Ideas to save the planet include grand schemes that only governments could attempt, down to the small but incrementally effective actions of individuals.
The ‘every little helps’ approach has a lot to commend it. Everyone can take a unique part, guided by his or her own preference, yet collectively there is great effect. And there are so many options.
We could save water by putting a bucket in the shower, fixing leaky taps, only running the washing machine when it is full, and taking shorter showers.
We could conserve energy by switching off the lights, installing energy saving globes, lagging the roof or only opening the fridge door when we have to.
We could travel less. Between us we made 2.5 billion aircraft journeys in 2009, the result of an ongoing surge in wandering the globe helped by growing affluence and a 60% drop in ticket prices over the last 40 years. Projections are for 3.3 billion journeys by 2014, but we could choose to move around less often.
We could eat less meat. The ‘mean American diet’ (often referred to by the killer acronym MAD) requires 71% more land and 340% more active nitrogen (the key nutrient for plant growth) to produce than an average vegetarian diet. Being a vegetarian massively reduces your environmental footprint.
All these personal choices are mitigation actions. Ideas for changes to behavior that reduce demand on energy and natural resources and also reduce pollution. Even if only half of us acted on these suggestions we would lower global energy demand, reduce water use and ease the pressure on a host of natural resources. If we all did it, then we might save the planet.
And this is where these articles usually finish. Yes we can! Go turn off the light or even run for office and get some big schemes cooking.
What if the planet does not need saving? Suppose that the trajectory of human exploitation and appropriation of resources is just part of the rich journey of life on earth. Then, by definition, I cannot save it.
Convention says that a catastrophic meteorite strike killed off the dinosaurs. What if they had already become so numerous as to have eaten themselves out of all available cycads and the dark clouds from all the dust simply tipped a balance that was already teetering?
There is always an alternative explanation to convention. One alternative to saving the planet is that it’s not up for being saved. Sure it is changing, and much of that change is a result of human activity from land clearing to pollution. But the earth has changed before and will again.
Perhaps a better question is ‘can I save myself?’ Not in the selfish sense of pushing to be the first into the lifeboat of a sinking ship, but to save a sense of self and a personal relationship with the earth. This has more depth than conserving electricity and, in time, answers all the questions.