is, we don’t really care to look too closely at any of the socio-political causes of death and desolation. It’s more heart-warming to declare a crusade against, say, polio, malaria, tuberculosis, bilharzia, or Guinea worm. These we can hunt down without altering our own comfy life style.

Conversely, reducing our use of oil, coal, gas, water, beef, plastic, wood, cotton, fish, gold, copper, aluminum, coltan, electricity, steel, or cement will reduce the quality of our personal lives, even for those of us who can still afford them. Plainly those who can’t afford them ought to be afraid. Very afraid.

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William A. Collins

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. https://otherwords.org