Saving the planet

When I hear people talking about saving the planet, I worry. Certainly there’s a great deal that must be changed if we are to survive as a species and not take even more of our fellow creatures down with us. However, we do not need to save the plant. We need to stop harming the planet. For me, it’s an important difference.

Imagine a scenario in which you have left a person tied up inside a building you have set fire to. You run back in time to ‘save’ them. This is the kind of ‘saving’ we are talking about when we talk about saving the planet. We urgently need to recognise that we are the ones who have caused the problems in the first place. If we stopped tying life to metaphorical chairs and setting fire to our actual home and habitat, we wouldn’t be in this mess.

We’re good at taking human agency out of the conversation. We talk about pollution, not the fact that humans are polluting the earth, air and water. We talk about extinction, not the fact that human activity is directly responsible for killing many of our fellow life forms. Terms like environmental degradation, habitat loss, deforestation, climate change, conservation, emissions – these words and many others like them all have one thing in common. There’s no direct reference to human activity here. We talk about all of these things as though they are things that are happening, not things we are causing. This in turn helps us ignore our personal and collective responsibility.

It would be nice to save the planet, wouldn’t it? But we’re not superheroes, we can’t ask huge things like that of ourselves and actually expect it to work.

If we talked instead about stopping trashing the planet, we might notice our own involvement in what’s wrong. Stop causing pollution. Stop cutting down trees. Stop killing other creatures. Stop dumping our crap in the oceans. It all has a very different ring to it – one that foregrounds the harm we do and our responsibility to do differently.

We need to stop talking about saving the planet, and start speaking in a way that recognises exactly what’s causing the problems in the first place.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “Saving the planet

  • Ellen Efenricea

    This reminds me a bit of a blog post that I think you wrote a while back about how we report violent crimes against women but leave the male perpetrator out of the sentence. Like ‘I was abused’ or ‘a woman was attacked’.
    It is reminiscent of how I was taught to write up science experiments ‘the water was boiled’ instead of ‘I boiled the water’ because using the passive voice is how objective language works.
    Objectivity is very much part of the psyche of our rationalist scientific era, which thankfully now is being questioned (but for similar reasons, I guess, evidence of facts, e.g. that the climate is changing, is also often ignored at the same time and that is problematic in its own right) How objective can it ever be to ignore a subjects existence as the agent of change/ damage?

    • Nimue Brown

      That’s the one! I’ve been thinking about the parallels there, too. The illusion of objectivity is, I think a rather dangerous thing that can make potentially subjective observations appear to be unassailable facts.

  • becci

    I am in absolute agreement with both the above blog and the comment by Ellen. I would like to add my tuppnyworth into the mix.

    “Save the Earth” is a nice slogan. I believe the earth will be “safe”. Hear me out. This is a matter of definitions and how words are used. The Earth will still be here even if all plant and animal life were to be wiped out, in the worst case scenario of the present climate crisis. Earth would be a piece of rock orbiting a star.

    I would wish to add one word to the slogan, thus


  • Tim Waddington

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this post since reading it. Imagining we can really trash the planet is a very human- (or mammal-) centric way of looking at things. Even if we went the whole hog (excuse my animal imagery!) with nuclear war, we would not wipe out all organisms, there would still be life on Earth, just not, to quote Mr Spock, as we know it. What is more likely is that we alter the environment so that it can no longer sustain our insane economic/industrial system – one could argue that that would not be a bad thing, as it would force the few survivors to live in a more sustainable way with what was left. Humanity has done this many times, as Ronald Wright documents in his “Brief history of progress”. However, it would be extremely unjust, and I, for one, am not in favour of it happening. I think we need to be honest with ourselves about why we want to preserve our environment in its present mammal-freindly state – it is that we can continue to exist, either as individuals, as a species, or as part of the present biodiversity. If one takes the history of the earth as a single day, the age of the dinosaurs would span 3/4 of an hour, and humans have been around for less than a minute and a half. That makes us look pretfy insignificant. Rather than saving the living earth, stopping trashing the planet, I would make the plea “lets try to stop shitting in our own living room”, the way we are behaving is childish and stupid.

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