Thursday, December 14, 2006

Defining absurdity

There was a time that Kyoto was known as the former capital of the Japanese imperial state. And then 1997 came. Kyoto, the city of Emperors and Camelias, is now associated with reductions of greenhouse gas emissions- a consequence of the fact that the a Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed there. Rightly so I believe since this Protocol is a landmark in the battle to protect the environment and the future of the planet.

Around the same time, hype terms such as 'global warming' or 'renewable energy sources' started invading our vocabulary: the planet is at risk we were told. Slowly but surely environmental issues made it to the papers and television and smiling newscasters talk now about the dangers of global warming with the same ease they announce wars and catastrophes. Of course environmentalism is no new phenomenon: already in late 19th century one can trace its first steps in the United States; West Europeans have been thinking about the environment quite some time now.

And yet despite that all, environmental news regardless of how serious it looks, it holds a second-rate status. You will never find an environmental issue making the cover story of a newspaper: if you are optimistic you can hope that on the bottom left corner next to the marriage of Angelina or Jennifer there is going to be reference to the gloomy prediction about the ozone layer. With the exception of some west European countries, notably Germany, Austria and Sweden, the ministry of the Environment is 'your typical Ministry': chances are that in a Cabinet meeting you will see the Minister sitting at the end of the table, rarely appearing in the news or protesting about the modest budget.

Worse still than the second class tag we attach to the environment is our hypocritical behavior. Regardless of whether we know or not what 'global warming' is we shake our heads if caught amidst a discussion in a business meeting agreeing that the environment is a serious matter. We approve of recycling and yet we rarely take the newspapers to the designated bins. We complain about poor air quality and yet we refuse to leave our cars at home. Convenience: another big catch.

Instead of pointing fingers or creating dividing lines between state and human responsibilities (as if though the two parties had opposing interests) how about looking at the environment's fate? To my eyes, a dying patient to which we inject venom everyday, the planet no matter how strong it was just a few decades ago seems to lose the battle for life. Species disappear. World temperature rises. Just two days ago "doctors" announced that North Pole ice may melt until 2040.

If the environment was a human being it would be in the emergency room by now. Chances are that "the children of the patient" would be outside weeping and praying to God. What we do instead is to remove the feeding tube and the oxygen supply by the day. Death is slow and painful. This is sad yet certain. The only thing to be debated is the following: Since we will be dying too, are we victims or villains?

The latest on our planet:

In English:
Arctic ice may all melt in summer by 2040 - study

En français:
La banquise du pôle Nord pourrait avoir disparu l'été, d'ici à 2040

Στα ελληνικά:
Θάλασσα ο Β. Πόλος


Siddhartha said...

I used to think that we were a little (or sometimes a lot) of both. Victims of the “hungry” and “greedy” big co-operation Villain who will do anything to maximize his profit disregarding the environment and the future of the generations to follow.

It was only a couple of years ago that I realized –and not in a good way- that I am actually not that different from the “villains”. My first thought when I read an article about the melting of the North Pole and that the sea could rise even 7 meters was: ‘Phew, I live up in the mountain.’ I immediately stopped reading the article and looked up. I felt a bit comfortable that I chose not to have a mirror in my room. Not that this changed much of what had just happened. I, once again, was thinking about myself, and completely losing the bigger picture.

I realized then that we were born as victims. Our children will be victims too. But as soon as we learn about our environmental hazards and we do nothing, we become the Villains. Having a discussion over coffee, or even writing a blog about it (like I am doing here) doesn’t change my role. I subscribed to as many environmental organizations as my wallet could afford. Does this put me back to the Victim side? No. I am still using my car to go to destinations where I could easily catch a bus to. I am printing out articles all the time, and rarely do I consider ‘Hey that paper I am throwing away, does it go for re-cycling? Where could I throw it in order to go for re-cycling?’

I don’t know what it is. Is it my character? Is it the fact that in Greece we are not environmentally aware or educated? When I came to the UK, to do my post-graduate studies, I was surprised to find out that every Wednesday people would leave outside their house a black box full of cans and empty bottles, and a blue bag with papers. I admired the responsibility their devotion to this showed. Suggested it to some of my friends back in Greece when I returned. I got a few giggles and ‘This thing would never happen here’. I felt angry with them. I left the table and walked away holding a bottle of water. When I drunk it, I throw away the bottle in a normal trash bin. Right next to it there was a re-cycling bin for plastic. I left and kept thinking ‘why don’t you throw it to the blue bin?’ I kept walking.

PS: Sorry for my mood. Just not a good day for me.

Anastasia said...

I very much agree with you. We may be both victims and villains and we may have, at times, little control over that. However, because we all do have some amount of choice, not an infinite one but still some, this is where we can make the change. Through choice only can we create a life of our own, regardless of the circumstances around us. But, as we all, choosing may be hard...

As with regard to Greece, yes we have very much to do still. Such that at times it is depressing. Not that there are no good initiatives; but still very depressing at the moment.

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