What can we do about the ecological crisis? Most person I come across that has some understanding of the situation we are in ponder this question at some point. For sure I have myself asked that question many times. It seems obvious for most that as we face an existential threat, the answer lies in action. We need to do something about it. Yet I can't help but seeing a contradiction in this. What if we were asking the wrong question?
Most of us want to make it. Most of us would like to change the world. And many, concerned about the ecological crisis, are no exception. While there are wonderful exceptions, there are often egotistic reasons why we want to do so in a culture that praises doers, loves achivement and seeks impact.
In physics, we have a way to measure the ability of something to change the world: Energy. The energy of a body is precisely its ability to change its surroundings. There is no doing, no making, no impacting, that does not require energy. Yet, as we use energy for doing, we produce undesired outcomes together with the desired ones. The undesired outcomes include the destruction of natural habitats (for resources such as fuel and materials) and pollution (from burning wood or fossil fuel, and throwing away materials). The desired outcome is what we are trying to achieve.
As there is no escaping the undesired outcomes, we need to be thoughtful in the way we choose what we do, meaning in the way we apply our desires. The Stoics taught us to attach our desires to what is under our control and virtuous, and our aversion to what is under our control and morally wrong in such a way that we never have to suffer from desiring something that we can't have or doing something that is harmful for us or others. Maybe it is time to use a similar approach with the ecological crisis: to attach our desires to what eases the ecological crisis and has little undesired outcomes and to attach our aversion to what is harmful to nature and has significant undesired outcomes.
No wandering. In every impulse, give what is right: in every thought, stick to what is certain.
Marcus Aurelius - Meditations
As Aurélien Barrau eloquently explains in the video below (in French), the crisis we face is an axiological one, that is a crisis of values. As long as we, both as individuals and as societies, focus on doing, achieving, and impacting without rethinking our desires, there will be no solution to the ecological crisis. In a way, the heroes of our time could well be the many living with restraint, humbly, in virtues, and as a result unheard of in a society focused on personal achievement.