We have 12 years to save the world. What do we do now? (The Weather Network via msn.com)
In one of my classes earlier this semester, my students and I spent a long time brainstorming the advantages and disadvantages of taking classes online. Although I’ve taught online before, and would welcome the chance to do so again, my teaching style is better suited to in-person classroom environments, and the discussion I had with my students that morning was a prime example of how some teaching methodologies just don’t translate that well to an online environment. Chat rooms and videoconferencing can provide some levels of interaction between students, but particularly when students deeply engage in a discussion, there’s just no substitute for being in a face-to-face setting, where Internet lag isn’t an issue and it’s easier to pick up on things like body language and facial expressions.
We talked about the advantages of taking classes online as well, such as being able to dress however you like and not spending money on gas to get to campus and back. Another issue that came up is the fact that students taking classes from their homes don’t have to worry about school shootings, and as relatively rare as school shootings are, they’re still happening more and more frequently these days, and I certainly can’t blame students who want to avoid (literally) getting caught in the crossfire by taking all their classes from the comfort of their bedrooms. (It should be noted here that campus is a much safer environment for many students than where they live, but that’s a subject for another blog.)
For all the advantages I see in taking classes in a traditional, physical classroom, I can’t deny the simple fact that a good education means nothing to my students if they don’t live long enough to finish college. This is what is known as a precondition, and as often as many of us get hit with political issues that have palpable life-or-death components to them (especially this last fucking weekend), the health of our planet is the ultimate precondition. No matter how passionately we feel about every other issue out there (and we have every right to experience that passion), none of them will ultimately matter if we don’t have a sustainable planet capable of supporting human life in the not-too-distant future.
I know that I probably won’t live long enough to see the worst effects of global climate change, and I’m as vehement as I’ve ever been in my desire to never, ever reproduce, but that doesn’t matter. Even if I didn’t have friends who are raising children who likely will live to see those effects (and may wish to have children of their own when they’re old enough), I still want to do everything I can to leave a habitable planet for everyone who wants to share what is good about earth — the natural beauty to be found almost everywhere, the incredible works of art we humans have created, the irreplaceable joy of communing with other life forms — with their descendants. Wanting to monopolize that experience would be the height of selfishness. Despite how some people act, this planet wasn’t made just for any one person to use and abuse at their sadistic whims.
It should be no surprise, then, that a large part of the conservative attack on left-wing philosophy is centred around attempts to invalidate the very notion that human beings are capable of being concerned for the well-being of others. Whether claiming this kind of concern is the product of delusional thinking, or insisting that anyone who says they care about strangers are blatantly lying in an attempt to curry their favour, this kind of inhumane ideology is all too common these days. I’d argue that this strain of thinking has been common among right-wingers for a long time (as more and more of them fell into the Randian misanthropy preached by the proud assholes among them), and it’s only become more visible thanks to the current political climate making it more acceptable to say these kinds of things in public, but however prevalent this kind of thinking may have been years ago, it’s practically unavoidable in present-day America.
One of the main reasons why environmentalism was so ubiquitous in America in the 1990’s is because without a clear bogeyman that conservatives could use to smother America in a miasma of fear and prejudice — the Cold War was a thing of the past, and 09.11 a thing of the future — and with most Americans benefiting from an economy buoyed by the early Internet age and the normalization of two-income households, they had the time and mental space to worry about these issues. The spectre of endless war brought about by the Republican response to the 09.11 attacks, and a steadily-worsening standard of living for all but the richest Americans over the last seventeen years, have combined to push environmental politics back to the fringes of American discourse, and if you don’t think that this has been a deliberate strategy on the past of conservative politicians and media figures, then you’re fooling yourself.
Especially for those of us who face real life-or-death consequences as a result of right-wing political machinations, it can be incredibly difficult to keep the planet’s health in mind as a vital part of all of our futures; after all, none of these other things will matter to us if we’re dead. Just like the problems we face in our everyday lives, though, environmental issues don’t go away simply because we stop thinking about them. Many of us who face other life-or-death concerns are privileged enough to not have to worry as much about environmental issues as people living in more vulnerable areas, and if we want those people to care about the potential catastrophes that we stare down every day, then we’d damn sure better care about the dangers they face.
As tiring as the political battles of these past few years have been, every day proves the need to engage in fights on a growing number of fronts. Fighting for the health of the planet while fighting for other life-or-death issues is not only possible, but particularly in light of the latest scientific evidence about the damage we humans have wrought on our environment, it is becoming increasingly vital to our very survival. We have every right to feel tired and weary from all the struggles of these last couple of years, but if we don’t do everything in our power to preserve the ability of earth to sustain life, then literally nothing else that we’ve been fighting for is going to matter before long.