All posts by swansoev

The Wings That Were Crushed By Human Waste

The impact of our garbage on the environment cannot be overstated. It is clearly evident that it causes untold amounts of damage to the ecosystem by polluting the waters and choking the wildlife.

However, Chris Jordan’s “Midway: Message from the Gyre” makes it exceptionally clear that our current efforts are not enough. The image depicts the carcass of a bird that, while it was alive, consumed an incredible amount of garbage, and died due to the amount of waste in its system. It is a very emotionally-charged photograph. Seeing these poor birds who died because their ecosystem was so clogged up with trash that it killed them truly puts into focus how terrible the problem is.

The photograph is clearly intended to spark an emotional reaction. However, that is not its only purpose. It is a call for action to stop the root cause for this bird’s death; the exorbitant dumping of waste into the environment. The emotional weight of this picture pulls into the spotlight the ongoing discussions of how the environment’s problems can be remedied. Death is a very powerful motivator, and the fact that our garbage is directly causing the deaths of animals pulls us toward the conservation of nature, so that we may one day keep these birds alive and well.

This piece of art did not take much to make. As an article discussing the photo states, there were several birds who died in this exact manner. The photographer merely had to find one and take a quality photo of it. And the relatively little effort it took almost makes it seem even more of a tragedy, since that just means there are hundreds, if not thousands of birds who died the same terrible way. It creates a lot of change by presenting the reality of the situation. Little cost, great reward.

Sustainability is subjective

The subjectivity of sustainability is a truth which is not easily recognized. Many people have visions of a utopian, carbon-negative society. But between each of those people, each vision will be slightly different. And if those people are from different cultures and different career backgrounds, the differences in their visions will be greatly magnified to the point that they will likely contradict one another in certain aspects.

In Sustainability from the Lexicon for an Anthropocene Yet Unseen, this idea is explored, using the differences between languages to contrast industrialized Western society with the developing societies in Guatemala. They introduce their article with the phrase “Sustainability is an English word”, a point that largely goes forgotten. Not all languages have an equivalent for this word, and even if they do, the meaning is notably different when taken into the context of the language.

Sustainable translates into Spanish as either sostenible or sustentable. Though these words all refer to the same concept, they are not completely synonymous. This is a problem, since this means that when a person says that something is “sustainable” in English, the same meaning will not be carried over to Spanish when they say that it is “sostenible”, even though the translation is correct.

But this problem becomes much more obvious when looking at a language and culture that is completely unrelated to the West. The article uses the example of the Mam language. They have no word for sustainable. The closest the authors found was the term tanquib’ela, which referred more to being a part of life, surviving in it. But, as the article also states, this word has no mention of the future; only of being present in life.

Tanquib’ela and the concepts carried around it in the hills of Guatemala are incompatible with the image of sustainability that Western society prefers. The people living there have little clue as to why they are being pushed toward sustainability, since they do not truly know what it is. And this problem is typically not recognized when we talk about sustainable development for these cultures around the world. Often, the people living in developing cultures are uncertain about accepting change, so communicating the advantages of sustainability is necessary to expedite their development. But since sustainability is a concept that not all cultures have, they will too be uncertain of it, and may not understand why it is so important.

Therefore, as described in Sustainability, the goal is not just proper communication. It is to cultivate the growth of sustainable practices, not just with words, but with leadership and action. Only then will there be followers in the way of benefiting the world.

Is Christianity a Burden On the Climate, or a Call to Repair It?

The planet is currently in a period of ecological stress. This is more evident today than it has ever been in human history; with the ice caps melting, typhoons and hurricanes becoming more violent with every season, and fires lit by both nature and man growing to immense sizes, you would have to be willfully ignorant to be blind to the rising problem of the Earth’s gradual climatic shift.

But historian Lynn White argues that the problem of Earth’s climate started long before we had the weapons to destroy it. He describes in his paper titled, “The Historical Roots of Our Economic Crisis,” that the problems with our climate started with an idea – an attitude toward our world – that it was no more than a mere resource for us to harvest; a sacrificial lamb to perform a ritual of boundless prosperity for all of mankind. And he argues this idea was perpetuated by Christianity, whose God allegedly created the world as a playpen for mankind to do as it willed, so long as it did not intersect with sin. According to White, the Christian faith is entirely responsible for the modern self-serving attitude of mankind toward nature, as it created technology that allowed Western cultures to dominate the world in all forms: over nature, over nations, over other religions, and over other ideas. All would become subservient to the West and to the Christian God, and as the West grew over the world, it displaced nature itself. Believing that mankind was not nature and could not mix with it, like water cannot mix with oil, this imperialism led us inevitably to our present situation.

But there are other perspectives. Pope Francis, head of the Christian faith, believes that Christianity is no weapon against the world, but instead a weapon to aid it. The Pope states that the damage dealt to the world is a sin in itself, and that mankind has “forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth.” He pins the blame on mankind’s inability to take care of the world, motivated by greed and self-serving attitudes, much like White does. However, being the head of the Christian faith and an obvious large proponent of its beliefs, the Pope also says that God guides mankind toward selflessness, generosity, and self-sacrifice. By embracing the enlightenment of God, one also becomes a person that would never harm the world around him, for not only would that desecrate the world that He created, but also interfere with the values that God projects onto man.

Ultimately, it is inconclusive whether or not religion has played a hand in the state of our climate. While the arguments proposed by both authors appear to contradict each other at first glance, they both state the fact that an avarice for exploitation has pervaded the hearts of mankind for centuries. If this hunger fails to be alleviated, our world will enter a period of suffering that can be conceived by only the harshest writers and artists. Whether or not Hell exists at present, Earth will become a Hell to dwarf all other Hells, and we shall wallow in its burning wastelands, should we fail to remedy the climate’s continuing downturn.