How Being Green Became a Solpsism

Posted on Jan 12, 2009

Ever feel guilty these days when you walk home from the grocery store with plastic bags? How about when you buy a gaming console? Working at a computer all day? How about commuting to work from outside of the city? Throwing out all that packaging we go through?

It’s hard not to. The message the media have been delivering to us is one of personal responsibility for the environment. We all have to do our part, we are told, to “save the planet.” Climate change is upon us whether you want to believe it or not — as far as the scientific community is concerned, it’s no longer open for debate. The end of the world as we know it is gloomy news for any one. That it’s somehow your fault is down-right depressing. All manner of well-intentioned politicians, commentors, and activists preach of humanity’s arrogance and downfall. They blame technology, industrialization, and unhindered “progress” as reasons for this new Armageddon. It’s humanity’s fault and you my friend are human.

What gets me is how religious this “green movement,” has become. The inclination to blame humanity has an air of the “sins of the father,” bit that is popular in the Abarahamic monotheisms. Industrialization was a sin and has become a curse and a plight on the Earth. The development of technology was a “Faustian bargain,” according to some. It’s a syllogistic argument to blame humanity for the current state of the planet Earth.

One thing I think we all need to realize is that our evolution is as random as it is refined. It is no mistake that we developed the intelligence we now posess. At the same time, had early rare mid-Cambrian organisms found in the Burgess Shale went extinct, we might not have existed at all. If we consider ourselves truly a product of our environment then we have to consider that the development of our brains to conceive of tools to make our lives easier was somehow useful enough to persist and develop throughout our evolution. We have a direct biological connection to the world around us. We didn’t appear out of the wilds from dust to exploit and destroy everything around us. Our ability to build ever-sophisticated tools evolved along with the rapid changes in our brains over the last ten-some-odd-thousand years. There’s nothing fatalistic about the process; it emerged and developed without our conscious effort.

If we evolved the characteristics for an organism to develop technology such as we have developed, it hardly seems fit to blame our species. Blame evolution. For all we know, nature is still working on the recipe. We could easily wipe ourselves out and in another twenty million years a new, more refined version of “humanity” will develop better technology more efficiently than we ever could. Maybe then things will work out better.

For now we have to stop believing the solpsism that we have some sort of destiny or influence on this planet. Nature doesn’t care about us. It doesn’t choose which species live or die and doesn’t care. The dinosaurs were decimated by an asteroid colliding with the Earth. Life didn’t seem to be phased. As long as the conditions for its existence are present, it will continue to develop. We might just be the next comet, but that won’t stop planet Earth one bit. We haven’t even existed for a million years yet. If you looked at the timeline of Earth, you wouldn’t even see us. The only legacy we may leave behind is the number of species we were able to wipe out while we were here. The Earth won’t care though. It’s got hundreds of millions of years and more before the Sun will swallow it up.

The real problem is not technology. It’s not enough technology. We’re not going to be wiped out because we learned how to burn oil for energy. We’re going to get wiped out because we haven’t bothered to think of a better way to get energy. Oil is a terrible source of energy and only slightly less primitive than coal or wood. Technology is pretty powerful stuff and if we want to be around to keep using it, we need to get smarter even faster. Burning oil is cleaner than burning wood, but it’s only the beginning. We’ve started splitting atoms, but we know even less about that and yet we’re told by environmentalists that we should throw away the technology. It has the potential to be a near-limitless and perfectly clean source of energy for all we know and yet because we can’t get it right the first time we try, it’s not worth investing in? The problem isn’t the technology itself, it’s that we’re not putting enough effort into developing better technology.

The ideals behind the green movement make sense. The message needs to change. Limiting ourselves and reducing our proliferation isn’t a solution. We need cleaner energy sources. We need smarter materials. We need better manufacturing and waste management processes. This is all technology and the science behind it! Let’s better use the facilities we’ve evolved to continue onward.