Why Caring for the Environment is like Going to the Dentist
I have tried to express that “something” that drives me to care about what’s happening in our environment and to care for the environment, in previous articles like Random Acts of Greenness and others. Perhaps I have expressed it imperfectly, but it remains the same: I am compelled to care.
This is the question put to me by an acquaintance a few weeks ago when we had a chance to talk about our careers and jobs. He asked me about my work, and as he had read some of my articles in the The Environmental Blog, he put to me to that inevitable question that all environmentalists encounter sooner or later:
“What good does it do to care for the environment when we all know it’s all going to be destroyed anyway?”
It was the first time I had been asked this question directly, but I’ve encountered the same idea many times in my daily work of research and reading. I recall the word “fatalism” entering my mind before the question was even finished.
“My answer in a nutshell was this: I am doing my part, and I believe God has a purpose for everything.”
I meant it, too. I do not believe God plays dice with the world and anything that happens is insignificant to Him.
I had answered well and sincerely in an unguarded moment, but the question stayed with me longer than I wanted it to. To be honest, I was more than a little discouraged by the hopelessness embodied in the question, and slightly angered at the smugness of certain defeat that is fatalism’s triumph. As I thought about the encounter in odd moments, I was given a parallel scenario: If you have an agonizing toothache, why go to the dentist when you’re going to die anyway? Since death is everyone’s ultimate destination, why commit the insignificant act of going to the dentist to ease your momentary pain and maintain your dental health?
“I bet the person himself who asked me goes to the dentist, too.”
And here I return to the basic premise of why I and many others are compelled not only to care about, but to care for the environment: the upholding of every human’s need and right to a dignified life, a concern for the future but most of all for the present generation, and a love of all the beauty and mystery of our created natural world.
Caring for the environment is like going to the dentist because there is something wrong, and this is signified in the pain itself. This is the heartbreak, the injustice, and the compassion that won’t let us rest. People like JT, the WWF, Amazon’s da Silvas, and the Philippines’ Dr. Gerry Ortega inspire me because they have done and are doing something to right this wrong, and not without costs to themselves.
I’d like to share a quote mentioned in a Sunday message last week, which encapsulates all the things I did and didn’t say in answer to the question on what good does caring for the environment do:
“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” - Edmund Burke
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