city skyline

How valuable is the planet to you?

People care about cute animals, the Pope and the Denver Broncos. And the earth, too, someway down the list of priorities.

How valuable is the planet to you? Less value than your family, personal wellbeing, tribe, country? Most probably. 

We are all immediate creatures living in and of the moment as we try our best to provide for ourselves and those we care about.

Our ability to perceive the planet is limited even in this age of digital technology, Google Earth and Sir David Attenborough. We sort of know our backyard, at least the parts of it that we frequent. But if we live in the city and get food from the supermarket, water from the tap, we have little idea about where those fundamentals for life come from or how they are produced.

Extending our perception out to the planet has us all struggling. 

Many of us don’t know that Africa is a continent and not a country or that the population of Nigeria is 215 million, meaning that for every three Americans, there are two Nigerians. 

Perhaps it’s a stretch to know that the five most prominent cities in China are home to 80 million people. Ths is twice the number of people living in California, but you get the point.

All of us are ignorant of the planet and only know a bit about where we live.

nightime view of a large city in China
Photo by Yiran Ding on Unsplash

The size and complexity of modern cities make ecosystem services appear trivial

Actions to preserve the planet

When surveys ask people what are the priority actions to save the planet, they answer…

What I am doing already

They say that the important things are those established habits that take little effort or come with no responsibility.

Respondents were proud of what they were already doing (74%), said that the experts couldn’t agree on the best solutions (72%), and needed more support from the government before they could act (69%). 

People also say that they can’t afford to do more (60%), they lack information (55%), and they say that individual efforts don’t have an impact (39%). 

When it comes to taking action to help the planet that affects lifestyle choices, the support dwindles. One in four respondents who would reduce energy consumption (32%), use public transport over cars (25%), radically change agriculture (24%), ban fossil fuel vehicles (22%), reduce meat consumption (18%) or reduce international trade (17%).

Along with this aversion to taking action, a third of respondents say environmental threats are overestimated (35%), and a third don’t have the bandwidth to think about it (33%).

Here is a summary quote.

quote from an article by Jon Henley about actions to preserve the planet

What sustainably FED suggests

People are the same everywhere.

They care about themselves and their families a great deal, and this takes up most of their capacity to care. 

They look after their pets and, in extremes, they care about their neighbours and members of their tribe, religion or ethnic group. On occasion, they will help a complete stranger cross the street for no apparent reason.

People care about cute animals, the Pope and the Denver Broncos.

Already a long way down the list with little caring left to give comes the planet, the place where everyone lives and the place that provides all our food, water and shelter.

Ask for help for the planet, and people will offer it, so long as it does not compromise any of the items higher up on the carers list. 

This is the truth.

And it just is. There is no moral judgement or banging of drums necessary.

A priority of caring has consequences. Any effort to sustain the planet’s services must overcome this personal prejudice that people have, their NIMBY response, and the finite bandwidth for caring.

Even if caring for the planet is the right thing to do it does not mean that people will do it when they have other, hardwired priorities.

We all should value the planet as a priority. If the services it provides fail, so do we. 

Everyone needs to know more, do more, make the sacrifices and stop making inane excuses.

Start with reading another post on sustainably FED or tune in to Nate Hagens’ excellent podcast, The Great Simplification.

Hero image modified from a photo by Muzammil Soorma on Unsplash


Mark is an ecology nerd who was cursed with an entrepreneurial gene and a big picture view making him a rare beast, uncomfortable in the ivory towers and the disconnected silos of the public service. Despite this he has made it through a 40+ year career as a scientist and for some unknown reason still likes to read scientific papers.

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