Don’t call it “Saving the planet”

I hear the phrase “Save the planet” used when talking about efforts to combat climate change. I wonder if saving the planet is the wrong way to frame what’s at stake. The planet will actually be fine. It’s been through ice ages and hot ages, and is still here. All life as we know it could die off and the planet will still be here. With humans removed from the equation, given enough time, the Earth will recover. Even if life doesn’t evolve again, it will still be fine. Just look at Mercury - no life, frigid nights, scorching days. Yet it’s still fine in its planetness.

The slogan “Save the planet” also allows someone to distance themselves from the issue. It’s like saying “Save the manatees” or “Save the pandas”. I’m sure everyone would agree that, in principle, we should definitely save the manatees and the pandas. But how many are willing to sacrifice their lifestyle to prevent the extinction of animals they may never even see during their lifetime? Not many. That’s why such movements don’t get much traction. At least not at the scale needed to succeed.

We need to shift the narrative to be one of saving humanity. And perhaps this is implied. When someone says “Save the planet” maybe that’s short for “Let’s work to retain a planet that humans can continue to enjoy”. I’m sure a world with no humans isn’t very appealing for a lot of people, even if it were full of manatees and pandas. But saving humanity is still too abstract. People don’t have an innate desire to “save humanity”. For example, with the availability of global news, people in the US routinely hear about disasters or atrocities in other corners of the world. But how many of us are seriously devoting time, energy, and resources to, say, humanitarian issues in Africa? I’m sure some of us are, but not enough to make a dent in said problems.

If humanity has evolved to live in and care about a tribe, perhaps that’s the level we should bring the discussion to. People will go to great lengths to help a small circle of humans they know. Helping out family members is a good thing in every culture around the world. Neighbors helping each other out fosters a sense of community. Captains go to heroic lengths to save their crew. Soldiers are even willing to die for their nation and/or fellow soldiers. Maybe we need to tap into the same instinct. Maybe the discussion should be “If we can’t keep the climate from running amok, your family/community/tribe/crew/nation are going to suffer”. If we can’t shake our tribal mindset, let’s at least find a way to harness it for the greater good.