Environment Week: A Time to Reflect

An Inspirational Flower: The Poppy reminds us of the sacrifices of the past, but also the beauty in nature to be protected for the future.

This year, Remembrance Day coincides with the end of Environment Week, seven days of environment-related events designed to inform and inspire us all about one of the most important features of human existence: our relationship with the environment that surrounds and sustains us. At the same time as we come together to mourn again the loss of those who fought so bravely to protect our country, we must remember the need to unite our efforts to ensure the future wellbeing of ourselves and our own children, by preserving this green and pleasant Earth from overexploitation and destruction. Much harm is done to life in times of war, but we must be careful not to endanger the freedom to live in prosperity for which so much blood has been spilled by doing battle against ourselves in times of peace.

The society in which we are living is not a sustainable one. Uniquely amongst all the civilisations of the world’s history, we find ourselves in a situation whereby we have the power to alter the temperature of the land and sea that surrounds us, to change the composition of the air that we breathe and to cherish or plunder the landscape around us. The priority of humanity was once in protecting ourselves from the uncontrollable perils of the natural world, and we have constructed cities, developed technologies and extracted swathes of resources in pursuit of this goal. But recently we have come to see that the danger to our wellbeing is no longer the natural world from which we all too eagerly have tried to escape over the past few centuries. Now, the greatest danger is from ourselves: it lies in our own inability to perceive the bigger picture of life on Earth and to bring about change in our lives.

Slowly, we have woken up to a fact that our ancestors knew well: that the environment is something to be cherished, a unique platform for life without which existence would be impossible. Further, we have discovered that the process of industrialisation and urbanisation has not only had unintended negative impacts socially: it is also pushing us towards a precipice of global ecological catastrophe by fundamentally shifting the planet’s climate out of the hospitable state in which it currently sits. This Environment Week, we have had chance to explore some of the changes that can be made, if we are committed, to remedy the dangerous situation in which we know find ourselves, cut off from and at odds with nature.

Many of these changes begin at an individual level. We should never be content with living our day-to-day lives the way we always have done, and other people do, simply because of past precedent and the expectations of the world as it is. Our articles by Rachel Kurtz and Jessica Telsnig have shown us just two of the ways in which we can make a stand on everyday issues and move our society just a little further down the path towards sustainability. The levels of consumption of meat and fish seen in the western world today are simply not compatible with the idea of feeding the world’s population and leaving enough wild land and forests – the ‘lungs of the world’ – to maintain our own happiness and the survival of the planet’s plethora of fauna. Switching to more sustainable methods of fishing, and eating less meat – as encouraged by the colleges’ ‘meat-free Monday’ earlier this week – can bring our own country closer to the ideal of sustainable food, and encourage less wealthy nations – which are currently in many cases exhibiting a worrying trend towards increased meat consumption – to follow our lead.

Furthermore, these lifestyle changes should not be seen as making life less enjoyable for ourselves. The locally-sourced formal meals that some colleges have enjoyed this week exemplify the fact that environmental sustainability is not a by-word for joyless austerity. After all, the purpose of the environmental change movement is to improve all our lives and secure our prosperity in the future. An end to a dependence on materialism and the idea that growth in resource use and growth in production and consumption of goods is always a good thing would leave us all free to appreciate the more important things in life. Protecting our rural landscapes – natural or man-made – from the concrete and steel of the city provides us with access to our species’ natural habitat, which is essential to the wellbeing of all of us, as Linda France illustrated through the poetry she exemplified at the Durham Book Festival. The switch from a resource-hungry, consumption-driven society to one that better appreciates its dependence on and relationship with nature should be greeted as a great opportunity to explore fresh vistas of existence, not as an unappetising step backwards into some form of Luddite’s paradise.

Indeed, we need to embrace new technologies as well as reviving of older, more sustainable methods all across society if we are to achieve a sustainable and stable state of wellbeing in a world of seven billion people or more. In transport, for example, the car must shrink in importance in favour of renewably-powered public transport alongside the more traditional – and healthy – propulsion methods of walking and cycling. This requires a change in the mind-set of society and the physical lay-out of our cities, so that is no longer considered normal to commute long distances to work or require a car to access the shops. We have taken a long time to realise just how important such changes are, suffering from the mass denial of the need to act described by David Saddington. The government will only act based on what the people desire, and we need to make it clear that we desire a green and nourishing world in years to come, not a quick-fix bout of short-term economic growth, through the small decisions we make every day as well as through vocal campaigns. As Lal Chadeesingh explained, the choices we as individuals make are also key to persuading businesses to adopt greener practices. After all, if we want local, sustainable stores, we should choose to buy from these rather than the multinational corporations intent on continual growth.

This is, then, the message we all need to take from Environment Week. That in the battle against our own destructive habits, sacrifices must be made, but that, like the Britain that eventually emerged after the two Great Wars, the world we find on the other side of the struggle will be a happier, freer, brighter place, in which life can flourish anew. If we destroy the world they fought so hard to save, the sacrifices of those whom we honour today will have been in vain. But with them as our inspiration, surely we can come together in a new cooperative war-time spirit to overcome the storm-clouds of climate change and our own habitat’s destruction and leave, like them, a safer world behind us than the one to which we came.

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