Green Spotlights are intended to showcase sustainability on campus through the eyes of an individual student, staff member, or faculty member. All views expressed are the author's own. 

Dan Stevenson

Appropriate Technology major, Evolutionary Anthropology minor

Hometown: Harriman NY

Every waking day of my life I participate in an immense, dynamic global network of living organisms and human communities on the planet Earth. As the world becomes more developed and our technology becomes more advanced, this web of interaction expands and overlaps. I, like you, consume resources from all around the world. As I type, I am drinking Guatemalan coffee out of a cup made in China. The Asics running shoes on my feet were made on the island of Indonesia. My LG cell phone was manufactured in Korea. The list goes on, ad infinitum. But our participation does not stop at being mere units of consumption; we also share thoughts, awareness, and general worldview through our words and actions every day. Our conversations, literature, tweets, snaps, yikkity yaks and blog posts become tangible entities that reach all corners of the Earth, shaping the way we view the world. This is an underappreciated and often excluded factor contributing to the state of our society and culture. Through basic everyday interactions and also larger scale cultural diffusion, humans contribute to a cultural sense of “right and wrong”. How we treat each other, what is acceptable to say/do/eat, and where our priorities should lie are significantly impacted by one another.

In some respects, this is a truly awe inspiring fact of our modern existence and a testament to the success of our species. No other living organism on this planet has been able to leverage energy and adapt as humans have, let alone communicate and interact on such a large scale. But, all living systems have a carrying capacity. In nature, unlike on Wall Street, there is such a thing as too big to fail. As many of us know, the human population and global economy have reached staggering sizes that are pushing the physical limits of our biosphere. Flora and fauna around the world are being obliterated by our relentless consumption and greed with reckless abandon.  Worse yet, the negative effects of our explosive growth will inequitably affect the organisms of our planet, leaving those least able to cope in the most danger. In short, the future of humanity and planet earth sometimes seems like a massive bummer.

I first developed the awareness of my place in the world through a keen interest in primatology in high school. Monkeys and apes, including the “third chimpanzee” Homo sapiens, are incredibly charismatic, intelligent, and beautiful creatures. In studying our closest biological kin it became massively clear to me that we humans are intrinsically linked to nature and born of the same Mother Earth as all living things. At the time I saw this less as a spiritual connection to the planet, which I now fully recognize and appreciate, but more of an objective scientific fact. Our “superior” intellect and expansive imagination lulls us into the thought that we are supreme creations, extremely distinct in the animal kingdom and universe. While the latter still remains true to our understanding, non-human primates prove time and again that our smarts are not necessarily distinct. Apes and monkeys create and use a wide range of tools. They fight sometimes bitterly over land, resources, and potential mates. They develop complex social relationships and emotions in communities that they share with other individuals. The average eight year old that visits a zoo and sees these animals could understand just how eerily similar they are to us.

Why is it then, that we find anything and everything that separates us from our primate relatives? Why do we not feel even the slightest remorse for destroying the biodiverse ecosystems and habitats of our cousins? Do they not matter merely because they cannot speak our words or provide value to our global economy? Even though we share 99% of our DNA and incredible pale blue dot of a home in a vast sea of empty space, the contrast we define between human beings is even starker. We consistently choose to see how we differ in race, religion, language, political creed, sexual orientations, fashion, hobbies, styles of dance, favorite foods, you name it! What lies at the surface is easy to distinguish, but in a world occupied by more and more people we should look further to see that all people deserve kindness, dignity, and quality of life. This is no less true for all of the plants and critters which we share our home with. I am very fortunate to have discovered at such a young age that despite our differences, we are fundamentally all the same. This realization has inspired me to defend the collective future we all share stake in, and I am truly grateful to be a part of the incredible sustainability community at Appalachian State.