One day we will blink and come face to face with an empty and meaningless world. With rainforests no longer present upon this earth, our eyes will trail back to the culprit only to find a very different shade of green at fault: money. The compulsion to generate a profit and the push towards overconsumption will have bulldozed across over 30 percent of the earth’s land taking with it over 28,000 species of wildlife. It is ironic how a society centered entirely around prosperity, can so easily turn a blind eye to the dim future. We are burning down bridges to biodiversity, humanity, and whatever hope we may have for tomorrow.
I let this vision of the future sink in reluctantly. It was almost too hard to believe a species with such intellectual capabilities could set forth on a path with such a bleak final destination. The negative connotation associated with “tree-huggers” in our society allowed me to brush these claims off as just another exaggeration. It’s far too easy to give into the notion that humans are unstoppable. The blind faith that everything will turn out okay in the end and that our choices on this planet do not have larger implications is much easier, reassuring, and far less stressful than facing reality.
In his commencement speech, This Is Water, David Foster argues we all see and experience the world through our own lens of self as our default setting allows us to believe we are at the center of the universe. It takes effort and drive to consciously decide to look beyond ourselves, day in and day out, towards the bigger picture. By constructing an enriched and profound awareness of the world around me, I have come not only to acknowledge but accept the world deforestation is on track to create. This is not an issue for the tree huggers, environmentalists, or scientists to grapple with on their own. This is a human issue that reflects how we value ourselves, others, and the place we all call home. Gandhi said, “What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and one another.” We all play our part as we indirectly drive these bulldozers and ignite these fires, by the choices we make as consumers and contributors to society.
While it is nice having easily accessible and cheap products at our disposal, we must question the process underlying their creation. Short-term convenience does not override the long-term hardships we will face if we continue about in a daze of oblivion. According to National Geographic, three hundred football fields of rainforests are cleared every hour to make way for palm oil plantations. I encourage you to take a second to think of the power structures that profit from our innocence. Why do these corporations want us to compliantly buy their products without questioning the ethics behind them? It is because of this. While companies often times don’t care enough to change their policies on their own, they can be forced to by the pressures consumers exert. Having their brand tainted and exposed as environmentally unfriendly, is the last thing these companies want. 137 companies were scored by the World Wildlife Fund on their use of sustainable palm oil. Companies like Krispy Kreme, Kraft, Colgate, and McDonalds scored a 9/9 with 100 percent commitment to sustainable palm oil, other companies such as Wendy’s, Target, and Campbell scored much lower-with Whole Foods not even responding. As consumers, we must demand transparency and more from these companies. We also must demand more from ourselves. This oil finds its way into almost everything from shampoo, to toothpaste, to makeup, to toilet paper. We often see humans as being capable of so many things, yet on an individual level we are always quick to suggest we are just one person and our impact is very insignificant. I’m here to say your awareness is significant and extremely crucial in implanting change.
We live in dissonance with the Earth, thinking the planet is separate from us when we are one as a whole. Our lack of interest equates to lack of empathy. Each and every one of us makes an imprint upon this Earth and you all have to decide what mark you want to leave. It is our human duty to be aware of our choices as we must respect and protect the Earth because it is the only one we’ve got.
Additionally, the rate at which animal species are going extinct is contributing towards a biodiversity crisis. National Geographic suggests we are losing animals at a rate that is almost 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than they would naturally. This is especially prevalent in Indonesia, which holds the highest deforestation rate in the world. Twenty-five orangutans will die before this day is even over as deforestation takes away their source of food, home, and forces them into closer quarters with poachers who kill them and sell them in the illegal pet market. Because of the obsession surrounding this cheap and easily versatile palm oil, other substitutions are ignored. From these carless actions, we can expect to wave goodbye to these gentle and intelligent orangutans within the next ten to fifteen years. While I realize it may be too hard to read the labels on the back of our products and I realize it may be too hard to convince you to care about them, human nature has proven across the board to care about one thing: ourselves.
When forests are cleared, they emit excess carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The amount of toxins released into the air equivalent to the emissions from all the cars and trucks on Earth combined. We are essentially breathing in all our mistakes. We see our planet increasingly getting warmer as a result of this, which in return causes excess flooding, rises in sea level, and stronger coastal storms. These negative repercussions force people to flee their homes, destroy our infrastructures, and dismantle the way of life we have grown accustom to living, as we have recently see play out in California. Deforestation goes beyond just killing our wildlifeand ecosystems because it produces effects that directly influence our quality of life and downfall as a human species.
We don’t look at this as a problem we can fix because we see it as human nature. And maybe we are inherently greedy and it matters more in the scheme of things to have anything and everything we want right now at our very convenience. But this mindset is further perpetuating the problem. And maybe that’s the story we want to tell our grandkids and great grandkids on why we allowed corporations to profit at our expense and why because of that 20 percent of the world’s oxygen has since vanished with the trees. And when they ask you to describe the orangutans that they heard used to roam through these things called jungles and you realize you never cared enough to hold their image in your memory and all you can think of to say back is how sorry you are- realize by this point it will be far too late for any sort of apologizes.