Mother, I am sorry: An Essay.
Mother, I am sorry was originally written in 2020 by The Curious Environmentalist founder, Rebecca Hansell.
References can be found at the bottom of the article for further reading on the issues covered in this essay.
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The sun rises and sets in the same way it has since the beginning of time. Only now it is over a civilisation more advanced than anything you have seen before.
Skyscrapers penetrate high into the bright blue sky, as vehicles and crowds of us swarm beneath, finding order and rules amongst what seems like chaos. Yet behind all the great minds and good intentions that fill the shoes of the educated adults amongst us, we have ignored the Achilles heel of our species. Hubris in its finest form, ignorance in unrivalled quantities, as we destroy the very place that gave us life and leave the speeches and calls to action in the hands of children. Driven by desperation from their classrooms to call for change, to call for us to wake up and save ourselves before it is too late. To act like our house is on fire, because it is.1
Mother, I am sorry.
Sorry for the plague of creatures that has multiplied at such a high rate that the world population has increased from 1 billion to over 7.7 billion in just over 200 years2. A population that is intelligent enough to grow, to live longer, to prosper and thrive – yet gives little or no thought as to how to sustain its growing population within the balance of the world. Sorry that when other species thrive, they are seen as pests and an unwanted problem to our way of life, yet we are the species who is doing the most damage. Sorry that our growing numbers are destroying your surface and causing, malnutrition and suffering to those who have not been born to the country or race or species that is deemed worthy to thrive.
Sorry that we weep for the loss of the exotic and the adorable in the current wildfires and beyond, when wildlife populations have been dropping for the past 40 years and most have never cared before. Sorry that we cry for creatures that are poached by those who often have nothing or little other choice, whilst discussing their actions over our prime cut of beef, in our fancy Western houses – without the vaguest sense of our own hypocrisy.
Sorry that we cry at Attenborough on television, when he shows us the state of the world, whilst we continue to support companies and products that are causing the destruction that destroyed us. Sorry how we claim to empathise and sympathise with the creatures that suffer, whilst we still allow an estimated 14 billion pounds of our rubbish and plastic to be dumped in the, once pristine, oceans per year3. Sorry for the up to 1 million sea creatures that are killed every year3 because of our flaws, our ignorance and our resistance to change.
I’m sorry that we cannot see what we have become.
Sorry that this cognitive dissonance has swept through our population, and the inconsistency of our thoughts, words and actions mean that few of us are making any sort of long-term, significant change. Sorry how we are happy to band together and make our voices heard that change is needed, but when it comes down to taking action no one is willing to take the lead. Sorry that in the haze of trying to find someone to blame we are determined to point the finger of accusation anywhere but at ourselves. Sorry that not one demographic or vilified society is to blame, but that we all have made this bed together. One decision at a time, we have ignorantly become complicit in both yours and our own demise.
Sorry that mammals, fish, birds and reptiles are all facing an uncertain future – us included. Sorry that many populations declined by up to 60% between 1970 and 20144. It’s a wonder how we could possibly let it get this bad before we took any sort of meaningful action. The shameful truth being that many of us don’t understand the fragility and expanse of your brilliance, unless we can see it from our doorstep.
Mother, I am sorry, we should know better.
You are trying your best; you are signalling that you are in trouble. Entire countries are ablaze with wildfires and the world mourns for the wildlife lost, without appreciating the bigger picture. Weather patterns are changing, and we celebrate the added warmth of summer, without a thought for the rising temperatures of the sea and what that means for the creatures beneath the surface.
Sorry how we are never willing to look beneath the surface.
Sorry that tropical forests; beautiful, diverse and valuable to many are lost at a rate of nearly 30 football pitches per minute4. There seems to be a huge number of contributing factors to this continuous downfall, that many of us are so overwhelmed that we end up doing nothing to help. We are made to believe that there is good and evil, that we should be perfect, virtuous versions of ourselves, but this is a lie. A lie that we tell ourselves to ease our guilt. ‘What difference can I make if China is still pumping out emissions?’, ‘What’s the point in being vegetarian when the cows will still be slaughtered for someone else to eat the steak?!…’ we find excuses to hide the fact that we are scared of change. It’s cosy in our comfort zone, despite the world burning around us.
The world would be a much better place, if we were all just a bit more willing to try.
Sorry that through all the pollution and greed, it is difficult to see the wood for the trees, but I hope that you have not forgotten that small pocket of light, made by those who are desperate to learn and change and do whatever it takes.
Those who understand that it takes more than a hashtag to evoke significant change.
That it takes education.
It takes support.
It takes voices.
It takes people.
Mother, I am sorry, we aren’t doing more.
Sorry for how we pay our scientists to come up with solutions, which we ignore because they are unpopular or inconvenient to our modern-day comforts. Sorry that a dietary shift could make significant impact to our emissions and targets, yet we turn the other way. Sorry that the bigoted, attention-seekers get more press coverage for shaming those who dare to find an alternative, for something as small as the humble sausage roll5, than the climate crisis that we are facing on a global, life-threatening scale. I’m sorry that we aren’t angrier that this is the state of the world that we live in. I’m sorry that morals and open minds are shunned to a dark corner of the web, whilst those who are part of the issue are broadcast daily for all to see. I’m sorry that we are so obviously the problem and are not interested in becoming the solution.
I’m sorry that fake news overshadows your ongoing struggle. How are the rest of us supposed to understand the scale of the issue, if the facts remain hidden from us?
We are looking but we are not seeing the truth.
Sorry that we have arrived in a time where our leaders themselves fail to understand the situation we are facing. Sorry that there are so many other problems that take up prime headline space. Sorry that people know more about the ins and outs of a referendum that happened in the UK 4 years ago, than the fact that Indonesia has announced plans to completely move its capital city6. Let alone that this is due to the fact that it, the home of over 10 million people, is sinking at one of the fastest rates in the world.
Sorry that the little-known truth is that extreme floods and heavy rains have doubled since 2004 and are 4 times as frequent than in 1980. Sorry that two-thirds of extreme weather events in the last 20 years were influenced by humans4 and human activities. I’m sorry that we have turned our backs on the opportunity to change so many times, that now we are swimming against the incoming tide.
Mother, I am sorry, we didn’t heed your warnings.
Sorry that we talk the big talk about carbon budgets and zero emissions, yet the atmospheric carbon dioxide peaked in 2019 to 414.7 parts per million7. I’m sorry that we get this high-quality information from spectacular feats of human creativity and accomplishment, like the Mauna Loa Observatory, and yet its legitimacy is continuously questioned. I’m sorry that there is 60 years of data to back up these findings, brought to light by some of the greatest minds that we have to offer, and yet some still deny our impact on you and the others that call you home.
How can one species be both so brilliant and so wrong?
Mother I am sorry.
That it took a global pandemic for us to see what we can achieve when we band together. Yet some still resist. Pulling their masks down to breathe in infected air, like they have pulled the wool over their own eyes for years before. Breathing in the toxic lies and averting their eyes – if I can’t see it, it isn’t happening. Hubris will be the end of us, and we will learn that lesson too late.
Mother I am sorry.
Sorry we are selfish. We don’t think of others, not about you or about the countless creatures that make you such a unique, beautiful place to live. We sacrifice the homes of others, to make cheap furniture, cheap produce and, above all, profit. The cost of our actions on others is not a factor in any of our economic equations.
Mother, I am sorry, more of us should care.
Sorry that we take you for granted, we always have, and it isn’t fair. All you do is give; give us life, give us space, give us food and all we do is take. Without thought of what the cost to you might be for our selfishness and our greed.
Sorry that we have developed into an intelligent species but have squandered our potential to be something more. I’m sorry that we have stripped you of your beauty and replaced it with industry that pollutes, destroys and ruins our home. I’m sorry that urbanisation is spreading at an unprecedented rate, causing widespread chaos to your natural balance. Sorry that we are forcing our way into the homes of others and claiming them for our own. Sorry that we are numb to the suffering we cause and blind to the emotional intelligence of the species around us.
We don’t have any excuses.
Sorry that we have created a world where it is the norm to overshoot the annual, sustainable amount of resources used before midsummer has had time to warm our faces. To have this be so widely known that it has a name, Earth Overshoot Day, yet it varies little year-on-year. Sorry that the rising temperatures around the world, are not simply good for summer days in the garden but are good for breeding mosquitos that carry and spread diseases, such as dengue fever8, killing uncountable numbers of innocent people for the sake of topping up our tans. With dengue fever alone already killing 10,000 people and affecting approximately 100 million per year, the future is looking bleak to say the least.
Out of sight, out of mind is the mentality of our species and it is that which will be our downfall. Despite the darkest of days surrounding us, I still believe there is hope. A small faction of warriors who will not give up on this planet, that can acknowledge that we have lost our way but refuse to call a time of death.
Not whilst we still have some fight left within us.
Not whilst we still have a place to call home.
Mother, I am sorry, we are not at our best.
Albert Einstein said that ‘the measure of intelligence is the ability to change’, and it seems to me that for all our inventions, communications, building, exploring, discovering, and promises that in the 200,000 plus years that we, and our ancestors, have called your surface our home, we have fooled ourselves into thinking we are magnificent. When really, we are just magnificent fools.
The sun rises and sets in the same way it has since the beginning of time. Only now it is over a civilisation unlike anything you have seen before.
I am simply lost for words. All I can say is, Mother, I am sorry.
We should have done more.
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