Reusing, reducing and recycling: effective actions or solely common good beliefs?
In too many cases of environmental degradation, good intentions are morphed into excuses for the rapidly increasing clutter, carbon and catastrophe that plagues our growing world.
In the very economic “Theory of Good Intentions,” Dr. Paul Niehaus, an economics professor at the University of California, San Diego and the cofounder and director of Give Directly, argues that people do not actually want to do what is right and just, but rather solely want to believe they have done what is right and just. He uses the example of malnourished African children, and I am going to use the example of the environment.
By placing paper in the recycling bin, the average person is filled with a sense of pride at their own intention. Taking the extra step to keep skies, forests, rivers, streams, lakes and oceans free of the clutter, carbon and catastrophe. We harness our beliefs on the butterfly effect theory of meteorology and believe that our small act could ripple a large impact, like the small palpitations of a butterfly’s wings causing a tornado across the world.
In analyzing humanitarian causes, issues arises when these good intentions become enough to reach full satisfaction. The lack of follow through opens the door for companies and individuals to throw the recycling in the trash and corrupt the well-intended system. Niehaus’ nonprofit organization, GiveDirectly, allows people to donate to families in extreme through the use of technology, passing the need for middlemen and avoid ing the corruptive risk that can sprinkle the nonprofit sector. In other words, GiveDirectly combats the “Theory of Good Intentions” and enables people to seek the good results, not just the intentions.
However, our warming world seems to be obsessed with find ing a resting place for the bold, blaming finger that calls out one country or region. The question is no longer about whether or not the environment is degrading but rather, who is responsible.
As NASA provides in graphical evidence, the global carbon emissions have grown at un precedented levels since the Industrial Revolution. Facts that leave a bad taste in many western mouths, and the wavering thought, is it our fault? As Eu rope and the United States were the first to steam plow through the barriers of industrialization, I find it impossible to suppress the feeling that there should have been more thought and consideration to predict future environmental consequences. Yet history stands to support my feeling through technological justification.
In the United States, the Environmental Movement and the technology that allowed climate change evidence to emerge did not form until the 1960s. Allow ing the west to pass the blame game and the finger to go spinning yet again.
The next obvious region to blame is the East. The World Health Organization and the Union of Concerned Scientists listed both China and India as the countries with the highest combined levels of pollution and carbon emission. Recent exponential growth levels in technology, population industry and little environmental regulation are factors that contribute to these high levels of emissions. However, both China and India, along with other Eastern countries, such as Indonesia, face extreme economic inequality and poverty levels. With great numbers of their population fighting for immediate needs and liberation, the environment falls to the bottom of the list dictating which environmental factors to care about.
Much of the East is simply following the stages of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to self actualization that the U.S. and Europe have reached in the past fifty years. In other words, the East can not be expected to make the environment its top concern when immediate needs still go unfulfilled. Leaving the bold, blaming finger with no one country or region to rest upon.
Just as potentially well-intended debris finds its way to the turquoise waves that Dede Suryana rides, our words too can find themselves swimming in unchartered waters.
When Stan Lee and Steve Ditko of Marvel Studios wrote the famous Ben Parker, Spider Man series line, “with great power comes great responsibility,” the intention was cinematic art. However, the quote has be come a staple of classrooms nationwide, even finding its way to the U.S. Supreme Court’s transcript of Kimbel vs. Marvel.
In analyzing intention, I find it very powerful that words so fitting to environmental degradation stem from something so unrelated. The blaming finger has no one to rest upon and the world continues to warm while people become satisfied with their intentions.
However, with the power of awareness, of being high on the global scale of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and of holding the privilege to learn about the “Theory of Good Intentions,” leaves people like me with the weight of responsibility.
Education is the stepping stone to responsibility if students accept the challenge of surpassing satisfaction. I may be one mere flap of a butterfly’s wings, but I shall strive to make that flap one that causes a tornado of true change to combat the clutter, carbon and catastrophe, not merely good intentions.