Facts About Our Impact on the Earth
What’s at Stake?
Humans are the most prevalent species on Earth. Over seven and half billion of us occupy every niche imaginable, from deserts to mountains to islands in the ocean. The move from hunters and gathers, wandering to harvest food in the wild, to settled agricultural communities took over 100,000 years; and life in high density cities has taken place in a matter of a few hundred years.
Living in cities or towns has given rise to consumer cultures. Most of us do not produce what we consume, and have little idea about the basics of production or the effects of our behavior as consumers. If a farmer, for instance, plants a field and makes the wrong decisions about planting, he or she would have nothing to sell or go hungry.
Today, due to population and habits of consumption, our individual behaviors matter more than ever before. Our behaviors, individually and collectively, matter so much to our impact on Earth that they are being referred to by scientists as the “Anthropocene” era; a time when humans have impacted the environment enough to constitute a distinct geological change.
The overall results of our behaviors are telling: global warming is having a negative impact on every environment including the ocean, which occupies ¾ of Earth’s surface; 60% of animal species are in danger of extinction, and plastic comprises 25% of all sand on beaches everywhere.
Small Changes Matter
We are the most powerful species in the history of evolution, located at the top of the food chain. Yet, we are putting our children and ourselves at risk by depleting every environmental niche that we occupy.
A new way to think about personal changes necessary to thrive on Earth over time is to think about it in terms of developing a new literacy, that is, a new level of perception and skills required to assess the impact of our choices on the environment and our future.
It is critical to think of nature as an ally and a partner in a process of co-evolution—evolving together with the Earth and other animals. This respect for all living creatures is paramount, both to them and us.
Literacy in the Anthropocene era means we take the entire ecosystem into consideration when learning and making choices. It means we engage in the fundamental behaviors below:
(1) Self-reflection and recognition of the power of individual choice to shape our present and future; personal responsibility is at the core of our behavior
(2) We believe we live in an interconnected system of cause and effect, that all behaviors influence the environment, which in turn, affects all of us. We depend on simple ideas of science and causality to light our way, especially environmental science
(3) Asking ourselves which technologies or strategies translate into using fewer resources that deplete the Earth and contribute to the health of multiple species
Applying New Literacy Skills
Everything we purchase has an environmental footprint, which means an environmental cost.
At this point in history, for example, affordable electric cars are plentiful, yet 90% of all autos on the street at any one time are based on an over 100-year-old-technology that depends on burning fossil fuels and emitting greenhouse gases to operate. We can make better decisions.
Consumers armed with a new environmental literacy would question this situation and have a plan to avoid it. Below are simple things that you can do to help the environment and the survival of all species:
- Read labels on products or produce carefully. Look for organic raw materials, producers who save energy and water and choose products that are biodegradable. In other words, buy smarter. Not every product will be perfectly ethical or sustainable, as no product is, but buying smarter is a no regrets move.
- Don’t buy single use plastic products, like water in plastic bottles. These bottles are ubiquitous in the environment and a major source of petroleum use and pollution and avoid cosmetics with any micro-plastics.
- Buy recycled or up-cycled products, most of which require less energy to make and keep materials from hitting landfills.
- Buy organic cotton, lower water usage and pesticide helps legitimate the product’s story; buy denim that uses at least 50% less water, like DL 1961 and Triarchy.
- Join an environmental organization of your choice, expressing action for what you care about
- Consume significantly less than you are accustomed too, and make sure that every purchase counts for something you really need or love; kick the “Amazon disease” of being compelled to buy, no matter what the product story.
New literacy skills may seem clumsy at first, like when you first started to learn new skills in school. Over time, however, environmental literacy is easy to exercise, and becomes second-hand and intuitive. Once you begin to master your new skills, you can easily model them for your children and help shape the next generation of consumers. Our lives and the lives of many species depend on it.