We have arrived at a very important juncture as our human population continues past seven billion people our footprint is growing larger every day and if we continue to move forward as we are now, we will most certainly find ourselves at an environmental precipice.
As we look over the edge, we can see very clearly the impact and can no longer ignore the fact that our actions are fundamentally altering the planet and those natural systems that support life as we know it. It is a scary realization but one that represents at the same time a unique and unparalleled opportunity to “right the wrongs” and rally the global community around a common cause that is inherently more important that anything we will ever do as humans. Our future and generations to come are shaped today by our actions and it seems crazy to imagine, as intelligent as we are, that we are incapable of making a conscious decision to act in consensus, change our behavior and rise to this challenge.
As I sit here today writing these words, it is as clear today as it was 20 years ago why I set out to ride across America on horseback to raise awareness of environmental issues and why I followed up to it by writing The Long Ride. Each of us has a part to play and I am playing my part. I am hoping that these words will motivate others to make a similar choice and we can share this moment and ride this road together.
In the twenty plus years since our ride, the world has changed in ways we could never have imagined. With the internet we are no longer isolated from one another’s activities (economic, environmental, social, and cultural). One part of the world can now have an immediate impact in far flung reaches of the planet. While the global community is an open market, it is also a global village with individuals who may not yet know how to live like neighbors.
It is clear that the methods are now here to bring us closer together. What we need now is the capacity to foresee the problems and then generate the new attitudes of accommodation that these rapid advances in technology require of us.
When cultures differ, it will be harder for them to understand one another and the more people differ, the more they have to teach and learn from one another. Today, as we move with lightning speed toward a true global community, most business people and environmentalists agree that we need a sustainable global economy that sustains an environmentally safe place in which to live.
It is not too late--far from it. This is the decade that will set the stage for years to come. The ecosystem is amazingly resilient, and with help it can bounce back, like the Lake Hope situation in Ohio. However, the ecosystem's response to the changes we have imposed upon it is much slower than the rate at which we are imposing those changes. We need to let the ecosystem catch its breath so we can cross the finish line together.
Already, we can see progress in many places. For instance, the recovery of lakes and rivers across the United States is encouraging; on a global level, developed countries recently committed to improving economic conditions through loans and grants for environmental problems in developing countries; there is phenomenal growth of membership in environmental groups, and finally, there is a greater global movement to pursue lower carbon energy sources.
The environmental havoc we have created in this finite planet may, in an unplanned twist of fate, be a blessing in disguise. Many would say that we are "up against the wall" environmentally. If so, the desperation we feel may force us to join hands in a global effort to clean up the mess. This cooperation may reduce global tensions and allow us to focus on common ground, rather than economic and political differences.
When the environmental movement began to emerge in the late 1960's, the members were willing to go to great lengths to challenge business policy. This approach seemed to justify itself as an attempt to bring attention to the new issue. The doomsday predictions and radical approach of the 60's, however, went over poorly with the business community and the response was a hard line against it. Over the next five decades, values, needs and demands, combined with the ebb and flow of crises and attitudes on both sides, have brought on a mellowing, a sense of accommodation and maturing on both sides.
Yet, in spite of this progress, controversy, conflict and misunderstandings continue to exist as both sides continue to voice strong opinions. But at least there is the awareness that dialogue and compromise are essential for any real progress. It is apparent now to both sides that we need find a reasonable blend that works: a sustainable economy and a safe environment.
Recently, changes in the economic structure in Europe and other parts of the world have caused business interests to think on a more global scale. Technology has made this a very small planet indeed, and has forced many in the business world to change their way of thinking. Changes in transportation now allow us to travel anywhere in the world in hours while advances in communication make it possible for us to communicate around the world while driving down the road in our car.
For the first time, by and large out of necessity, this agreement is more than just rhetoric, and that is a significant step in the right direction. The market does not always reflect the true costs borne by society for current environmental and economic decisions. But we will eventually pay the piper--if not now, then in the future.
Lucian Spataro, Ph.D, is the author of The Long Ride: The Record Setting Journey by Horse Across the American Landscape. The book is the recipient of several awards including, the 2012 IPPY Outstanding Book of the Year Gold Award for the book “Most Likely to Save the Planet,” 2012 Benjamin Franklin Bronze Award for Autobiography/ Memoir and 2012 ForeWord Book of the Year Award Finalist in Environment, Nature and Travel Essays. Lucian is the former director of the academic program on “Sustainable Development” at the University of Arizona and continues to speak to civic, business and environmental groups and to students on sustainability. For more information please visit www.thelongride.com.