Forget Green, Be Selfish

Northwest Crown Fire Experiment, Northwest Ter...
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I’ve been referred to as “green” pretty consistently in my career – but not because of my reusable coffee mug or the fact that I take the bus.

The green that I’m talking about is the colour of inexperience, of being “the novice.”  Never was this more apparent than my first summer spent fighting forest fires in Slave Lake, Alberta.  I was 20 at the time, and combined ages of the other 3 members of my crew was over 100.  My crew leader had been fighting fires for over 30 years.  To the rest of my crew, I was a rookie, and an educated “city boy” in foreign terrirory.

I’ll be the first to tell you that there were some hard lessons learned that summer.  It’s hard being the new guy, especially when you’re being constantly reminded of it.  The ongoing joke was that I was never in danger when we’d get called out to fires, because I was “too green” to burn (had to give them that one – it’s pretty clever).

Nonetheless, in subsequent summers I would lead a crew of my own, so I guess the joke was on them.

The process of navigating a career path out of university can be thought of using myriad green metaphors, all involving growth and transformation – nature’s unrelenting law of change.  In that sense, all students will traverse a journey from green to yellow to orange to gray and maybe to green again.  The seasons of your career – sounds like a promising idea for a book on career development, no?

Despite green’s role as the flagship colour of the environmental movement, and the fact that Green Careers Week is next week (coinciding with Earth Day on April 22nd), I’m resisting the urge to write a post about work habits that will make your office greener, or about places you can work that embrace and encourage sustainable practices, or volunteering for green organizations.  There’s already lots of resources out there for those who are serious about looking for them.

I’m a big supporter of environmental responsibility and sustainable practices – I think it’s pretty clear that the way we’re currently living is going to lead to catastrophe at some point unless some consistent changes start happening, and I’ve made changes in my life to try to reflect that.

Here’s the problem.  On a macro scale, people are selfish.  Since the agricultural revolution, we’ve been able to produce more resources than we need, and discard the remainders when we’re done.  Trying to elicit empathy for the earth, noble as that may be, is not going to make any resounding difference.  I don’t think we have it in us.  Which is why it’s time to change change our collective rationale for being nicer to the Earth.

The Earth.  No matter what we do to it, it will still be here.  It was here long before we evolved and will be here long after we’re gone.

Earth Day should really be called Human Day, or something like that.  Maybe Species Day, but that might not hit home quite hard enough.  Besides, even promoting the welfare of other species ultimately boils down to heightening our own chances of survival through biodiversity.  We, and the other living things that call Earth home, are the ones in danger, not the Earth.  Screw the Earth – it’s just a rock!  Let’s appeal to our collective narcissism and do this for us.

Because we want to worry about our careers.  We want to have the chance to go from being the rookie to being the veteran.  We want so much, and that’s what’s at stake.  So, let’s be more selfish, and make sure we have a chance at getting it.

*Cross-posted at the Career Services Informer.