I Used to Hate Environmentalists, Now I am One.
The Asia Environmental Daily
By: Scott Garner | Beijing, China February 8, 2018
I am an environmentalist. And I used to hate them.
I found their constant preaching and moralizing about the environment to be insufferable. Too many rules about what we should and should not do. You need to recycle. Don’t use plastic. Don’t waste electricity. Don’t waste water. Use public transportation. Don’t support companies that are not eco-friendly. Don’s eat certain kinds of food. Endless preaching, telling me what to do and how I should live my life. I hated environmentalists.
I mocked environmentalists for being naïve. I laughed at them for not understanding how “the world really works.” I ridiculed them for valuing birds, fish, and butterflies over people and human society. I hated them for protecting forests and standing in the way of humanity’s progress in building a better future for itself.
In my way of thinking, this planet belonged to humanity. It was ours to do with as we will. Not by divine right. But because we had out-thought and out-fought every other species on the planet. And the earth was the prize. We had earned it, and it was ours to exploit.
I was willing to strip mine the entire planet down to sea-level, in order to extract every single atom of usable material in order to build a better world for humanity. And I did not care how many plants and animals were killed in the process. I did not care what happened to this planet so long as it benefitted human progress.
It’s embarrassing and somewhat shameful to look back at my former self and my former way of thinking. It’s not an easy thing to admit to anyone, least of all yourself. That you are ashamed of who you were. But I am willing to publicly shame and humble myself, if it will achieve a greater good.
If I can change, anyone can change. If my way of thinking can change, anyone’s can.
Sometimes the process of becoming an environmentalist, or at least being environmentally conscious, is a slow, evolutionary process. Sometimes, it takes time, its takes education, and it takes life experience.
I have had all three. Over time, I have had life experiences that changed my way of thinking and then educated myself on the problems facing the planet.
Before I came to Asia, I lived in the United States. Clean air. Clean water. I took them for granted, I barely gave them any thought. They never seemed important to me because I had never known a life without them.
When I first came to Asia, I was not oblivious to the environmental problems. I saw the smog, I knew the water was unsafe, I saw the piles of garbage. But in my mind, this was simply the price to be paid for national development.
But after so many years in Asia, my thinking has drastically changed.
I have carted countless suitcases of baby formula from the US to Asia, for friends and family, because domestic baby formula was tainted by plastic and children were dieing.
I have lived through China’s “airpocalypse’s.” I have stood in 50 story buildings in downtown Beijing, which should have offered me stunning views of the city skyline…but could barely see across the street. Just a dense, grey smog.
I have lived for years, never able to drink water out of the tap. Having to boil everything I ever drank.
I have swum throughout Asia’s waters, with the manta rays and the sea turtles. With plastic all around us.
But my moment of clarity, when I finally understood what the environmentalists had been trying to tell me all along, was when I could no longer stand being in the sun. I have travelled back to the US numerous times over the years, normally during the summer. And what I discovered, was that blue skies and a bright yellow sun, now gave me a headache.
I had become so accustomed to pollution, living under a grey sky, the sun little more than a hazy disk trying to peak through the smog, that the natural environment now caused me pain. That was my moment of clarity. That was the moment I finally understood what protecting the environment was all about.
And I began to question my beliefs and my previous way of thinking. Is this the price to be paid for “human progress?” Is this the future I want for my son, my nieces and nephews? Is this the future we are all facing? Is this the only way forward?
What is the point of going to the beach, if you are surrounded by plastic garbage? What is the point of having an ever larger tv with a crystal clear picture, if you can barely see across the street from smog? What is the point of going out for an enjoyable meal, only to suffer from food poisoning hours later? What is the point of having endless forms of entertainment, yet cannot do something as simple as drink water out of the tap? What is the point of watching nature shows, if those animals are now gone?
My experiences in Asia have changed me in profound ways. They have radically changed my way of thinking about the environment, the impact of human society on the environment, and the role that we can and must play in protecting the environment.
I am still a humanist at heart. But I believe that humanity can and will have a beneficial role to play on this planet. Humanity is not perfect. We can be petty, selfish, short-sighted, and destructive. But we are also so much more. And capable of so much more.
For as flawed as we are, there is so much good within us. We are a clever, industrious species. Endlessly problem solving, capable of great acts of creation, beauty, and kindness. From constructing the most towering and stunning architecture, to composing the simplest yet most beautiful of poems. From composing music and artwork that inspires millions, to the simple every day acts of kindness we extend to strangers. There is inherent goodness in humanity.
We can be capable and caring stewards of this planet. Protecting it for all life and handing it over to future generations, better than we found it. If we care enough. If we choose to. If we change our way of thinking.
If I can change, anyone can change.
Scott Garner, CPA, JD, is Vice-President Asia-Pacific for Hi-Vac Corporation (China).
The Asia Environmental Daily