Daniel Kelly: Shared responsibility for nature goes a long way

Take the flight of an eagle, as it careens upwards on an invisible up draught. Photo / Supplied
Take the flight of an eagle, as it careens upwards on an invisible up draught. Photo / Supplied

How often have you shirked responsibility when confronted with adversity? How often have you comforted yourself with the thought that it's not your fault, that there was nothing you could do, that it'll all work out?

If pushed, I would wager that there are very few people who haven't blamed circumstance at one time or another. We all have moments where the future seems insurmountable and it's only human to question fate. For the large majority the accepted wisdom in these cases is to keep on keeping on. After all, it will all work out ... won't it?

But folk wisdom isn't always right. Against a backdrop of overpopulation and dwindling resources, this seemingly harmless tick leaves the door open for attributing blame at precisely the moment we ought to look inwards. These daily consolations do more than merely comfort. In submitting to fate we not only assuage the fears of our ego; we also opt out of responsibility and pave the way for complacency.

Indeed, there is arguably no area where our folk wisdom has a bigger effect than the environmental movement. In concerned households the world over, mothers tut at news about climate change and biodiversity loss, then return to their dinners. They wish for a better world, of course, but what can they do? They're one among billions. Why should the burden fall on them?

This isn't an attack on the socially conscious, nor a smear against hard-working mothers - for they are absolutely correct in their assertion that these tragedies make the world a worse place. But in being right they are also wrong; wrong in the unvoiced assertion that it'll all work out, that it's out of their hands, that someone else will pick up the pieces.

Why? Because it isn't out of our hands. We can't all save the rhinos but if we could encourage some tidbit of collective action then the vast hurdle of the world's environmental issues would suddenly seem much smaller.

This doesn't have to be absolute selflessness; we don't all have to devote our lives to ascetic ends, although a little never hurt. It's more about everyone just being a little less selfish: more modest in their consumption, active in their efforts, and open in their sharing.

Amidst myriad distractions it is often only the most dramatic images that hit home: the orangutan made homeless by palm oil, or the elephant butchered for its ivory. But as charismatic as these mega-fauna are, they are only part of the bigger picture, and it is this bigger picture that we need to see if things are to change.

We are all interconnected and every action has downstream effects, however small.

It is a product of our nature that we hate being told how to live. Instead, action is best achieved when individuals make their own decisions: when the importance of change becomes apparent and motivation is internalised. It's too easy in today's globalised world to feel removed from our most ancient of mothers: we walk on concrete paths and buy cling-wrapped corn under fluorescent lights; see pictures on the news but don't really see - trapped as we are in the culture of us.

We must see the importance of the world ourselves, leave the concrete jungle and engage in ancient communion with nature. There is a sense of wonder and perspective out in the wilderness - I can't help but feel that the loss of this is what fuels the general apathy towards sustainability.

Take the flight of an eagle, as it careens upwards on an invisible up draught. To stop is death, or near enough - nature can be cruel and survival hinges on a mixture of snap decisions and circumstance.

The eagle, too, is caught up in the Darwinian rat race; at the very essence of it we share in its struggle for survival. This is what Darwin was hinting at when he wrote that "there is grandeur in this view of life". Grandeur indeed, that we might gain insights into our own plight from the flight of an eagle or wind through the trees.

In a lecture on "Faith in a Secular Society", Sir Lloyd Geering made the observation that "the divine is that which transcends you". What transcends us in this age of urban living? The interconnectivity of all things, the simultaneous sense of solidarity and wider perspective, "nature red in tooth and claw" - this is the divinity we stand to lose.

In our knowledge of this we are gifted an opportunity to face downstream: to see the trail of silt we have let loose across the earth, and to reconsider whether what we are looking for is really further upstream.

It won't all work out, not without us; now, more than ever, we must tread quietly. It is the responsibility of every individual to do so.

Daniel Kelly is in the final year of his BSc/LLB(Hons) at the University of Auckland. His dissertation focuses on the importance of recognising absolute environmental limits within our law.

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- NZ Herald

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