I no longer want to save the world
In 1986 I went to University to study applied and Environmental Biology.
I’d get asked “Why Biology” and “What are you going to do when you graduate?”
My answer “to save the world”. It was glib, but it was still sincere.
I know, save the world is more a slogan than a goal, and I‘m not a fan of slogans.
I still appreciate the intentions behind it, the implied kindness and the universality.
But there is a trap baked into those words. Because you cannot save the world.
I’ll start with you. To take it upon yourself to save the world is a ridiculous burden.
In movies, you see chosen ones who save the world with clockwork regularity.
But those movies just reflect and reinforce a culture that worships individuality and individual achievement, that downplays the interconnection that we all depend upon.
Save the world is poorly defined. How would you know if you had saved the world? Or even if you were on the right track for it?
The world is vast, complex and ancient beyond any hope of real human understanding.
We could raze every big animal and almost every living thing from the face of the planet and life will still come back.
In a few million or tens of millions of years there would once more be a mosaic of varied forms dancing in concert to push back entropy. That’s what life does, and it’s probably better at it than we know.
Unless I can think or plan on such scales how can I talk about saving?
Still, from where I’m standing every stupid extinction hurts. Every stupid extinction hurts. It’s not just the extinctions, the gutted ecosystems, the poisoned rivers, the uncontrollable fires.
When I thought it was my job to save the world I didn’t know where to start and the sheer scale of it felt crushing.
My goal now is to care for place.
It’s still a bit vague. But it gives somewhere to start. That somewhere is here.
Care for place opens into something I can imagine. A process of observation and listening that leads to learning how to care.
It means becoming local and finding wonder in worms or sparrow shit as well as moon rises and thunderstorms.
The sun that rises over this place is the same as the sun that shines on that place. The wind that blows on this place carries messages to and from other places. No place is separate.
The state of the world still hurts, the scale of it is still crushing and there are many more tears to come.
I can’t save the world but if I care for place perhaps I can serve the world.