Making the Connection: For Me, Change is the Only Realistic Alternative

By Kevin Emerson, Terra Firma Co-Director

I’ve often had conversations about why I feel as strongly as I do about environmental issues. To many, environmental concerns seem trivial; the effects of environmental issues aren’t recognized socially, nor are they fully understood. For a number of years, I have been interested in learning more about my role as a modern human being and impacts on the planet which result.

Since my childhood, I have been interested in spending time outdoors observing nature: Aspen groves, squirrels, clouds and other components of nature have all become meaningful to me, often through just simple observation. I was blessed with exposure to nature often, hence, I had ample opportunity to develop a personal relationship with nature.

I also began to understand the importance of nature in my life and life in general. Life, in all its unique manifestations, represents living miracles. For metaphysical, spiritual and ecological reasons, I find absolute, innate beauty and meaning in all places I visit, in each and every breeze, birdsong and Aspen grove.

The intellectual, personal journey that I have been on from my childhood to present has led to this appreciation.

For the last four years, I have been pursuing a degree in environmental studies. I spent my first year as a pre-art major, but felt compelled to switch my major my sophomore year. I suppose I was at a point in my life where I was in search of a more meaningful role for my life.

Although I still love art, it has remained a personal, exploratory interest for me. During my sophomore year, in search of a path that would have longer-lasting, more enduring impacts on my community and possibly the world, I realized the significance of the natural environment in my life; and the plight that many aspects of the natural environment are facing.

I spent Fall Semester of 2000 studying environmental issues in Wales. Over the course of my study abroad, at the U and independently, I have become very interested in the way humankind’s’ relationship unfolds with everything outside of our developed, urbanized civilization.

I am passionate about understanding the Earth and especially humankind’s role on the Earth as a powerful environmental force, as we are capable of and are changing such things as the chemistry of the atmosphere. The bond that I experience with the environment, the Earth, resulted from my studies, but more from my experiences in nature. Currently, my passion for the environment lies within learning about the problems that this planet is facing.

More importantly, however, is discovering creative solutions to deal with the problems. Many societies, ours in particular, have a difficult time accepting that large scale environmental problems exist.

Whenever lifestyle changes might be necessary for a problem to be alleviated, we are especially unwilling to cooperate. To cite just one example, U.S. President George W. Bush refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Why isn’t this international treaty important enough to be ratified? Perhaps because of his personal connection with oil? But what’s more, it would have meant an inconvenience perceived by many as unacceptable.

Other issues of concern include global habitat destruction, loss of biodiversity, global climate change, ecological implications of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and our dependence on fossil fuels. Although there is much skepticism on the severity of these concerns, there is also a fair amount of confirmation. If there is a possibility of detriment, why not be safe and err on the side of caution? Too often precautionary measures are not taken to ensure the well-being of human and non human life. When a culture’s collective lifestyle threatens the welfare, even the existence, of millions of unique species each day, there is clearly something more than amiss.

We have a tremendous opportunity, perhaps a responsibility, to use the information that we have to ensure that all of the world’s inhabitants are safe, and that they all have the opportunity to actualize their full potential?whatever it may be.

Earth Day is the perfect opportunity to do this. Earth Day is a time to reflect on these ideas and the impact of these issues, to undertake thoughtful consideration and come away with new insights, to get involved and do some good. Beyond the gloom and doom of environmental problems lies hope.

For instance, volunteers with Utah Rivers Council took part in a successful campaign to protect the Bear River from being dammed. Earth Day presents everyone with an occasion to fully realize the many opportunities that exist to make a lasting, positive difference. The opportunity that Earth Day presents, allows individuals to learn how to genuinely affect change. In order to achieve lasting change, we all need to truly utilize occasions such as those available today. In closing, I’ll leave you with a passage by M.K. Ghandi that holds meaning in my life:

“You must become the change you wish to see in the world.”

Happy Earth Day.