How to Save the Planet? Damn the People

How to Save the Planet? Damn the People

Misanthropes are – probably – going to be the planet’s heroes, the ones who save the wild from the greed and utter cluelessness of the rest of their kind.


Because misanthropes don’t care about human stories, and so can focus on the hard facts around climate change – the facts that, yes, it has happened, and would happen, without us, but that yes, we are accelerating global warming, melting ice caps, rising sea levels. We are ensuring that more people, on a more frequent basis, are impacted by famine, flood, or drought.  And we are ensuring that there is nowhere left for our species to migrate to. We are apex predators with no one coming along to do a periodic cull – because we have agreed that war is A Bad Thing, we try and avoid it – or, at least avoid it targeting the developed nations that are causing a lot of the problems, and are best placed to limit their damage.  Our population has become unsustainable, but, because we are apex predators with enlarged frontal cortexes, thumbs, and the capacity for abstract thought, we are not limited, as more natural creatures would be,  by the extent of our available resources: we can always make more. We demand more, we howl and rage in indignation when it is suggested that we should only eat meat once or twice a week, that we should walk to any location that’s less than 3miles distant, if we are physically able, that we should holiday at home, in places readily accessible by public transport, that we should look into public transport and lift share options first, rather than just hopping into the car. We had to be charged actual money – a token amount – before we thought about taking bags with us when we did our shopping.  We even moaned about how long it took eco-friendly light bulbs to produce a glow by which we could read.

Oliver Burkeman, in New Philosopher, points out that humans are generally more concerned by crises that have a human story to them, and one that is readily accessible and easy to relate to – humans are naturally xenophobic creatures: for rich white folk, the human stories of ‘poor brown people’ don’t matter so much, it seems.  People didn’t much care about the global financial crash of 2007-2008 until they saw pictures of fired bankers carrying out boxes of possessions, or people who’d had their homes repossessed who were left with nothing.  We care more about the person who illegally parks in front of our home or apartment block, more about the neighbour who lets their dog crap all over the street, than about the things that will destroy the planet we rely on for life.

And that’s the problem: we’re so smug, so arrogantly certain of our unlimited intelligence and ability, that we believe we can just ‘get another planet.’ We’re spoiled children who’ve never been thrashed, yelled at, and made to clean up our own mess.

Burkeman suggests we put the most mental effort into solving the problems that provoke the strongest emotional reactions in us – and that climate change doesn’t come high on many peoples’ lists.

This is my Top Five of ‘Things That Make Me Mad!’, in order:

  1. The unfairness of the current labour market system, which is geared towards those with a  socioeconomic advantage, and those who see nothing wrong with lying and cheating – people who hire freelance writers to do their essays and dissertations, I’m looking at you.
  2. People who don’t pick up their dogs’ mess – I have 4 dogs, and I manage to clean up after them.
  3. The loss of genuinely wild places – I don’t like tourist trap coastlines, or manicured parks. I want sprawling heathland with scrubby copses of native trees, I want furious surf hurling itself in a rage at a rugged, battered shoreline. I want there to be places nature has rendered inaccessible to me, places I can only admire from a distance.
  4. Human arrogance and human greed, the refusal to accept that, apex predators though we may be, we are still bound by the inflexible laws of nature. One day, we will have lost too many resources to replace.  Earth can live quite happily without us. We can’t do so well without it.
  5. The hunting, for pure sport, of animals.  Hunt for food, cull to manage population numbers and preserve resources.  Leave alone the breeding-age females, and the young. Take what you need, and use all you can.

I am an unrepentant misanthrope. Not the worst of the breed, but definitely of the breed. I am not moved by human stories, I don’t readily do cognitive empathy, and, where I do empathise, it may still not move me to action on another’s behalf.  Humans have tried to hurt me. Humans have rejected me. Humans have seen me homeless and destitute. Humans have treated me poorly, have mocked me, have put me at risk.  The wild things and wild places have done nothing to me.

I don’t hold nature and wildness in some sacred regard – the natural world is brutal, terrifying, and merciless, but, like all brutal, terrifying, merciless things, it has its moments of spectacular beauty, and awe-inspiring majesty, too.

Surfers are often environmentalists not because they are ‘hippies’, but because their primary relationship is always with the ocean. The tides are their tribe, first and foremost, and they stand for the life and the rights of their tribe.

I am not an environmentalist – I am a rationalist: if we strip the planet of everything it has, if we kill bee species, if we pollute the oceans and poison the air – we stop living. We may not entirely die out, but we will return to life before the industrial revolution – lives of mere survival that would be, as Thomas Hobbes says: “Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”  Merely surviving isn’t sufficient for me – if I must be here, among humans, I want to live.  I want to enjoy being an apex predator with thumbs, to enjoy exercising my capacity for abstract thought and creativity, but I want to do so with a full and wonderful range of world around me – and with plenty of wildness for the times humans become too much.