The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 40.0°F | Partly Cloudy


Save The Planet Today

Vivek Rao

Make no mistake about it. The “Save the Environment” bandwagon is headed back to the forefront, and people will inevitably hop on for a quick ride before it rumbles off into the recesses of public consciousness. I know I’ve already purchased my ticket for a quick and delusional sojourn.

Every couple of years, a major event occurs to briefly shake the average citizen’s mindset regarding the environment. Just a couple days ago, when a Spanish tanker called the Prestige broke in two and sunk into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, threatening one of the worst oil spills in recent memory, most people expressed initial reactions of shock, fear, and perhaps most commonly, seemingly genuine concern. And people are no doubt concerned. The question is: will we remain concerned a month or two from now when the Spanish spill is forgotten and the modern industrialized world continues its powerful push to the future? If past evidence is any indication, the answer is a tragic no.

I am not some tree-hugging environmental nut who would have the rest of the world burn in hell for abusing our planet. On the contrary, I consider myself to be quite environmentally challenged, a point proven by the Pepsi can I carelessly threw into a dumpster while lamenting the fate of the Spanish coast. Nonetheless, I do not think it is hypocritical of me to say that society has a major problem. While we all tend to possess an episodic fixation on major environmental disasters, there is a disturbing lack of focus on our daily impact on the world around us. A large element of this is information, of the lack thereof.

Despite significant progress over the last quarter century, public awareness of environmental issues remains critically low. We may now be convinced that recycling is beneficial, but do we know exactly what we can and cannot recycle? We may be cognizant of endangered species, but do we know how their extinction would impact the planet? Some people probably do know the answers to these and other environmental questions, but I feel quite confident that they are in the minority. The rest of the population, myself included, is relatively illiterate when it comes to this area.

The cynics out there would likely argue that those who are uneducated about the future of Earth simply wish to live without the burden of the environment on their minds. I would argue that if we were all truly aware of how limited our natural resources are and how precious the current global situation is, we would make a far more genuine commitment to the natural world. There is something about preserving all that we have for future generations to enjoy that appeals to most people.

By what means would this turnabout in attitude would take place? A simple solution would be some semblance of a massive and universal project undertaken by governments throughout the world. I have no doubt that such efforts already exist. The United Nations has shown great concern for the environment, and it is likely the organization best suited to coordinate a widespread reeducation project.

However, it would be naÏve to believe that such a fundamental change in our attitudes toward the environment can be brought about solely by some centralized program. Instead, we should probably rely more on localized initiatives. Schools, companies, colleges, religious centers, and other social institutions should probably beef up and expand environmental awareness programs, because only with daily exposure are people’s existing beliefs and perceptions truly changed. Of course, our society is not quite as environmentally backward as I may have painted it to be. Much progress has been made in recent years, and there are a number of organizations out there that are admirably working to preserve our planet. The sad truth remains, however, that for every two steps forward we take, we seem to be taking one back, and with the environment deteriorating at its present pace, we simply do not have that kind of time.

So while it is certainly far better to show concern for the Spanish oil spill situation rather than to ignore it completely, be aware that a more long-term awareness is needed. Plan to use the revolving doors near the Med Center, recycle all scrap paper, and walk home from the mall rather than cabbing it. Maybe it is just a pipe dream, but I am hopeful that the bandwagon will end up being something more akin to a mobile home.