I am an Environmental Defeatist

I’ve been going through some long-ignored papers. The next three entries are some finds I dug out of a huge pile of stuff. The first is this column I wrote for a ‘citizen sounds off’ type column in the Vancouver Sun in 1993. My Mom saved it. When she read it, she asked me if I actually believed what I wrote. At the time I said I did. I’m afraid that I still do, but less so. I was younger and stupider then.

Click for readable size.

Because I’m a digital pack rat, I still have the Word file with the original draft of this piece. It’s after the jump. My original headline was ‘Man always kills the thing he loves’. Perhaps the Sun editor felt that was a little too gloomy.

Man Always Kills the Thing He Loves

I admit it. I am nineteen years old and an environmental defeatist. I have
given up hope for the oceans, the forests, the ozone layer and everything else
precious and dying. My children will suffer for my misdoings and lack of
foresight, just as I have for my parents’. For this reason alone, I would
consider not having children at all.

I am as aware as most people concerning the state of the earth. I took
environmental geography in high school and university. I left both classrooms
with two impressions. One, that the world is in jeopardy in uncountable ways
and two, that the work required to even begin to correct these problems is

My pessimism stems from a situation that I have witnessed and will continue to
witness for the rest of my life. An environmentally-sustainable planet
requires each and every member of the "global village" to sacrifice.
We must ask the Brazilian farmer to stop cutting down rain forest, even though
it his family’s sole means of survival. We must ask Kenya poachers and
Norwegian whalers to stop praying on dying species. And we must ask you and I
not to drive the biggest, fastest car or eat at McDonald’s or throw away that
plastic bag. We must ask the planet to stop keeping up with the Jones’s.
This, unfortunately, works against a basic trait of humanity – ambition.

I can ask no more of anyone else than I ask of myself. Certainly, I recycle. I
car-pool whenever possible. This essay is printed on recycled paper. But am I
(or anyone else) willing to forfeit my car or take a pay-cut so that my
employer can increase his environmental standards? I think not. Recycling
will not save this planet. Radical changes to the way we live might, but we
are not (and perhaps never will be) ready to accept them.

It is a simple task to lay blame for our problems. There is no one, save perhaps
the newborn babe, who has been completely environmentally responsible? I dare
say no one I know. And responsible is what we must be. To have anything more
than a trivial effect, every one of us would have to consider the implications
of every one of our actions. A radical change, indeed.

American naturalist Aldo Leopold said "man always kills the thing he loves, and so
we the pioneers have killed our wilderness. Some say we had to. Be that as it
may, I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young
in." Perhaps these words were premature for his era. However, with each
generation, they become truer and truer. That thought saddens me profoundly.


  1. Pretty honest Darren.

    I’ve been digging through old stuff lately as well, and have learned that I haven’t changed a whole lot. Found a letter I wrote to my parents from Camp Ta-wa-si when I was 9 years old and. Sarcasm and attempted wit in training big time.

  2. Maybe they killed the headline because it sounds like it refers to you and not to humanity!

    I’m not trying to save the planet. I’m just trying to do the best I can. I rarely drive. I walk. I shop at stores in my neighbourhood. We walk to work. I use cloth diapers with my son. I make baby food from scratch. I don’t use a lot of highly packaged foods. I vote for politicans who fit with my goals. I do what I can. I don’t think I’ll save the planet on my own, but I can be part of a ripple effect. The problems with the world’s environment will not substantially be addressed until the majority’s cost is clear and imminent. Until then, I suppose I’m just freeing up gas and landfill space for others. But at least I’m reducing my own impact.

  3. I wrote a letter to the Sun a few years earlier that made a related, but similar, point. That is: forget about saving the planet. The planet, and life on it generally, will be fine. It’s survived worse things (the oxygen poisoning billions of years ago from plants that killed off almost all of the previous anaerobic bacteria, the asteroids that killed off dinosaurs and most other species at several other occasions over the past few hundred million years).

    What we’re looking at (and probably failing at) saving is ourselves, or at the very least our civilization as we know it. If we don’t slow them down, we humans may adapt to the changes we’re wringing, but that adaptation might not be pretty.

  4. I recommend a book written about the same time as your article: Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken.

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