Short-term answers to long-term problems
Are environmentalists losing because of short-term thinking?
Sunday, January 15, 2012 - 12:41
Photo: Flickr/Carol Neuschul
Albert Einstein once said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of mindset we used to create them.” And he should know; he failed to reduce the power of authoritarian states by building the bomb that concentrates tremendous power for its authoritarian owners.
When trying to solve environmental problems for future generations, pursuing quick, immediate solutions seems common — but is it naïve? Species extinctions, oil spills and mismanagement of natural resources resulted from institutions that encouraged short-term thinking that prioritized profits or the next election at the expense of future generations. Similarly, many environmentalists look for instant gratification at the expense of a focus on real, long-term change. What are some examples of environmental short-termism? Improving your home’s energy-efficiency, getting low-flow shower heads, and spending lots more money on high-end “green” products. Why is this short-termism? We can feel good about ourselves instantly at the cash register or even watch our energy bill fall, but this is not where the battle for our future is won or lost.
Our minds are fought for through advertisements, "scientific" think-tank findings and emotionally-charged political and even religious rhetoric. Why should we be worried if our generation spends more time watching TV shows than in class? Is there cause for concern that the dominant religion in the U.S. may be the most human-centered of any on Earth? Who is teaching our kids about the environment and what is their motivation for doing so? Those investments in our mental footprint will have a much greater long-term impact on the earth as we each make a multitude decisions throughout our lives.
Greening one's life in baby steps does no harm unless that short-term mindset prevents us from building a sustainable educational and cultural foundation for our children. What do we want your world to look like by the time we pass on this planet? What is our cultural mindset that continues to distance us from that ideal world? How can we invest in the next generation of leaders to realize a better life for our children?
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