I have often asked myself why the general population doesn’t seem to care more about the fact that we are slowly killing the planet (and therefore ourselves). There are several reasons why it is hard for people to recognize the effects we are having on the environment, and I think that we can all fall prey to them from time to time.
First, change is slow by human standards. By looking at scientific evidence over the last 100 years we can clearly see the changes that are occurring, but for one person living from day-to-day and year-to-year it may not be so obvious. I couldn’t tell you without looking it up if this past winter was the coldest I have ever experienced, but I could tell you that it was colder than last winter. Human memory is short, and we tend to compare to the latest instead of the entire history. Also a problem is the tendency to believe that grandpa is lying or senile when he talks about catching lobsters 3 times as big as the average lobster today, even if it ends up being completely true.
Second, I think that people underestimate the amount of change that 1 person can make. Good or bad, 1 person’s habits over a lifetime can literally determine the fate of tons upon tons of trash. That trash could be recycled, be made out of biodegradable materials, or be non-degradable and end up in a landfill for the rest of time. Maybe I am crazy for carrying home my tote bag full of empty aluminum cans from work every day because they don’t recycle, but think of the hundreds of aluminum cans that are now going to be recycled instead of taking up space in our landfills (aluminum recycling is incredibly efficient)! One person’s habits can also help change industries. If you see a biodegradable or chemical-free alternative, buying it instead of your regular is the best way to tell companies that the product is wanted and needed.
Finally, if the subject of how people interact and recognize change within their environment interests you, then I encourage you to read Jared Diamond’s books Collapse and Guns, Germs, and Steel. I believe that Mr. Diamond puts the problems that people have when it comes to recognizing climate change better than I ever could. The silver lining here is that we can overcome these problems as soon as we recognize them as problems. It is never too late to start caring or to start more environmentally friendly habits.