The Struggle to Protect our Planet

(written several years ago in college, doesn’t make it any less true)

The struggle to protect our planet lies in spreading the realization that humans have a powerful impact on the ability of the world to function as it was meant to. Each species competes for it’s survival, and exploits resources in order to sustain itself. However, the human race pushes the earth far past it’s carrying capacity, and for reasons far beyond mere survival. In disregard for the very systems that we depend on to survive, we take and take in order to support unnecessarily excessive lifestyles and painfully unfair dichotomies. While countless communities lead dejected and unsatisfying existences, motivated by the pull of money and lure of material collections, forgotten regions brim with populations of people who can barely manage even a meager existence. In each situation, all are struggling and striving, unhealthy and insatiable. However, what truly is capable bringing happiness is people themselves. In communities with strong support systems and close-knit groups we find validation and contentedness. With competition between people for the same scarce resources we find ourselves turning against one another, but this problem is extrapolated through societies reinforcement of a capitalistic society. Wealthy, developed countries ploy to turn self-sufficient societies into consumers of goods they exploit people and countries in order to manufacture. Rather than sustaining our lives in order to feed ourselves we live our lives to outrageously unnecessary standards of living.

A visit to India had a huge influence on how I viewed the world at large and the impact each individual human life has on it. In the winter of my freshman year of college, I made my first trip to my family’s country of origin since infancy. Seeing the sprawling slums and devastating poverty startled me into awareness, even in passing from chauffeured car. Through learning about the world and civilization’s past, I’ve encountered so many unsettling and disturbing viewpoints that have lead to the destruction of the simple ability for people to live at one with their surroundings. Rather than remote communities being able to live off the land in villages, bands and tribes the way they always had in the past, western civilization, with the advance of technology and industry has completely disrupted and upturned all the lives in the world. Since the times of imperialism and colonialism, modern society has launched into extreme “progress” at the expense of everyone and everything else.

The simple lives of subsistence farmers and small communities are disrupted by the overarching grip of materialism and greed of modern culture. During the Industrial Revolution, imperialism caused the widespread colonization of the hidden corners of the world by Western countries competing for advancement and wealth. The result of this foreign rule was often forced dependency on purchased goods, due to cash crops and deep debt. Those from “developed” countries who charged into existing civilizations, wiped away ancient beliefs, rituals, and wisdom to replace them with the “aid” of their ‘modern’ medicine, education and religion. Like ruthless invaders the powerful continue to try to spread their beliefs and customs upon those who have failed to come to the same conclusions as them. In the anthropologic case study “The Dobe: Ju’hoansi” by Richard Lee, he follows an isolated African tribe transition over a few short decades from a hunting and gathering, nomadic existence, to settling in towns where dependency on relief rations and alcohol has completely uprooted their culture. Cattle graze in the Kalahari, where they once resided, turning the scarce resources of the region to desert. The government forced them to settle into towns where their lives are completely changed and they strive for western ideals, clothing and habits.

The problem with the spread of western materialism, withstanding the many ambiguous ethical questions, lies in the simple facts of survival. In order to breathe, eat, and survive in any possible way we, even the dominant and advanced people of the world, need to allow the natural environment to survive. Rather than polluting all the water, wiping out all ‘wild’ areas and killing or domesticating all living things, people need to respect that human civilization is far too widespread for us to pretend there are endless resources. As the human population continues to explode, growing exponentially, we must be more careful. Simply changing our attitudes, forming opinions on others based on more than artificial and superficial reasons, loving one another based on more than style, wealth, and time and energy spent on looks can make a huge difference. Reevaluating our own personal decisions and priorities in our purchases what companies we support with them can have lasting impacts on every living being.

The consumer-based economy, spread through marketing, has spread even to places such as India. Visiting my family, who happens to be educated, financially comfortable, and influential, was a reflection of the impact of Western society in India. While my grandfather is a poet and literary critic of the widely overlooked regional language of Gujarati, retired from his position as a college president, while my uncle engineers solar panels for his own company, younger generations, such as my cousins, fell victim to more negative ideals of western society. Immersed in elitist social circles and fixated on European and American designer brands, they were interested in being modern and western, interested in speaking English and leaving India. Unfortunately, media and communication has not led to comprehensive enlightenment in empowering women and aiding in social issues such as poverty and servitude but rather the spread of shallow and superficial ideals.

Women: While their husbands work, and their nannies raise their children, while their cooks cook and their maids clean and their drivers drive my cousins simply scurry about their social lives, occasionally designing clothes for fun and going out to dinner and nightclubs upon their husbands arrival home in the evening. While they are privileged enough to make a difference, they are entangled in a web of social climbing that many people are. They are in the process of raising spoilt children for whom they hope to provide the same lifestyle. However, lifestyles have consequences and it is the responsibility of each person to remain aware of what goes into providing their subsistence and what that results in. In their privilege, they seem oblivious to the many deprived people who surround them, the slums that sprawl around them, and the beggars at their doorstep.

In today’s world there are many opportunities for advancement, to become a socialite or a powerful persona. However there are many severe costs the world must pay for the lavish world of garages full of cars, closets full of clothes, pantries full of prepared food and lives run on electricity. In Africa and many other regions major violent conflicts continue, an effect of the imperialism that disrupted their traditional lifestyles, spiraling them out of political, theological, and social balance and deep into debt. In the documentary “War/Dance” which I saw last week at a film festival, revealed a refugee camp in a war torn district of Uganda, full of orphaned children, all longing to return to their ancestral villages to live with their families. On the other hand, endless American teenagers long to live anywhere except with their caring parents in the comfort of their suburban homes. However the ease of modern lives is wholly dependant on the cheap manufacturing that occurs in less developed countries.

In the end it is up to us as individuals as to what we keep on our minds, the state of the world or our hairstyle or social status, the influence we have, the resources for knowledge in our possession. While the all of the world’s sustaining resources are depleted, as water, land, and sky becomes intoxicated because of our own actions, what are we doing with the time provided by our luxuries and convenience that technology and civilization enables? Will we crash the earth’s resources while playing video games, watching sports, trendy fashion and celebrity magazines after a 9 to 5 job processing paperwork? Or will we get in tune to reality and do something to help others around us, not only the people we know, but all living things, by being responsible for ourselves and what our lives mean.