Recently, I heard a local Reverend say “we protect owls but ignore our most important resource: children.” This phrasing implies that time spent on the environment is trivial, and should instead be spend focused on children’s issues. It also implies an antagonistic choice, as if by helping animals, one is somehow depriving a child of something. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are all connected and if we don’t take care of our environment, there may not be much of a world left for future generations.
We are more dependent on animals and plants than many people realize. For instance, bees pollinate much of our food, and scientists estimate that if all bees disappeared, humans would starve within four years. Currently, bee populations are in serious decline, even as we are more dependent on them to feed increasing human populations. To set up a false choice between owls and children is misguided at best and possibly harmful, as if we must focus on youth problems to the exclusion of all else. In this myopia, the environment is a luxury and expendable and we focus on children with the expectation that they, not we, will address the grave problems we have created. We absolve ourselves of the mess we’ve made of the planet by saying we’re making a difference in one child’s life.
Someone is likely going to call me anti-child, which is ridiculous. I volunteer with children and believe wholeheartedly in reaching out to youth. But I don’t think that is enough in itself—we have to work to solve some serious global crises, rather than saying “hey, kid, I’m helping you to read, sorry we’re letting you eat foods poisoned with chemicals, but hopefully you will solve that someday.”
Notice how the preacher didn’t say “We focus on drilling for oil and ignore children?” Why didn’t he? Because drilling for oil is an economic necessity. So is protecting the environment, and we need to start realizing that.