In the interim period before I ship out to Oxford, I decided to audit classes that interested me at the University of Georgia. Environmental Sociology is one of these classes, and it is rocking my world.
I won’t get into all the things I’ve learned, but I’ll advocate for one topic that stuck out to me: deep ecology.
Deep ecology, as I understand it, the belief that humans are not inherently entitled to the gifts of the earth just because they’re human. The natural resources or animals or autonomy over environments are not at human disposal. Humans are not at the top of the food web, but only one aspect of a system that runs tangential or independent of humanity.
With this thinking, this means that humans have no right to mine mountains or log forests, to cut hills to make roads, to raise meat industries or farm animals. Humans have no right to trash this place as if we own this planet. We think we do, though, and much of the environmental ills caused by our unsustainability is fueled by this hubris.
(Of course, this is a critic of the Global North’s capitalism and myopic consumptive practices. Other cultures realize that, hey, maybe you shouldn’t be a jerk to the planet you live on.)
However, deep ecology clashes with many Biblical and patriotic concepts that underline America, the country I live in and the country I have the most knowledge on. It’s easy to walk outside and think that this entire world was built for you, the streets you drive on, the homes you live in, the grocery stores selling delectable meats, fruits, other foodstuffs. But the cities I live in were carved out of natural environments by human hands, human hands that never had the right to carve anything out in the first place.
Then again, the reason my life is so comfortable is because of the opposite of deep ecology (shallow ecology?). Have I ever complained about a gentle blast of air conditioning on a hot Georgian day? About food being so cheap and accessible to me? About my ability to write this blog, cross-legged on the couch in my apartment, because I’m not concerned with raising my own food or creating my own sustenance and livelihood with my own hands? Life is easy, but it came at a cost.
I don’t think that a good standard of living and sustainability are mutually exclusive, though. I mean, I just think about Germany’s environmentalism and think, “wow, that’s how you do it. That’s how you live like you’re not a jerk to the earth.” Green living actually improves the standard of living for not just middle to upper-class citizens but citizens all around. Environments all around. The ecosystem of the world.
Maybe instead of Russian I should be learning German. I could make my way over there, feeling slightly guilty for the transatlantic trek but seeing how deep ecology can be implemented in a city if the citizens, government, and country cared enough for it. Because the world is getting sick, and if we stop contributing to its ailments we’re only going to screw ourselves over in the end. We, as humble guests of this earth, have to stop thinking that we are so entitled to its gifts and start acting like the respectful visitors that we truly are. Being thankful that we were allowed to live here in the first place.