By ETHAN SMITH
Ultimately, we all want to be happy. This is a no-brainer. I’ve never known a person who would say they enjoy being unhappy. I’ve certainly been acquainted with a few folk who seem to enjoy making themselves miserable in some masochistic fashion, but when it comes down to it, we like being happy and we don’t like being unhappy; it is a part of human nature. In order to be happy, we must actively work to flourish while, at the same time, also avoiding things that are detrimental to our flourishing. This is a straightforward concept of logic. If we do things that are good for us and avoid that which is bad for us, we ought to live good, happy lives. Therefore, being happy should be a relatively simple endeavor, right?
While this is a simple idea, it is easier said than done. I can point to many areas in our lives where we fail to act on this idea. We are a nation that eats too much, exercises too little, drinks excessively, smokes, procrastinates and watches “Jersey Shore.” Not everyone does all these things, and some do more than others. However, there is one area of our shortcomings that I would like to take a minute to ponder, and this is the environment and how we approach it in the context of politics. We treat it in such a way that it endangers us as individuals, as well as the collective whole.
I believe a primary reason we have neglected this shortcoming as a society is the division of political parties in America. It seems to me that what has happened is that Republicans and Democrats have taken firm stances concerning climate changes. Democrats push for emission restriction while Republicans resist, debating the extent to which climate change is produced by the human carbon footprint. The fighting between these two does not seem correlated with evidence but with which party the argument is coming from.
What I have just said is a broad generalization of many politicians and voters, but I think it is relatively fair. Many of the Democrats I know want to push for clean energy, whereas the Republicans I know would prefer businesses to act as they deem appropriate. Virtually everyone in the scientific community agrees that the climate is changing: the rub is that we cannot agree whether or not it is human-produced. What ensues is a tug-of-war between our two primary parties.
My problem with this situation is that it appears to completely detract politicians’ and the public’s attention away from other environmental issues. Believe me, there are many. We are draining our land and the oceans of their resources. The sea is polluted and over-fished. The rainforests are being cleared. The air is filthy. Animals are being hunted to extinction for their pelts and ivory. Our landfills are overflowing. The soil is overworked.
The real kicker is that, for the most part, these expenditures are for things we don’t need. I went to buy oatmeal last week. It took me fifteen minutes to pick out a box because there were dozens of different brands and flavors. I had to grapple between Quaker and Great-Value, only to move on to the choice of cinnamon, raisin, honey, apple, maple and many others, while all I wanted was some plain oatmeal. All this trouble for a snack. The same can be said of anything: clothing, cars, furniture, shoes, houses, computers and video games. All of these things have ultimate environmental and human costs, and they’re never included on the price tag.
These are real quagmires. I have driven into L.A. and seen the smog that hovers over the city. I can’t drink from our streams and rivers. These problems are real and they affect each and every one of us and all who will come after us. Our global population is increasing exponentially along with our consumption of energy and goods. The planet, meanwhile, is not increasing exponentially. In a way, it is becoming increasingly small. If the rest of the world consumed the way we do, we would not last. With a growing middle-class in China, this theoretical situation is approaching reality. The question is, “What are we doing about this?” Since we’ve selected climate change as the primary environmental problem and made it a dividing subject, the answer seems to be “not that much.” This is not acceptable if we have any intention to sustain a planet that can provide a decent quality of life.
Because of the decisions of our politicians, we are not pursuing any of the avenues that will allow us as a people to flourish. Instead of doing that which is good, our leaders have dug in for a stalemate over a single niche of the environment, and we’ve played along. Instead of making environmental issues a climate-change-thing or a Democrat-thing, we ought to make it an American-thing, or even a human-thing. I suggest this because it will allow us to live well and flourish, and as I said earlier, I never knew anyone who didn’t want to be happy. This is not a ploy to get readers to come to the dark, dreary, Democrat side. I ask this not because I merely want to live, but because I want to live well (as I imagine readers would like to as well). I want my generation to be remembered as one who broke a detrimental trend and made a move in the right direction for humanity.