For the past century, humanity has fallen into the habit of wreaking ever-more serious havoc upon the natural environment, and of conveniently choosing to ignore any and all side-effects that this behaviour may entail. This can easily be explained by the modern, middle-class habitats of the living room, the local supermarket, and the air-conditioned office: in these surroundings, we are able to damage and destroy without even realising it; and at the same time, we are completely shielded from, and oblivious to, the consequences of our actions.
The pitfalls are so many, that if we actually stopped to think about them, we'd all realise that we have no choice but to go and live in a cave for the rest of our lives. TV? Runs on power, comes from coal (in many places), contributes heat to the planet. Air-conditioning? Both of the above as well, multiplied by about a hundred. Car? Runs on petrol, comes from oilfields that were once natural habitats, combusts and produces CO2 that warms up the planet. Retail food? Comes from farms, contributing to deforestation and erosion, built on lands where native flora once grew and where native fauna once lived, carried on trucks and ships that burn fuel, packaged in plastic wrappers and tin cans that get thrown away and sent to landfill.
The act of writing this thought? Using electricity and an Internet connection, carried on power lines and data cables that run clean through forests, that squash creatures at the bottom of the ocean, powering a computer made of plastics and toxic heavy metals that will one day be thrown into a hole in the ground. I could go on all day.
Our daily lives are a crazy black comedy of blindness: each of us is like a blind butcher who carves up his customers, thinking that they're his animal meats; or like a blind man in his house, who thinks he's outside enjoying a breeze, when he's actually feeling the blizzard blowing in through his bedroom window. It would be funny, if it wasn't so pitifully tragic, and so deadly serious. We've forgotten who we are, and where we are, and what we're part of. We've become blind to the fact that we're living beings, and that we exist on a living planet, and that we're a part of the living system on this planet.
Hobbits ask ents if they're part of this world
Finally, however, more and more people are taking off the blindfold, and realising that they do actually exist in this world, and that closing the window isn't the answer to stopping that breeze from getting warmer.
When people take off the blindfold, they immediately see that every little thing that we do in this world has consequences. In this age of globalisation, these consequences can be much more far-reaching than we might imagine. And at a time when our natural environment is in greater peril than ever before, they can also be serious enough to affect the future of the world for generations to come.
In a recent address to the National Press Club of Australia, famed environmentalist Dr David Suzuki suggests that it's time we all started to "think big". The most effective way to start getting serious about sustainability, and to stop worldwide environmental catastrophe, is for all of us to understand that our actions can have an impact on environmental issues the world over, and that it is our responsibility to make a positive rather than a negative impact.
The world's leading scientists are taking a stronger stance than ever on the need for the general public to get serious about sustainability. Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report on global warming, the most comprehensive and authoritative one written to date. The report has erased any doubts that people may have had about (a) the fact that global warming exists, and (b) the fact that humanity is to blame for it, saying that it is "very likely" — 90%+ probability — that human action has been the overwhelming cause of rising temperatures.
Governments of the world are finally starting to listen to the experts as well. The release of the IPCC report prompted the Bush Administration to officially accept that humanity is causing global warming for the first time ever. The Howard government, here in Australia, is making slightly more effort [than its usual nothing] to do something about climate change, by introducing new clean energy initiatives, such as solar power subsidies, "clean coal" development, and a (highly controversial) push for nuclear power — although all of that is probably due to the upcoming federal election. And the European Union is going to introduce stricter emission limits for all cars sold in Europe, known as the 'Euro 5 emissions standards'.
And, of course, the new documentary / movie by Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth, has done wonders for taking the blindfold off of millions of Joe Citizens the world over, and for helping them to see just what's going on around them. After I saw this film, it made me shudder to think just what a different world we'd be living in today, if Al Gore had been elected instead of George Dubbya back in 2000. How many wars could have been prevented, how many thousands of people could have lived, how many billions of tonnes of fuel could have been spared, and how many degrees celsius could the world's average temperature have been reduced, if someone like Al Gore had been in charge for the past 7 years?
It's great to see the global environmental movement gaining a new level of respect that it's never before attained. And it's great so see that more people than ever are realising the truth about environmental activism: it's not about chaining yourself to trees, growing your hair down to your bum, and smoking weed all day (although there's nothing wrong with doing any of those things :P); it's about saving the planet. Let's hope we're not too late.