A very disturbing statistic recently came out from Brazil : between August 2017 and July 2018, 7900 square kilometers of rainforests were destroyed, the worst deforestation in a decade. We’re not well equipped to deal with large scales, so news agencies started to create comparisons in order to illustrate what this number represents. If I would say it is 5 times the size of the region of London, does this make it clearer? Or should we say, 134 times the size of Manhattan’s land mass? How about a million football fields?
A failure of imagination
Personally, I still cannot picture the scale of the devastation. I’m pretty sure that if I would witness the destruction of one square kilometer of rainforest I would be traumatized for a very long period of time. I would hurt for every majestic tree that is destroyed for every mammal caught in the fires, for every bird’s nest that will never be rebuild. Even seeing the death of countless insects would cause me serious emotional distress. Yet when I hear a statistic like “8000 square kilometers of forest”, I think something like “Oh shit, this is bad“, but I don’t get an appropriate emotional reaction. Not even close ! And I believe that this is the problem at the very core of the ecological crisis. Our emotions are much more likely to bring us to action than cold statistics, but we didn’t evolve to have emotional reactions to events on the other side of the globe.
I don’t think that environmentalists or lefties would be only people who would be horrified to witness first-hand the destruction of a rainforest and the death of its uncountable inhabitants. We’re all hardwired to feel compassion for other living creatures, and we all love the natural world. Ideology and cultural conditioning can suppress our natural instincts to a certain extent, but they can’t erase them completely. I do believe that if all people could see, smell and feel the destruction in person we would have a very different political climate the very next day. Unfortunately, we can’t, the world is too big, and most of the destruction happens very far away from the busy cities where most people live. Even people in Brazil people are disconnected from the destruction of their own forests, how can we hope that people in US or in Europe would start to care?
We need to talk…
I don’t have a real answer to this problem, the only solution I have in mind is rather vague : communication. We can’t bring everybody to the Amazon, so we need to bring the Amazon to everybody. It’s really hard to talk about these very important issues in real life. I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually manage to create long conversations about deforestation or climate change, it’s so much easier to talk passionately about trivial events or political scandals… I believe that by talking about the crisis a more vivid picture of the situation could emerge in our minds. We would also be much more motivated to take action if we see that the people around us also care about these issues.
I don’t believe that social media is more powerful than real life conversations, but it’s certainly easier to use on large scales. So don’t underestimate its potential to start a dialogue ! Keep on sharing stories, news and ideas about the environment every day across your social media accounts. Keep on interacting with MTLA on Facebook, my posts wouldn’t reach anybody without your help!
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