David Roberts of Grist points out that the story of the man who donned scuba gear and swam through the tsunami to save his wife isn’t the only, or even the most important, act of heroism that saved lives in Japan (Daring scuba diver isn’t the only hero). He goes on to apply this observation to environmental protection as well as public safety efforts such as building codes and seawall construction:
…it’s often been said in relation to climate change that it’s difficult for people to recognize danger, at a visceral level, when the “foe” is a slow-moving global phenomenon. We’re not good at recognizing and acting on those risks. But it’s also worth noting the flip side: It’s difficult for people to recognize virtue, too, when it looks like one more little incremental thing, one turn of the handle in the “strong and slow boring of hard boards” that is political and social progress. We are excited by, and reward, the dramatic individual act of courage. We too rarely recognize or celebrate the steady, painstaking work of organizing public institutions to produce more humane outcomes.
Roberts is right. I see this in my day job all the time.
There are tens of thousands of people out there right now, as you read this, working hard to evaluate the potential impacts of our society’s various activities on the environment and human health; to legislate and enact and enforce rules of the road for those activities; and dedicate funding to making sure those activities are done safely and well. (And not just in governmental and non-profit roles, either–though their roles are crucial. But also, for all you read about corporate efforts to lobby government to reduce or eliminate environmental regulations (which is undeniable and often cringe-inducing for those of us who work within the industrial sector), there are many people working for those companies and for consulting firms that support them, who are also committed to making the work of production and development happen safely.)
In the US, environmental protection–particularly climate change–has become politicized. The gradual and dispersed nature of the potential impacts, and the nerdy details of coming up with viable solutions, are no doubt part of the reason people can’t get easily worked up about it, other than to wish that the problems would take care of themselves and people would just shut up about it, already. But there are people who gird their loins every day to tackle these issues and keep progress moving forward.
So, let’s take a moment to raise three cheers for the unsung heroes–the activists, legislators, bureaucrats, scientists, engineers, and others–whose actions, little by little, add up to saving many lives and preservation of our wild lands and natural resources.
Yay, y’all! Go you.