Tuesday 13 November 2018

Why do we seem to care so little for our Environment?

Written by Harvey Perry

The Revelation

A McDonald’s straw holds the potential to change your perception on the current state of global warming. A single, 5 inch plastic straw.

Starting my second year of university was very daunting, which it is for a lot of people as not only are you there to get a degree that holds no promise of leading to a career, but also forming new friendships is difficult especially with people you are forced to live with. Thankfully, this year I managed to find a group of people who want to have a good time at university and get their work done, which are my kind of people. During a heat wave a few weeks ago we had a day out in the sun, getting some work done and eating a lot of food. Plenty of sandwiches and crisps. Walking back from the field, we picked up some fast food because why not.

I threw my burger wrapper and chips away into a bin but kept the straw just to play with while I walked back with my friends back towards the flat. Having something to play with has always been normal behaviour for me as I’ve been described as “very fiddly”, which probably isn’t the worst thing I’ve been called in life. After I’d chewed the straw to ruins I blew it out of my mouth and watched it fall to the ground, joining the empty crisps packets and used coffee cups littered all over the street. It’s quite rare for me to litter because I am rationally afraid of being fined hundreds of pounds that I know I won’t be able to pay, nonetheless I did it anyway and thought little of it because it was just one straw. 

Something about seeing my straw joining the masses of rubbish that accumulated just 10 feet from nearby bins made me realise that I couldn’t have been the only person right then to have done that very same thing. Maybe it was the sun finally being out and enjoying the start of summer me see all the rubbish around, but that straw helped me see a bigger picture. A revelation, if you will.

I asked my friends why they thought that in 2018 there wasn’t a unanimous agreed upon law by world leaders to make positive strides in improving the environment, and why no one is held accountable when considerable damage is done to environment during wartime or oil spillage disasters and the like. One my friends, a Sociology student, and the oldest out of all of us, said that in some traditional perspectives, damage to the environment isn’t considered to be in the same category as crime between people, as plants and ecosystems aren’t harmed in the same way that humans are. 

As argued by the group, this way of thinking is very outdated as to hurt the environment is only harming human life in the long run. A tweet I’d seen earlier that week by Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said that planet Earth will ‘survive anything we throw at it. But Life on Earth will not’ (Twitter, 2018) and as apocalyptic as that sounds, I think it is important that even on an individual basis people need to take better care of this planet.

The Environmental Consciousness

My friend also told us about a sociologist called Giddens who presented a paradox in human nature towards the issue of global warming. The consequences of global warming will not take effect immediately and so people today may not see it as an issue that needs to be given immediate attention. However, this way of thinking will lead to the inevitable future where it will be too late to right the wrongs of the past. 

Seeing all of this rubbish flutter around the city centre triggered images of mountains of rubbish that I’d never seen with my own eyes to race through my mind, striking me on a level I didn’t think was possible. Suddenly my environmental consciousness kicked into overdrive and I realised how easy it was to add to the damage to the environment, and think little of the consequences as you are doing it. Thinking of the thousands of plastic straws that were improperly recycled by the millions and millions of fast food customers every week, made me realise how important and immediate the issue of “fixing” the environment is.

The Generational Gap

Over the last few months in South Yorkshire, there has been a rapid increase of trees being cut down as part of a large operation to fix the roads and pavement across the entire county. In the process, hundreds of old trees are to be cut down and the saplings being planted to replace these old trees aren’t sufficient enough to adequately replace the adult trees that are being cut down. In some cases these small saplings have been reportedly vandalised and may take anywhere between 10-15 years to reach adulthood.

In February, I had the opportunity of filming a protest event outside of Sheffield’s Trades and Labour building where members of the Labour party were meeting. Labour controls Sheffield City Council. One of the protesters was a fourteen year old boy who, despite his age, saw the same paradox that Giddens theorised about and very passionately believed that the older politicians will have to live with the consequences of this operation, far shorter than himself and people his age would have to. 

Seeing such fierce advocacy for change in someone so young was an odd sight to see in person yet I was reassured in knowing that he wasn’t alone. There are plenty of intelligent young people around the world, who are frustrated with how the world is and want to set things right for their generation and future ones. Alas, there are plenty of people in older generations who dismiss young people as being “snowflakes”, easily offended and angry for no reason. A truly inaccurate title that is becoming attached to young people.

I think as a general consensus for the common human, the attention we pay to our environmental consciousness is quite low on the list of things to worry about in life. The little things we could be doing on a daily basis to improve the environment around us are often dismissed because we have to go to work, to pay for rent and constantly fix our sleeping patterns, because a new show came out on Netflix. I follow various zero-waste Reddit and Instagram pages to find the latest tips on how to up cycle the things around me that might go to waste, but I seldom put these tips into practise. 

Finding reassurance in knowing that I am doing my part to contribute is often at the bottom of my ever-growing list of things to-do. Similar to many controversial issues in the world, this mentality of “Surely I can’t change things, I’m just one person” is often what divides entire communities from ever being able to come together and make great change in the world. This same attitude is why 35% of registered voters didn’t show up to the ballots in the 2010 UK general election (BBC News, 2018).

Tried and Tested Mentalities

Growing up I noticed this mentality strongly imbedded in people within my family. My uncle had a very clear idea about everyone in the world doing the right thing and giving their best effort to keep the your conscious clear, whereas my mom had a similar mind state to many other people of only caring for those within the immediate family. It wasn’t a disheartening thing to constantly hear that individual action couldn’t lead to considerable change throughout the world, because I would read about people like MLK and Malcolm X who lead great movements and spearheaded change throughout history.

My uncle’s belief in individual action leading to significant change was so great that it compelled him to join the army, and growing up around a time when people in my family were finally starting to figure out what they wanted to do with their lives, helped me shape my own understanding of the world. 

I believed that it was everybody’s role in society to do their bit for the sake of providing a balance in society, ensuring the world ran smoothly. It wasn’t until I developed a great sceptics mind whilst studying sociology at high school, where I started to realise that not everybody in society has intentions to go out into the world and spread peace and positivity. Some people just don’t conform to society as utilitarian as some of us would hope.

Moral Obligations to Society

Something I wrote at the end of a very long essay in my last sociology essay during A-levels went something along the lines of “No one is obligated to give anything back to society despite everyone living in it. But if we all stopped believing in these obligations that we give ourselves, then society falls apart”. As intellectual as I thought I was being in my exam, I think I was finally realising that everybody has intentions in the world, but not all of them are good, and not everyone has the goal of spreading peace throughout the world. 

Anyone willing to risk their lives for something they believe is right is truly commendable, but even as a child I didn’t understand that if your own people back home aren’t upholding society then what is everyone fighting for? Are these obligations to society as important as we are told they are? We have to at least believe in leaving the world better than we found it, for the sake of admitting that we did our best to better the world to future generations.

Where We Go From Here

Taking into consideration how little my groups’ few bags worth of litter weighs in compared to the amounts dumped into landfills across the world, it all adds to the upsettingly long list of cases where the responsibility of government bodies and communities to protect each other and the environment from this scale of environmental harm is completely disregarded. Like Neil deGrasse Tyson said, the Earth will be fine no matter what we do to each other. 

Yet somehow it seems very likely that humans will bring about the fall of the human race. The growing laissez-faire attitude towards this level of negligence when it comes to taking care of mother nature would result in ruining beautiful wildlife that are continuing to die at increasing rates, some we will even see become extinct within our lifetime. It would mean shorting life expectancies for future generations that we will never get to meet, and it will ensure the deaths of key ecosystems that provide so much life and value to the rare, perfect conditions for allowing us to live on Earth. 

Not only do world leaders need to make active efforts in communication and cooperation to ensure we are metaphorically putting the right foot forward as a human race, but also swift action needs to be taken to ensure that future generations can benefit from whatever we leave behind. Change on a global scale could mean a great deal when combined with the efforts of individuals, of others willing to match their enthusiasm and desperate to pass that activism onto future generations.

‘A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit’ – David Elton Trueblood (Trueblood, 1951).


Trueblood, E. (1951). The life we prize. New York: Harper.

BBC News. (2018). Who are the non-voters?.[online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2015-32527697 [Accessed 12 April 2018]

Harvey Perry is a green political activist

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