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July 19, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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Guest President’s Column—Environment Week

President's column

“Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something”
—Gil Scott-Heron

And so it is that we have reached another VUWSA Environment Week and environment issue of Salient.

Some of you will be perusing this Salient and, like myself, know a lot about environmental issues as a matter of course. Maybe you’ve been an environmental activist for a while, maybe you’re doing your major in environmental studies. Maybe you think it’s all a load of crap so you’ve found out about the issues in order to counter arguments put up by environmentalists.

Some of you will know little about the issues, and like it that way. If this is you, I suggest you don’t bother reading much of this Salient and flick to the bits that have nothing to do with the environment (although I do recommend the bit about how to keep your flat warm).

For the rest of you lot, you have much to gain by reading at least some of the articles in this fair magazine, and coming to one or two of the events happening during Environment Week. You either don’t know much but would like to know more, or are indifferent. For this one week you can find out some of the mysteries of what makes environmentalists tick, and what all the fuss is about.
Indigenous cultures give quite a bit of insight into what it means to have a culture connected to their natural surroundings. Maori, for example, in their few centuries in Aotearoa wiped out all large bird species like Moa according to Micheal King’s brilliant History of New Zealand, before adapting to a more sustainable way of life. Evidence of the emergent sustainable culture can be found in iwi approach to their water. By maintaining the mauri (life force) of the local fresh waterways, there are many benefits. The ability of an iwi to provide tuna (eels) to their members and to other iwi is a sign of mana.

It seems our current, global culture with “Western” roots is still in its unsustainable phase. The United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) says species extinction rates are currently about a thousand times faster than the natural rate of extinction. We are in the middle of the sixth major extinction episode in Earth’s history; extinction episodes that have always marked an abrupt change. Not only are we cleaning the world’s ocean of fish (projected by Science magazine to be free of fish we currently eat by 2050), changing the worlds climate and using up the oil that our modern society depends on; in clean green New Zealand we have taken the mauri from many of our rivers, filling them instead with cow shit and toxic waste. These issues affect everyone on Earth (including students!), and the state of our climate and oceans depend as much as on what you and I do as what a Ugandan, Chinese or American person does.

So will we become a more sustainable culture like many indigenous cultures did in the past, or will we blindly continue to destroy much of what we depend on for survival? Is it too much to re-connect ourselves with the natural world and figure out what it is that needs to be done?

If you’re still reading by this point, you’ll hopefully be glad to see what I’m about to say next.

These are big questions, and it’s not all up to you to fix them. Yes, that’s right. Well so many environmentalists leave things up to you, I wont. What can you do about climate change? Under international agreements like the Kyoto Protocol the limits on greenhouse gas emissions are already set, so if you reduce your emissions, it will allow someone else to emit instead. You should still try and reduce your emissions because it’s the right thing to do and will save you money, but that’s not my point. My point is many of these things have to be solved by Governments, and they’re not doing a very good job at it right now.

You can do a lot however. And you should. Too many environmentalists work themselves to the bone, and too many ordinary people do too little. What you should do is what is the right amount for you. Find out about some issues. Figure out what you enjoy. And then go for it! It’s very satisfying to be working positively as a small part towards a greater cause. And the best thing about environmentalism is that it caters for everyone – from gardeners to hardcore activists, policy wonks to technology geeks.

So I hope you feel inspired by my column, not downtrodden. You don’t have to be superman/woman. Just do your bit. If you don’t know what that bit is yet, read on. And attend some shit during Environment Week. It might just change your life.

We need you!

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