activism climate change conservation media

Can we please stop ‘saving the planet’?

I’ve been reading a book this week called ‘Seven years to save the planet’. More on that later, but rather than clutter my review with a tangent, can I just say that’s a rather annoying title. We need to stop using the phrase ‘save the planet’  in our campaigning and advertising. Here’s why:

1) The planet doesn’t need saving. If there’s one thing that’s going to come through climate change just fine, it’s the planet. It’s a ball of rock for crying out loud, it can look after itself. It’s all the things that live on it that we need to be worried about.

2) I don’t live on a planet, not in any meaningful sense. I live in a house, on a street, in Luton. I live in Britain. These are places I can relate to and understand. I do not conceive of my existence on a galactic level. Let’s talk about preparing our neighbourhoods and households, not the earth.

3) Because we can’t relate to the earth as a planet that needs saving, we don’t really care. There is nothing to motivate people in the idea of saving the planet, other than rather abstract eco-guilt on the one hand or greenie smugness on the other.

4) To claim we need to save the earth immediately places the scale of the problem beyond us. What can I do to save a planet? Nothing at all. Psychologically, this kind of talk is just as likely to make people apathetic and resigned to their fate as motivated to action.

What should we talk about instead? Most of the time we’re talking about saving ourselves when it comes to climate change, so we might as well just say that. The Live Earth concerts may have been called Live Earth, but at least they picked the good honest ‘Save Our Selves’ as a motto.

If we’re talking green gadgets or biofuels then what we’re really out to save is our lifestyle. No need to dress it up as saving the planet, we’re just looking to preserve a way of life we’ve come to enjoy. Unless of course we’re actually a little ashamed of that motivation, and know that our lifestyles aren’t something that ought to be saved…

Better yet, let’s put faces to what we’re saving. Let’s make it about people, animals, plants, places. Preferably that should be things we know – the iconic species of the ecological crisis should be the bee, not the polar bear.

Let’s relocalize it. Instead of discussing how we can save the planet, let’s turn our focus to the bits of it that we occupy. What can I do in my back garden? Is there anything I could do with the neighbours? How is Luton preparing for climate change? This is empowering, immediate, and we’ll see the positive change around us.

Ironically, to stop talking about saving the planet is to bring the debate back to earth.

3 comments

  1. Great blog, I completely agree that as a global society we are focusing on the wrong things.

    When you’re a child and you say “I want to be a astronaut” that’s an inconceivable task, yet a child doesn’t comprehend that. However as we get older we learn to set realistic goals, “I want to get good scores on my mid-terms so I can continue my education toward becoming an astronaut”, that can be achieved in a short period of time as a means to reaching the larger goal.

    Saying we need to save the planet is just like a child saying they want to be an astronaut. It’s an inconceivable task and none of us have a clue on how to do it, “but I’m just one person”.
    We do however know how to separate recyclables in our homes. We do know how to plant a garden in our yard, or change our thermostat settings, or any number of other small tasks, that help us move toward the larger goal.

    I believe a major part of changing our perception will be to remove politics from the equation. Politicians use big words, and talk of everything on a grand scale (including the money they will take from us to complete the task) and it feeds the empathy that slows our progress toward making any kind of meaningful change.

    Very good article, I agree with you completely. Now if we can just get another 6 Billion people on board we’ll be set.

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