I want to preface this post with this: I am Welsh-Canadian and as such I have a pretty limited scope to be pulling from. This article is being written from the viewpoint of a Canadian living, Welsh-raised, Environmental Studies student. So while I am making a rather large (and problematic in some cases) broad assumption about North American stereotype it is in no way intended to offend, but simply bring to light a very serious question.
That question being: is the N.A. hero-complex detrimental to environmentalism (that being conservation, restoration, and policy implementation in the efforts to maintain and ‘save’ the planet)?
I read a post on tumblr (yes I know, prime research resource) that really got me thinking. The be all and end all of the thread was that America per-capita has the highest rate of firefighter death worldwide. And the rate of casualties wasn’t limited to firefighters.
Some resources to kind of outline the issue.
*Note: LODD is the abbreviation I’ll use for ‘Line of Duty Deaths’ from here out.
Now the tumblr post insinuated that the reason for this is very simple, that North America is bred up with the idea of heroism, that the biggest honour is to die in the line of duty or in the service of another. The American dream is built on (in a lot of ways) and includes heroism and rushing in to save the day. Little heroic efforts to ‘change the world’ so it seems.
The media propagates this idea, society feeds it with stories and honouring the fallen. I’m not saying that is a bad thing, there IS honour in dying to save another but the problem is how deeply ingrained this idea is and how dangerous.
Think of it this way, the entire idea of a Hometown Hero surrounds the idea that a young person reaches their pinnacle before 18. Yet in the statistics builder I listed above, ‘hometown hero’ is a count of LODD. To me it’s a telling statistic of US/North American hero-complex culture. Young people dying in the LOD even when it isn’t their duty is a normality enough that they have a statistic.
Another interesting stat is that from 2009-2014 there are an average of 554 LODD in the USA and of those between 17-32 (per year) are Hometown Heroes. Interestingly enough, stress and overexertion are by far the HIGHEST causes of death across all 4 years. It’s another statistic that makes me wonder about the enforced hero-complex of NA.
Especially since looking at RCMP, since the 1870’s there’s only been a total of 222 officer deaths in Canada, but between 1870 and 1871 the USA has already overshot that by over 100. And between 1961 and 2009, 133 police officers were murdered in the line of duty in Canada, but between the same time something to the tune of over 8000 officers were killed in the US.
*Note again this is just from my preliminary research and finding relatable stats is very difficult when police/emergency service/militaries of these two countries are very different
Of course the statistic is somewhat skewed by population density but still the number is rather harsh.
So, with that out-of-the-way (and congrats if you’ve made it this far) my question.
We have such a drive to save the planet, I do as well I want a career of it soon, but mostly this drive comes from self-interest and not in the interest or duty to another person. Other than, perhaps, our future children/future of the planet.
I mean, we rush into restoration, rehabilitation and relocation projects with fever, and a lot of the times these do more damage than good. They’re band-aid solutions we dive headlong into.
And I’m not just making wide and exaggerated claims to support my point. I think by now we’re all pretty familiar with the baby bison that was euthanize because of some ‘good Samaritans’? If not here’s a link:
Good intentions and split-second decision-making are good things. Don’t get me wrong. We need them in a lot of ways (whether they be in life-or-death emergency respondent duties, or in making a change for the environment) but they are dangerous.
Had the couple through it through, realised that the bison a calf or not is a wild creature that is fortified for the cold wilderness, he may have survived, and never been rejected by his cow. And this incidents happen often. Saving baby birds, pulling caterpillars off of trees. They all equate to an ingrained curiosity and intense hero-complex.
Not only is this kind of action detrimental to the health of the ‘rescued’ flora/fauna/biome, but it is also detrimental to other efforts. If people continue this kind of attitude, then it becomes impossible to allow for any human interaction with protected sites.
If even one of every thousand guests to a national park ended-up inadvertently killing a young animal or rare plant it would be impossible to keep publicly accessible parks open, instead land would be shut down to public access. This might not seem all that terrible but think a bout it.
If ALL national parks were shut down and became inaccessible preservation, how successful would they be?
Not very. Not only would public opinion be unfavourable or unsupported, but we are at a point where we as a society really cannot afford to live in a world where fragments of ‘true nature’ are isolated from us.
Water cycles through the planet endlessly; our synthetics will reach those isolated fragments.
Air is ever-moving around the planet; our synthetics will reach those isolated fragments too.
Not only thus, but we humans ARE a part of nature and to isolate ourselves from it is just as dangerous as any other option. Education would be impossible without seeing and interacting though being so hands on and ‘hero’ like is NOT the same as ‘interaction’ with nature.
Another issues of course is that isolating fragments of nature behind fences is dangerous to genetic flow. Already all over the world (Europe especially) land masses are fragmented by urban infrastructure and leaves many flora and fauna in a spiral of limited populations because they have nowhere to go, no means to jump between patches of habitat, no corridors and no options. Isolating and absolutely irradiating the spread of flora and fauna isn’t going to work.
Allowing a culture where we feel duty bound to personally interfere with the world around us, without contemplation or planning is dangerous, and will eventually lead to irrevocable damage to out planet.
We cannot wait to take environmental action this is true, but a few years, a few months, a few weeks, hell, even a few SECONDS of extra consideration as to WHY and HOW you’re taking action could save not only an entire population, but a single creature’s life; maybe even yours.
So, to end. Do I think that the North American Hero Complex is a danger to environmentalism?
Yes. Our fast and loud attitude to solving problems in our environment (including and certainly not limited to police work, and firefighting) is leading to premature death and premature actions and implementation and it’s not working, and won’t work any longer. I think we need to keep asking WHY we want to act so fast when a band-aid solution usually leads to an unnecessary death or injury.
And the next one to suffer will be the planet.