The Blog

Has the Environmental Movement Become Too Easily Ignored?

Consider this: Most people -- even those who have never gone camping -- are more afraid of the idea of going out into the woods then they are of woods disappearing. We're using an outdated brain model that just can't grasp the enormous issues we face today.

After a recent eco conference, MYOO Founder David investigates why we are less scared of modern threats like drastic climate change than we are of the dark.

As I start my travels back home from Brazil, I try to absorb all that has taken place over the last few weeks, especially when it comes to my involvement over the last few days in another 'GREEN' conference. As an environmentalist, I attend a lot of these. And while these events are always filled with real people doing good work for the planet, at the end, more often than not, I find myself asking myself, was it worth it? Did the event stand up to my expectations and hopes of, not only instigating and inspiring change, but stimulating real-world action as I hoped when I agreed to take part?

Maybe it's too early to feel the effects, too early to see change. However one question arose for me recently, not only inspired by the audience but by the other esteemed speakers attending--was it enough? Were the dialogue, the presentations, and the forums enough to actually spark a change? I'm not so sure.

For all the personal and collective positivity, the progress and presentations we make as environmentalists, scientists, activists, artists and adventurers, why does it always feel like the same circular outcome? Has the environmental movement's rhetoric become clichéd, too do-gooder, and too easily ignored?

Almost 20 years ago, the world of politicians and NGO's descended on Brazil and came together for the Rio conference, also known as the Earth Summit, an event that spawned some of the most dynamic, and progressive declarations, agendas frameworks and considerations surrounding the environment and its movements since Rachel Carson's seminal 1960's book Silent Spring. For the first time, it looked like the conversation had changed. People were standing up and paying attention to our impact on the planet. The wheels were set in motion.

But somewhere between then and now, something stalled. We got stuck on loop. With another Earth Summit (Rio 2012) upon us, it's time to look closely at the progress we have -- or haven't -- made. It's time to analyse the positive impacts and outcomes of the environmental movement that have actually materialised over the last 20 years. Can we prove that we've actually acted on any of the warning signs presented back then? Or, more frighteningly, have all of our green forums and events really been nothing more than self-congratulatory promotion of our so-called heroic efforts to save the world?

I fear these conventions simply create an environment in which we all get together, share stories and ultimately confuse our own participation with progress -- merely commenting on the sources and processes that are responsible for the rapid decline in nature. Sure, we try to keep things positive by sharing a tale or two of the potential solutions that DO exist if only we could just start acting upon them, although it always feels like a very big IF! Then we all pack up our bags and fly home.

So why can't we make the leap from identifying the problem to forging a solution?

Maybe it's our 'GREEN' language and all its pomp and circumstance that's to blame. Have scientists and environmentalists taken something that's emotional and real and turned it into an assemblage of featureless and dispirited "organisms", "environments", and "mechanisms"? Or it could be that we simply don't like too much change. Let's be honest: a slightly warmer world sounds kind of comfy. Do we really need so much nature anyway? Can't we just make some more?

Perhaps it goes deeper than that. What if we're simply more equipped to catalogue the destruction of the environment, than to take real action? Is there something in our biology that makes it easier for us to dwell on our planet's peril than to focus on the possibilities and potential?

Consider this: Most people -- even those who have never gone camping -- are more afraid of the idea of going out into the woods then they are of woods disappearing. We're using an outdated brain model that just can't grasp the enormous issues we face today.

We are a species whose ability to advance technology has outrun our own instincts. We have created a world we are no longer equipped to survive. Indeed, we are biologically primed to seek shelter, and fear natural hazards that are no longer relevant. In a study published by MIT University on fear acquisition and extinction, it was proven that it's far easier for the human brain in its currently evolved state to acquire fear responses and extinguish them when the stimuli is evolutionarily relevant. In other words, snakes and spiders scare us, while larger modern hazards such as guns and germs do not. If you're reading this and saying to yourself, 'I can relate, I've always found it hard to motivate to the challenge of change', you're certainly not alone.

The fact is we are actually far less evolutionarily equipped to recognize the danger of new, "modern" fears such as global warming, clear cutting, industrial toxins than we are of the older, less relevant fears from our ancestor's days. We fear snakes, spiders, the dark, going out into the woods, even as our ice caps are melting, and our animals are going extinct. It is much easier to act when you realise that yes, a spider bite might hurt, something might jump out of the dark and say boo -- but a collapse in nature and its systems will do far more than just swell your hand or make you shit your pants.

Strange as it may sound, I am asking you to start being afraid.

Before You Go