How Environmentalism Will Take Us Home

Environmentalism may be depicted in mainstream media primarily as a battle for the Earth and to save ourselves from extinction. But that’s less than half of the story. Environmentalism, in effect, transverses beyond the physical plane. Environmentalism is a way of Life. One that questions and redefines where we stand in this world, and what is our relationship with the rest of God’s creations.

How To Save A Life

Despite what we love to think, we often neglect to truly understand a person. To know a person takes way too much time and actually require real effort. The solution to achieve maximum productivity within short period of time? Labeling people into specific groups. Ideally on the first 8-minutes after the first hi. New colleague Adam is either an optimist or a pessimist; That neighbour’s kid is either an introvert or an extrovert; Suzy don’t click with me, she’s just not my type; Now that’s much easier.  We act as though something as complex and unique as human psyche can be reduced into rows and columns in an excel sheet. If you think we treat our human counterparts as though they are commodities, like how markets categorize goods into different departments, you are likely right on the spot.

When The Moral Line Blurs

Year 2001. An usual humid and windless day in Penang. In a typical Standard 4 (4th Grade) Science Class.

As with the syllabus at the time, we were introduced to the relationship between living things in an ecosystem. Our teacher gave us some examples of “害虫” (/hàichóng/ ; Pests in Chinese) and “益虫” (/yìchóng/ ; Beneficial insects in Chinese). Teaching in primary school was pretty straightforward back then. We were simply told to appreciate the beneficial insects and exterminate the pests on sight. Now that part was lost on me. How do you decide which is which?

“Teacher Liu, why are rats pests?”

“Because they eat our crops.”

“Why are owls beneficial insects?”

“Because they eat rats.” Teacher Liu replied matter-of-factly.

Liu’s reply was essentially no different than saying the sky is blue. Obviously, I wasn’t getting something that is, well, obvious. I was left to decipher what those answers meant. Until the revelation hit me like a truck. Animals that are bad – for humans – are revolting pests! Animals that are good – for humans – are precious beneficial animals!

The casual arrogance behind the reasoning is discomforting, to say the least, for the 10-years-old me.

Human-Wildlife Conflict

Or so they say.

In definition, Human-Wildlife Conflict refers to the tension that ensues following an event when wildlife ‘broke into’ human territory. Violence often erupts like what we have seen in the award-winning photograph taken by Biplab Hazra. Elephants were thrown burning tar balls and burnt by mods in India. The notion that nobody likes their home invaded by anything is comprehensible. Especially when the invading group being unpredictable wildlife, no less.

Except they didn’t.

Never mind it is precisely our deforestation activity that drove them out of their home. Also ignore the fact that it is our extreme polluting behaviour that deprive them of precious food. When our debts come knocking on the front door, we shoved them off – with deadly force. You would think we will take responsibility for our actions, like how we taught our kids. The Human-Wildlife Conflict was never a fair scientific term. At least not for one of the two parties involved.

Environmentalism – The Best Hack To Re-Calibrate Our Moral Compass

The approaching 2050 doomsday is certainly unsettling. All of us are, essentially, future climate refugees. And our current trajectory towards temperature much higher than 2⁰C by that fateful year offers little comfort. But all hope is not lost.

Whether it’s aggressive wildlife conversation in Penang by the Langur Project Penang (LPP), or the young hikers who decided to protect the breathtaking view they enjoy in their routine, the new bloods in environmentalism are working hard to seize the opportunity presented in this troubled time. After all, what better reason to finally prioritize sustainable development when the very planet our lives depend on is at stake? We have arrived in a crossroad when environmentalism is finally not something decision-makers can sweep under the carpet for another better time. In the face of our inevitable species extinction, perhaps the most pressing question we should ponder on is – Who are the real 害虫 (/hàichóng/) on Earth, exactly?

This Article was first published on Aliran.

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