I feel like every blog post starts with a realization of how much time has gone by since I last posted. I've been trying to write for a while now, but life can be...overwhelming, and I find it difficult to write unless I have a clear direction.
I've been working full-time for more than 2 months now. I like my job, so it's actually what happens after work that stresses me out more than my 9-5.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I started a personal learning project about food. As someone who grew up vegan for health reasons, awareness of food was necessary. I was often on the outskirts of food culture, and was able to observe habits that were so drastically different than mine. My mom conducted a lot of research about diet and health as I was growing up, and, whether intentionally or not, also developed more sustainable living habits that I accepted as standard (ie. eating local/organic food, avoiding plastic waste, recycling carefully, reducing material consumption). I never thought I was "environmentally friendly" - I took AP Environmental Science in high school and enjoyed it thoroughly, but it was really just another class to me. I don't think, in retrospect, I became passionate about the environment at all until I was confronted with a staggering amount of apathy and willful ignorance when I started college.
I've been reading about fishing for the past five weeks. I don't eat fish, didn't know anything about fish, have never been fishing in my life, hate boats, and get really seasick. I have no direct interest in the ocean, but I wanted to learn more about the impact humans were having on the world. I learned a lot of fascinating things about the ocean, but my main takeaway was...how come I didn't know any of this earlier? And in general, how come I only know a small handful of people that are even interested in talking about pressing environmental issues? Why is caring about the environment an "interest" or "hobby", as if being invested in what is going to inevitably devastate the following generations of life on earth is the same as playing basketball or watching a new TV show?
I want to blame individuals, but I can't. The societal baseline for caring is just too low. We pat ourselves on the back for everything, even actions that should really be the baseline. We refill our water bottles at the water fountain, where it kindly reminds us of the number of bottles "saved" from the landfills. Yes, refilling that bottle does replace a disposable plastic bottle, but why doesn't every bottle say "one more piece of plastic added to the landfill"? Why do we give out plastic bottles, straws, and cups in absurd amounts at every social event? And what's the difference if we collect reusable water bottles like they're disposable, anyway? Why do we feel good when we recycle, but don't really notice when we toss plastic into a trash bin just because it was closer? Society doesn't lead us to actually make a difference, it just wants us to feel like we're making a difference.
I'm surrounded by amazing people who care greatly about an impressive variety of things. I went to school with people who were incredibly hardworking, passionate about technology, and left with dreams of making the world a "better place" (I use quotes here just because I think every person has a different definition of better). For many, that meant newer, faster, more reliable, more advanced technology. More innovation. I share many of my peers' passion for technology, and ways it can be harnessed to better the lives of humans. I love well-designed products, cool tech, and I am constantly in awe of what humans are capable of creating and understanding. And yet, I'm also constantly frustrated, because in tech, sustainability is often a buzzword, used vaguely on websites to check a box and move on with it. Actually caring about the environment is delegated to hipsters and crunchy granola types (ie. Patagonia), or so my experiences have led me to believe. But the environment is the one thing that will affect all of us. No matter where you live, how much money you make, what you studied, or how many cars you own, whether you are religious or not... what happens with our environment will affect all of us.
We are imagining and building the future, but blissfully ignoring it at the same time. I'm not asking for everyone to drop their jobs or personal passions and dedicate their lives to environmental causes - that would be hypocritical of me. However, I do believe that we can all spend a little bit more time thinking about the less glamorous parts of our future - pollution, climate change, ocean resource management, sustainable agricultural production, trash... We don't think about it because we're taught that humans are incredible, adaptive beings that can use our big brains to solve any problem we're encountered with. I think that's quite egotistical, but I can put some trust in it. Yet, I can no longer maintain comfort in that thought, because around me, there are very few big brains that I see working on these issues.
These are issues that will (and already are) affecting our lives. These are issues that will burden the lives of humans for generations to come (if nuclear war doesn't kill us all by then). We imagine the future as such a colorful world filled with wonderful technology - we have no trouble talking about self-driving cars and fearing about the implications of AI, but we cannot forget about our physical planet. We cannot forget that there will soon be 8 billion people on this planet, each one fighting for food, water, infrastructure, and energy (and scrambling for the quality of living and rate of consumption that Americans have taken completely for granted).
I think it's easy to think about the future and dismiss it as something to deal with later on, but it's important to realize how much can be at stake if we don't find viable solutions. If you love sushi, think about what it would be like if your favorite sushi no longer existed in the world, because the fish it came from went extinct due to poor fishery management. If you get really bad seasonal allergies, think about what it would be like when year after year, increased CO2 and longer spring seasons make allergies even worse. What would it be like if our drinking water became a significant health risk? What would it be like if droughts led to a severe scarcity of water, let alone clean water? What would it be like to fear "once in a lifetime" type of hurricanes every year?
The future scares me. It's not really these "what if" questions that scare me, but the lack of people who are willing to think critically about these questions. I really don't know how to get people to care about these questions. We can talk about our future homes, how many kids we're going to have, where we want to travel, what kind of pets we want, our career trajectories, our retirement plans, but we don't talk about what we can do to make sure the world we're retiring in is the one we imagine. Why?
Maybe I'm being too pessimistic, too critical. I don't know. I would love to talk about this - please comment or email me if you have thoughts.