Carl Safina on ‘Sacrifice’

I just ran across this from Carl Safina, author of the book Song for the Blue Ocean and founding president of the Blue Ocean Institute. I saw him speak earlier this year here in Pittsburgh, where he emphasized the urgency of saving marine fisheries as well as the vital need to address climate change.

The following is an excerpt from his contribution to the new book Moral Ground (Trinity University Press), a collection of essays by world leaders and environmental luminaries about the moral imperative to confront the environmental crisis.

Safina is great in general, but this is one of the better three-paragraph calls to reformulate our thinking I’ve ever read on the subject. His theme is the widely prevalent notion that moving toward environmental sustainability will require too much “sacrifice” to be either feasible or desirable:

“The refusal to ‘sacrifice’ is actually a pathological refusal to change for the better. That is the real sacrifice. That refusal is framed and abetted by the disinformation campaigns of companies that would shrink if we realized we would be better off with fewer of them. Think of ExxonMobil; it’s probably the best example. Their fear of us — specifically, that we might accept the consequences of reality — compels them into a rather successful effort to retain power over us by distorting our understanding of what’s real.

“Nearly every just cause is a struggle beween the good of many and the greed of a few. But because greed has the advertising dollars to make selfishness fashionable, it sustains itself by turning enough people against our own self-interest. Foremost, our interest in hanging on to our own money. Second, our health. Third, the options of our unborn.

“Of all the psychopathology in the climate issue, the most counter-functional thought is that solving the problem will require sacrifice. As though our wastefulness of energy and money is not sacrifice. As thought war built around oil is not sacrifice. As though losing polar bears, penguins, coral reefs, and thousands of other living companions is not sacrifice. As thought withered cropland is not a sacrifice, or letting the fresh water of cities dry up as glacier-fed rivers shrink. As though risking seawater inundation and the displacement of hundreds of millions of coastal people is not a sacrifice — and a reckless risk. But don’t tell me we need a law mandating more efficient cars; that would be a sacrifice! We think we don’t want to sacrifice, but sacrifice is exactly what we’re doing by perpetuating problems that only get worse; we’re sacrificing our money, sacrificing what is big and permanent, to prolong what is small, temporary, and harmful. We’re sacrificing animals, peace, and children to retain wastefulness — while enriching those who disdain us.”

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