|EDINBURG, May 20 - We went from loving the world to loving ourselves.
As a consequence, our environment is becoming degraded, and we need to take action.
Over the last decade, approximately 6,000 acres of forests and open space have been lost each day in the United States. Thatís about four acres per minute, an area the size of Seattle every nine days.
Polar ice is melting three times faster than it did a decade ago, due to global warming. Greenlandís ice melting rate has gone from 55 billion tons a year to 290 billion tons a year.
Within the next 50 years, coral reefs are expected to dissolve due to the oceans becoming extremely acidic.
In the Rio Grande Valley, our valuable farmlands are being lost to development, as are the last remaining acres of wildlife habitat.
Border walls have been built and more are expected to be built along the Texas-Mexico border in Roma, Rio Grande City, and Los Ebanos. The walls cut off animals from their food and water sources and breeding partners.
Just north of the Valley, fracking operations are transforming the rural and natural areas of south Texas into an industrial area that threatens our land and water.
This is happening, yet it seems as if we have tunnel vision, only seeing what we want to see. We have become too busy with our own work, school, family, and bills to tend to. Our lives are so busy that we are blinded not only to our contribution to environmental issues, but to the environmental issues themselves.
So many of us live as individuals, and forget that we are part of a larger community. Our tragic flaw is that when we look at our personal life as our only life, we blind ourselves of the fact that our individual actions can cause damage to the environment and the community. We busy ourselves with little things, and become trapped in a bubble of ignorance.
The environmentís popularity has seemed to go down over the years. Being indoors playing video games and watching T.V. has become the latest trend. Our children are growing up in enclosures, not knowing the beauty of the outdoor world, gaining no deep connection with it and no desire to save it. I know this because everyone I know, along with myself, grew up this way.
Due to the intense heat, in the Rio Grande Valley many of us grew up knowing only the inside of a room.
I have spent my entire 18 years of life between walls.
No one had ever told me to turn off the lights when they were not needed. No one told me to conserve water or recycle plastic and paper. We never even thought about where our food came from and whether it was really safe for us to consume. We always left lights on, overused water, and threw everything away. It was just a norm of the Rio Grande Valley society. As a result, I, along with a vast amount of other kids, grew up thinking this was okay.
Environmental consciousness is extremely rare in the Valley. In fact, people that show concern for the environment, or change their behaviors to be more eco-friendly are considered abnormal or misfits. They are often called ďtree-huggers.Ē
These people are singled out because itís mainstream to disregard the environment. Natural ecosystems are not valued, leading to consent for it being torn down and turned into stores, gas stations, etc. McAllen is the third fastest growing city in the United States, and people are always on the hunt for jobs and profit.
Many of us donít even know that there are places to go to see the Valleyís nature. Recently, I volunteered to help clean up the McAllen Botanical Gardens. I was shocked the second I got to the gardens because Iíd lived here my entire life, and didnít even know we had a forest in the middle of McAllen.
After being exposed to the beauty of the Botanical Garden, I underwent a great transformation. Becoming environmentally conscious removed the blindfold from my eyes and allowed me to see the world for what it truly is. It gave me a new perspective on life, and has given me the opportunity to make positive changes and differences in the Rio Grande Valley. I went from being an unaware and reckless cave dweller to a visionary, a tree-hugger, some would say.
The environment is in desperate need of our help. Whether you decide to shorten your shower time, use eco-friendly light bulbs, bike instead of drive, purchase a hybrid vehicle, and/or recycle, know that the little things you do will make a difference.
Remove the blindfold covering your eyes and see the world. Saving the environment is saving your home. Hugging a tree is like hugging your grandmother.
If you arenít a tree-hugger, then what are you?
Nathan Salinas is a freshman at the University of Texas-Pan American, studying environmental issues while pursuing a degree in Civil and Criminal Law.
The above guest column is part of a series on environmental issues the Rio Grande Guardian is running in association with UTPA.