Letter: Pushing our luck

In last week’s editorial, Walter Nicklin asks plaintively what we can do in response to earth’s degradation. “Don’t we have some kind of obligation to do more than simply observing?”

The short answer — indeed the only answer — is yes.

We are the most blessed of all generations. Through our appetites and ingenuity, we have wrested and drained earth’s million-year-old storehouses. It is our generation that devised ways to drag the seas with nets, harvest whole forests of trees, blast black fuel out of the deep fissures of the earth. And it is our generation that determined it was not only possible but right to do so. Ceaselessly. That is something that had never been done before, and, given the depletion of these resources, will never be possible again.

We know now what we did not think possible 100 years ago: The earth has limits that people can overrun. And we are there. The continued extent of our flagrant consumption assures future generations that they will not be able to live as we do. No length of net can dredge fish from empty seas, no amount of drilling can bring oil from empty wells and no amount of fertilizers can replace thousands of years of topsoil. Choosing to live sustainably, therefore, is not just a political or tactical issue. It is overwhelmingly a moral one.

So what should we do? Ideally, as individuals and a society, we would pass every decision we make through the filter of sustainability. That is, we would ask ourselves if this purchase, this trip, this food, this task, this design, this creation, this appliance, this act, this vote, this system, this economy is in service to the health of the earth, and the generations yet to come. If the answer is no, then we must ask ourselves what we should do instead. And then, as much as we can — not as much as is convenient — we must act in accordance with what that demands.

Nina Beth Cardin

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