0276 – Should we really care?

I’ve been actively thinking about sustainability for at least 2 years now, and the challenges that we are facing do not seem much easier. I’m currently writing a paper on sustainability right now and came across this quote:

“The guiding principle of environmentalism is self-sacrifice: the sacrifice of longer lives, healthier lives, more prosperous lives, more enjoyable lives, i.e., the sacrifice of human lives. But an individual is not born in servitude. He has a moral right to live his own life for his own sake. He has no duty to sacrifice it to the needs of others and certainly not to the “needs” of the non-human.” –Michael S. Berliner, Ph.D., Ayn Rand Institute

The notion of “sacrifice” for the environment seems to be a common one. But is it really? How is being environmentally friendly a sacrifice of healthy lives? Enjoyable lives? We all know that materialism does not lead to lasting happiness. And we know that we cannot live without the resources that nature provides.

Individuals have a moral right to live his own life for his own sake – so why take away the rights of our future generations.

Individuals are not born in servitude – so why subject ourselves to the availability of resources?

We shouldn’t care about the needs of non-human? So should all non-humans care about our needs? Why is this always works one way but not the other?

So I struggle with this a lot. Should I care? Should I try to make people care? I also run into this problem:

“Why should I care about future generations? What have they ever done for me?
— Groucho Marx

You know..I really can just not care and no one will probably notice. But there is this tingling calling within me that tells me that I’m doing the right thing. Many people may disagree–as evidenced by the quotes above–with my belief, but I personally cannot neglect my impact on this planet.

Sure, it does take some effort to live sustainably. Sure, we won’t really get anything in return (apart from avoiding the damage that we may face towards the end of our lifetime). Sure, this is damn hard to do consistently.

So should we really care?

The answer–I hope–is yes. The reasons are manifold – some based on reason, some based on our intrinsic nature. I cannot find you one, because it all is based on your place on this planet, which is yours to realize.

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
— Walt Kelly


5 thoughts on “0276 – Should we really care?

  1. louiscicc March 26, 2012 / 11:29 pm

    Another good post. Makes me wonder about who Dr. Berliner is and what the Ayn Rand Institute does. Do they have a spin or interest? Groucho is exaggerating to be funny, maybe ironic, but I agree with you that I hope more people care about the future– and hence we still have places to learn, get educated, so we can contribute, share, and change behavior and ways of thinking — which takes a long time. But do you think we humans were more able to sacrifice in the past and are growing more selfish, more self interested? Or have humans always been self-interested with little perspective on their impact on future generations?

    • Pete W March 27, 2012 / 1:43 am

      It’s actually just a quote I found through my research so I’m not entirely sure what the Ayn Rand Institute does. From what I gather, they advocate for the rights of individuals and hence maintain a strong support of liberty and personal freedom.

      As for Groucho’s quote, I know that he likes to be funny, but you know.. the scary thing is that people actually take his question very seriously. Human nature is fascinating to study, and you’ll hear people argue both sides of the argument on this one. Here’s a very interesting story on how young people aren’t that green after all: http://m.apnews.com/ap/db_289563/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=zW6qjSs8.

  2. Cassie March 26, 2012 / 11:43 pm

    Taking something from the teachings of Ayn Rand is quite a stretch, but also, it does seem to reflect America’s current love affair with the individual: instead of being linked to our neighbors and the community (core foundations of sustainability), we are supposed to strive for greatness and (usually) material wealth.

    Interestingly enough- all of Rand’s protagonists don’t have any regard for material items.

    Keep writing, Pete, I’m still listening,

    • Pete W March 27, 2012 / 1:45 am

      Good to see you here, madame!

      Anyway, you are much more well-read than I am, so I’m not gonna argue with you about Ayn Rand. But your point about Rand’s protagonists is intriguing – people have the ability to interpret languages the way they like to, right?

  3. OccupyMyTime March 28, 2012 / 2:18 pm

    That Groucho Marx quote is pretty hilarious, though it is definitely depressing that people think this way. I study behavioral economics, and one of the major problems in behavioral economics is that people get way too much value from instant gratification. This helps explain why people do not care about intergenerational responsibility. Dan Ariely does a good job of explaining this, as it relates to global warming.


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