For the majority of history, human minds have been occupied with how to survive. At every turn, there were bacteria, predators and scarcity that could kill entire tribes and villages of people.
Today, many humans have the luxury of not worrying about physical survival. Instead, our minds have become inundated, for better or worse, with concerns about work, social interactions and personal desires.
The risks of the past were direct and often severe. Eating the wrong food or settling in the wrong place could mean a quick death. Today, most of the guesswork that caused these problems has been removed by governments and safety labels.
That does not mean contemporary humans are invincible, though. We face grave dangers, but they often manifest themselves in indirect, unassuming ways. This makes them all the more insidious.
Farming practices that provide a reliable supply of food are well known to us today, but how much we should eat and how these practices affect the land may slip our minds entirely. The reason for this is that we do not see our effects on the environment or each other as threats to survival, even though these are the greatest threats to our species today.
In the past, small tribes often died out because they were largely independent of one another. A single mistake by one member of the tribe could spell disaster for the entire group.
Today, with continued globalization, our survival is based on billions of tiny decisions made by billions of people. A vote here or lifestyle change there, multiplied seven billion times, determines our relationships with both other people and the natural resources that sustain us.
There is an anonymity that comes with this new world, which allows people to take more than their share of the resources without much consequence. The United States has long used more than its share of global resources, but spreading that blame over 300 million people results in little change.
This is a serious problem for us and generations to come. A species that puts itself in grave danger without feeling the weight of its actions, whether by ignoring climate change, increasing pollution or maintaining nuclear arsenals, is destined for destruction.
It’s the job of young people to sense the dangers that face humanity and transform society as they grow with it.
We must start taking individual responsibility to protect ourselves and others. If we all start making small, individual changes to preserve the planet, we may protect ourselves as well as future generations.
Daniel Payne is a sophomore journalism major from Collierville, Tennessee.