By Nathan Denoyer
“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”Various
When I heard this proverb for the first time, its message made a lot of sense to me. The earth does not belong to you. The decisions you make today will be felt by generations to come.
As obvious as this is, many people are not concerned about the future. They have more interest in short-term gains than the long-term effects of their actions. They don’t think about their children, or about what it means for them to be left with a planet that is dying.
There are probably many reasons for this. Maybe they figure they will be gone before anything bad actually happens. Maybe they are poor and simply trying to survive. Maybe they are greedy. Maybe they believe that humans are uniquely important and have the right to use the earth in whatever way is convenient or makes a profit for them. Maybe they are ignorant about the issues facing planet earth, believing conspiracy theories over facts. Maybe they are hopeless and don’t think they can do anything to make a difference.
Whatever the reasons, the result is clear. Humans have done a terrible job of caring for the earth and its inhabitants. As the only species responsible for large-scale ecological destruction and the only one capable of fixing it, it should be obvious to everyone that humans have a shared responsibility to care for the earth, if for no other reason than to preserve our only home. If you acknowledge the beauty and unique value of every living thing, then the reasons for care become even more obvious and urgent. I truly can’t understand how we have gotten to this point where our air, our land, our fresh water, and our oceans are poisoned; deforestation and habitat loss continue at record rates; climate change and its devastating impacts are ignored; and thousands of species are threatened with extinction. When a single species can support the entire fragile web of an ecosystem, when removing only one can cause the entire system to collapse, how can anyone think this is acceptable? And what is being done about it? If we are honest with ourselves, almost nothing. Many people have called for action but nothing big has been achieved. A simple question that we should all be asking was spoken by Greta Thunberg to world leaders at a climate summit in 2019: “How dare you?”.
Yes, I’m angry. And I’m not alone. Lots of other young people are angry, too. But we need to remember that anger by itself is not productive. In a recent interview on NPR’s 1A, I heard researcher and environmental activist Jane Goodall discuss this very issue, along with the importance of hope. She noted that the future of young people has been compromised and that many of us feel angry and hopeless. But if we are to fight back against environmental injustice, we need hope. Hope is a motivator. If you don’t believe that things can get better, then what’s the point of trying? Hope motivates us to try, and anger turns hope into action.
It is sometimes hard to keep hope alive through all the darkness that comes with terrible destruction and loss. But even when change seems impossible there are reasons for hope: young people who feel a sense of anger and urgency about environmental destruction and who are growing into decision-making positions; human intelligence that can be applied to environmental problems; the ability of nature to rebound and heal; and ultimately human goodness and caring. People do care and are coming together to fight for change. We are not alone. Together we are powerful and can make a difference. As Jane Goodall notes, we know what to do about the problems facing planet earth and its inhabitants. The question is, do we have the will to do what it takes? I hope the answer is yes.
Nathan Denoyer, age 11, attends Grace St. Paul’s in Tucson.