Friday, May 3, 2013

The State of Ignoranance

By Jack Miller, Chapter Vice Chair

There are some real advantages to living in a state of ignorance. One doesn't have to trouble themselves with issues of conscience. We can live in a blissful state of ignorance. We can bury our head in the sand of trivial life issues like who will NCAA basketball tournament. We can live in our own little Eden where our eyes have not yet been opened to good and evil. If some real information seeps through our defensive filters we can just turn to denial to protect ourselves from dealing with issues which may trouble our conscience and force us to ponder and act.

We have long figuratively left the Garden of Eden and there are so many issues and problems with which we must deal. We as a nation are in denial about so many of them. While the focus here is on environmental and health issues, since as John Muir said everything is hitched together, these issues permeate a wide range of our lives. We face life altering environmental decisions each day that we don’t have to trouble our conscience with if we are ignorant or in denial.

Life is often a difficult struggle. Many times our difficulties are of our own creation. We are great at making “mountains our of mole hills.” We don’t want to burden ourselves with issues that may seem beyond ourselves, but each of our individual actions has implication that go beyond our immediate selves. Your decision to turn on a light switch has implication for the asthmatic child somewhere up the power line grid. It may be a crushing thought to some, but most decisions we make have a moral content. No wonder ignorance appears to be such a key to happiness.

One of the keys of life is finding a balance between concerned action and finding joy in our everyday lives. Sometimes we will find this balance and sometimes it will slip away for a while. Dealing with the concerns and problems we face can be most satisfying and rewarding. A simple decision that I don’t need a perfect lawn dependent on chemicals can reward us with simple satisfaction many times. Knowing that the electrons we use are renewable, clean energy can reward us many times when we think about no child becoming ill because of my use of electricity.

At first the thought that a large number of the decisions we make have environmental and health implications, may seem daunting and overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be so. Just as we deal with many of the everyday decisions of life with routine almost automatic behavior, we can develop habits which are environmentally positive. It we are personally committed to lighten our footstep of the planet, then, many decisions require little consideration.

Some of most revolting people for me are those who become deniers to promote their own selfish greed. The tobacco industry knew as early as the 1950’s that cigarettes caused cancer yet for decades they muddied the scientific water to protect their profits. Climate deniers financed by Big Carbon have purposely attacked the truth that the best climate scientists have discovered through dedicated research. They have been joined by the politicians whose pockets they line. It’s a whole lot easier for many others to accept the lies than to take responsible actions to lighten their carbon footprint and demand that government and industry take action.

Our need for knowledge and awareness goes beyond just our individual actions. As citizens we also have responsibility for the decisions our political leaders make. Our desire for cheap energy blinds us to unspeakable devastation. The price of gasoline seems to be one of the greatest concerns of our citizenry. We disregard the destruction of the environment and human health if the price is right. I wonder how many Keystone XL Pipeline supporters have any concept of total earth devastation that occurs when the tar sands are ripped out of the earth.

Do they understand that billions of gallons of toxic water in lakes that can be seen from space already exist? They blow mountains out of existence so we can have cheap coal and cheap electricity. What kind of people are we?

We seem to worry a great deal about our style of life which is too often confused with quality of life. Even though the amount of stuff we have and the energy we use have grown almost exponentially since the 1950’s, studies show that we are less satisfied with our lives. Our happiness hasn’t grown with the size of our houses. Will a few less TV’s and a few less square feet in our houses really lower the quality of our lives? Why are we entitled to such a disproportionate share of the earth’s resources? We have to destroy the notion that more and bigger are the keys to happiness.

We have to learn to live with more joy and less stuff. We have to realize that our individual decisions have effects which radiate beyond us. Can we use energy with restraint? Can we live with less so that some who have little can live with a little more? Can we accept the demands that living a conscientious and caring life demand? Can we learn to accept these challenges knowing that we sometimes will fall short?

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