Lizzi Philokyprou discusses the effects that consumerism and capitalism are having on our planet, asking, is there anything we can do to save the Earth, or is it too late?
According to the philosopher Sinnott-Armstrong, there is no valid theoretical argument which expresses that we have any moral obligation to refrain from engaging in acts which harm the environment. If we take Armstrong’s conclusion as rule, then we can, without guilt, indulge ourselves in the increasingly fast-paced, consumer-based society which caters, unsustainably, to our every whim, regardless of the ecological effects. From the fashion industry and consumer commodities market, to the ways in which we travel, eat, and socialise, so much of our modern-day culture and lifestyle revolves around either the production or endorsement of cheap, disposable goods, and environmentally harmful activities. We are constantly bombarded by advertisements, which infiltrate every microcosm of our everyday lives, driving our insatiable desire for status for consumerism, with devastating effects. Historians have explored the emergence of such a material based, capitalist culture over the past century, with statistics indicating that, in the West at least, we are now experiencing the best standard of living in human history; the same, however, cannot be said for our ecosystem.
Scientists shed a far more worrying light on our current situation. The majority of us are aware of the ticking time bomb that our capitalist societies have attached to the planet’s ecological system. We have reached peak environmental distress, in which the indisputable consequences of our steam roller economy, the dire predictions and horrifyingly impertinent concerns that the worlds leading scientists hold, in regard to the future of our planet, can no longer be sidelined.
There is a lot of commotion, in terms of media coverage, surrounding this crisis, and yet little seems to be happening. It is clear that there is a gaping hole of responsibility in terms of environmental change, which neither the worlds leading companies, nor western governments, seem keen to fill.
Admittedly, some changes have been made, with companies such as McDonald’s substituting plastic straws for paper ones, and the UK, along with many other countries, signing the Paris Climate Agreement in an effort to meet. But is this enough? To many people, these changes seem to be pacifying, almost procrastinatory, acts which are merely delaying essential and substantial structural changes, both to the way countries, and businesses, are run which need to be happening now.
University can often seem like a bubble, distinguishable and separate from wider society, but the degradation of our planet is something which students cannot escape, and could well be a large part of the solution to. The years spent in higher education are often cited as the most influential and impactful, in terms of the development of our morals, values, and political alignments. In theory, it’s a time when we decide what really matters to us in life, a time when we come to understand what we, as individuals, care about and how we can look to shape our lives around these priorities. In reality, university can be an emotional, difficult, and stressful time in which personal growth and interest in current world issues can sometimes take a back seat. Unfortunately, the issue with climate change is that it will never take that back seat, and its consequences loom incredibly closer as each day passes. According to the International Energy Agency, within five years we could see global warming reach irreversible levels due to the amount of fossil fuel generators and energy inefficient buildings still being built.
So what can we actively do? Is there any point in trying to save the planet, or has too much damage been done by previous generations? As a student myself, I believe that we are the best resource in the fight against planet degradation. We are at the forefront of development, across a plethora of different fields and industries; if we choose to, we can bring the issues of climate change, from the way we produce energy and deal with waste, to our shopping and travel choices, into the heart of societal aims, through the research we conduct and the products and policies we go on to develop.
Whatever subject we study, we can in some way use the skills we learn to channel environmental based priorities into whatever career path we set off on. Law, science, art, politics, dance, music, business, and finance, can all promote the Earth’s cause in one way or another.This can come in multiple forms; whether it be the placement of ecosystems and environmental welfare at the forefront of government policies, the upholding of environmental ethics in law, the creation of sustainable business ventures, the promotion of consumer consciousness, or the raising of awareness of the fragility of our planet through art or education. If the majority of people, across a range of work places, align their interests, research, production and essentially, their values with the plight of our dying planet, we can transform our consumer-based society into a sustainable one. Crisis may seem all but inevitable, but as students, we are possibly the last, but also the most influential, resource left to tackle global climate change.
About the author: Lizzi Philokyprou is a first-year History and Philosophy student at the University of York. You can find her on instagram @lizzi.philo.