Many people express concern for the environment and believe Earth Day is a good opportunity to draw attention to various issues. Sadly, Earth Day has become largely a meaningless event, with just about everyone from the strictest vegan to the largest multinational corporation claiming to support “the Earth.”
But of course, the planet itself – the mass that circles the Sun – is in no danger. There is no way we can destroy a hunk of rock that weighs 13,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 pounds. (That’s 13 septillion pounds.)
Let me emphasize this point again, as it has generated about as much angry feedback as anything I’ve ever written: “How can you say the Earth is in no danger?? What about fisheries’ collapse/ atmosphere pollution/ rainforest destruction/ topsoil erosion???”
But none of these are “the Earth.”
The oceans could empty and the atmosphere blow away, and the planet would still exist. Only the Earth’s razor-thin biosphere matters, because it is where we and our fellow feeling beings reside.
This indicates what really matters: The lives of sentient beings.
Unfortunately, few people make decisions based on making a real difference for other sentient individuals. Many people simply act as if any and every environmental problem were equally pressing and anything “green” equally commendable.
When you look at “environmentalism” in the U.S., the emphasis tends to be either on the feel-good-about-ourselves (“I recycled!” “I bought a hybrid!”), or on condemning the “other” (“British Petroleum is evil!” “The government must do something about global warming!”). The avoidance of an honest, meaningful analysis of the fundamental bottom line isn’t surprising. It is much simpler to parrot slogans, follow painless norms such as recycling, vilify faceless corporations, and demand that the government take action.
All of this makes it easy to continue the status quo and still feel smugly green and good.
Personal “environmentalism” is often nothing more than an expression of self-interest, just another laundry list of “we want.” We want to feel good about ourselves for doing relatively easy things. We want charismatic megafauna to entertain us. We want natural spaces for our use.
But ethics aren’t a question of what “we want.” We can be truly thoughtful individuals and go beyond personal preferences, feel-good campaigns, and the vilification of faceless others. We can each recognize that sayings and slogans are superficial, intentions and ideology irrelevant.
What matters isn’t this rock we call Earth. What matters are the sentient beings who call this rock home. We can’t care about “the environment” as though it is somehow an ethically relevant entity in and of itself. Rather, what matters are the impacts our choices have for our fellow feeling beings.
In the end, all that matters are the consequences our actions have for all animals.
All creatures – not just wild or endangered animals – desire to live free from suffering and exploitation.
Cruelty is wrong, whether the victim is an eagle or a chicken.
Once we recognize this, we can see that the point of Earth Day - and every day - is to help our fellow sentient beings as much as possible. Considering the facts in the real world and acting accordingly is the way to have the most significant impact for those most in need.