thomas m wilson

How to Win a Discussion about the Environment:

August 15th, 2008

We have all encountered political apathy and pessimism in those around us. Here I imagine a conversation between Citizen X and an environmentally unconcerned relative of his.  Let’s see what happens…

Wealthy relative [folding his arms across his chest proprietarily]: ‘Well, I’m not doing too badly [in fact he is rich], so I’m not too worried about all that doom-and-gloom talk.’

Citizen X: ‘Remember that you eat the same food and breathe the same air as the rest of us. Living disproportionately high on the food chain, where toxic substances become concentrated, you are at more, rather than less risk of reproductive impairment.’

Wealthy relative: ‘I’ll be dead by the time all these environmental problems become really serious.’

Citizen X: ‘I don’t see why you are paying through the nose for your kids private school education with the goal of helping them enjoy their lives 40 years from now, while simultaneously undermining the world they will be living in at that time. Surely you’ll want your kids to have a stable climate, living forests and living oceans to enjoy? It is a basic moral obligation to help pass on to your children a planet that is inhabitable.’

Wealthy relative: ‘Ok, but as an individual I can’t stop things going the way they are going. So I won’t do anything.’

Citizen X: ‘The second step in your argument doesn’t work. You are right to say that alone you can’t save the world. However, if you do your little bit to fight climate change you will be helping. It is like paying taxes – a small contribution multiplied millions of times becomes a large amount. And totally apart from this, altruistic action feels good, something which makes sense considering our species’ evolutionary history of living in small bands of hunter-gatherers who needed to co-operate. Only your hopelessness is an indulgence we cannot afford.’

Whenever somebody has the courage to disagree with a defender of the status quo, whenever somebody joins the Green movement for revolutionary change, whenever somebody stands up and speaks out, somewhere, in the background, horns of Victory are blowing.