Redefining Self Interest &Mother Earth

It’s taken a couple of decades, but public opinion overwhelmingly agrees that climate change is real, serious and dangerous – somebody needs to do something.  What?  Science and engineering offer workable steps that would require new norms for the way we live, but we like the way we live.  Passionate environmental activists demand that we do it all now. The doubtful and reluctant say not yet,  the cost is too high, the outcomes too uncertain, we’re not ready, let’s study more. The religious fringe believes the end times are here, so who cares.

Large corporations, even the most polluting, are happy to mouth platitudes of support as long as things move so slowly not much will change anytime soon. And why not?  With billions invested and huge profits to be had, why kill the golden goose?  Just to drive the point home, their profits and share prices underwrite pension funds, 401ks and IRAs securing retirement for millions of ordinary working people.  Farmers and ranchers are the stewards of agricultural land, but they don’t want to change the ways they raise crops and livestock without solid evidence they can make a decent living while feeding the nation.  Giant agribusiness firms running industrial farms and ranches will do anything not blatantly illegal to cut costs and increase yield.   

Independent retailers just trying to make a living sell the usual things that we believe we need, and almost anything we want, whether we need it or not.

What about you and me?  Millions work for the very companies dragging their feet.  Employees are well versed in why the nation needs to do something, but “my” employer is doing what it can, it’s the others who need to step up.

We want to live as comfortably as we can afford, fitting into the way things are done around here.  For many that means well watered green lawns fortified with lots of fertilizer and pesticides.  Our grocery carts are loaded with overpackaged, plastic wrapped stuff, but what can we do?  It’s supposed to be recyclable:  we know it isn’t.  Unless you live in the center of a densely populated big city, the desired standard is one car for every driver.  We, each of us, is deeply invested in a way of life in desperate need of new norms that seem like tectonic shifts well beyond our reach.

To be sure, there are people who have made dramatic changes in the way they live.  They’re featured in magazines and on reality t.v. shows. Good for them. Very entertaining, very commendable, but if you think I’m going to live like that, think again.

What about our political leaders?  They dither.  Dithering is what they do best, and when it comes to the environment, they’ve honed dithering to a fine art while spouting acceptable platitudes inn abundance.

It comes down to self interest above all other interests.  That’s human nature, and it isn’t pure selfishness.  Dedication to the greater good requires first that one take cake of one’s self so that one is able to dedicate what is needed for the greater good. It goes bad when self interest displaces the collective self interest of the greater good community and the earth that sustains and feeds it.

The American virtue of self reliant individualism tends to create  competing self interests making it hard to achieve cooperative effort for the good of the whole.  Perhaps the most important thing we need to do is work on a new culturally accepted way of defining self interest, one that would be a shift in direction, though not an enormous shift.

Although there have been decades of movement toward greater protection of the environment, each step forward has been opposed by those who  use, or want to use, the earth’s resources in parasitic ways, often with solid economic reason to back them up.  Parasites can do well only so long before their hosts have no more to give, and both die.

The revised virtue of self interest wouldn’t mean we stop harvesting the riches of the earth to meet our needs. It would mean that unless I play some part in sustainable fecundity of earth, my own self interest is in jeopardy.  Sincere individuals can’t do much on their own, there must be a shared conviction that the American ideal of self reliance can prosper only if it embraces an American ideal of working cooperatively to care of the earth and its creatures.

As with any cultural ideal, it will vary widely in how it’s understood and what should be done.  There will be outliers and destructive deviants but the collective decisions will always be in the direction of improving the health and welfare of mother earth.

1 thought on “Redefining Self Interest &Mother Earth”

  1. When I am lecturing about climate change and accompanying sea level rise and ocean oxygen depletion and acidification, I meet climate deniers. I asked them about the precautionary principle. Why do we wear seatbelts? Why do we buy insurance. Just in case!

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