“This thing all things devours;
birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats mountain down.”
The above quote is a riddle from The Hobbit. The answer: time. Yes, over time, all things change, bringing along new challenges and new problems. Today, alas, our problems do not consist of incredibly greedy dragons and pretentious elves, as was the case for Bilbo Baggins. Nor are they devoured by time. No, today, our generation is faced with a myriad of problems that we recognize, yet fail to solve. Deforestation, sex trafficking, mass species extinction, climate change, and pollution are but a few. Older generations have left these problems behind for us, yet the blame lies not with them: older than older generations left their problems behind, too. The problems have only grown with time, to the extent where it is near impossible to miss them. Yet, we still look the other way- down, into our phone screens- when it comes to actually taking action.
In this way, our generation is quite similar to the older generations. However, as I would like to point out, as the problems have grown over time, both in number and size, so has our awareness. On my last day of high school English, the class finished presenting “senior reflections”, which included essays, letters, thought papers, and one amazing song. Throughout the reflections, there was a recurring theme of awareness and a willingness to help solve the problems we are facing today. I catch myself. We are talking about the problems, yes, but are we actively trying to make things better?
Some people would say yes. “I only buy products made from recycled materials,” they might say, believing that doing so will slow down deforestation. I don’t deny that I, too, try to purchase goods that claim to be made of recycled materials, but I am not naïve enough to claim that such actions truly slow down deforestation. Companies that experience a loss of income due to consumers buying such recycled goods will market their products elsewhere, where people might be less aware. Moreover, products claimed to be made of recycled materials are usually also made with other, non-recycled materials. Deforestation prospers.
For a source of hope, as well as despair (a paradox, I know), I try to think of it like a democratic voting process. If trying to solve our problems was a voting process, one vote, one action, would not make a difference, statistically speaking. However, if more than fifty percent of people became active in trying to solve problems or overcome challenges, the results would be in favor of a better world. At least, we can only hope that would be the case.
I believe that recognition is the first step in this process, and the fact that our generation already possesses a tremendous amount of awareness is what sets us apart from older generations. Despite this, we are still miles away from making a significant difference. As Derrick Jensen, the author of A Language Older Than Words, points out, we can write about the problems all we want, but nothing will change until the day we decide to blow up a dam and let the salmon migrate again.
Jensen recognizes the irony of this situation: he himself has not blown up a dam, yet he continues to write. To me, this highlights our biggest challenge. When, and how, will we make the leap from saying to doing? This is what lies ahead, in the future, for without action we will eventually cease to be. There is no denying it. A planet stripped of its natural resources by an ever-expanding species will not be able to indefinitely support life. Humans will have to recognize this, or die.
If recognition is the first step in overcoming challenges that our generation and other generations face today, then we must help ensure that humans recognize, and do not ignore, the problems that are indeed present. Although it is astounding how many people are already aware, there is still a large part of the population that continues to deny the facts. We must find a way to keep increasing awareness, to convince those around us to look up from their phones, to see what is really happening all around them. Hopefully, as such awareness deepens, we, as human beings, will become ready to take action.
“The Hobbit.” Wikiquote. Wikiquote, 29 May 2014. Web. 16 June 2014.
Jensen, Derrick. A Language Older than Words. New York: Context, 2000. Print.