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Grace Swenson

Year-Prize: The 13th Eco-generation Environmental Essay Competition     Item: Time for Nature

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Grace Swenson (USA)
Honorable Mentions



I’d like to introduce you to my unconventional bubble. It’s not composed of a thin layer of liquid, doesn’t reflect light, and won’t disappear into thin air with the slightest touch of a finger. In complete contrast, my bubble encircles my extraordinarily ordinary suburbia and tries its best to protect my existence from global issues outside of its complex. In general summation, the bubble is strong. But even my bubble didn’t notice the silent, creeping effects of the ecological crisis diffusing through its invisible surface.
I’ll admit, the bubble did a thorough job in its mission to keep me in the dark. For the better part of my life, it tried to hide the entangled plastic bags in the roots of creeks, and discarded debris from mass Fourth of July gatherings were labeled as touching remnants of a joyous occasion. It tried to disguise sprouting apartment empires behind trees clipped regularly to stay below HOA expectations. It tried to pass off the confused, displaced coyotes wandering into cookie-cutter neighborhoods as a dangerous infestation of nature. “Be careful; they will attack spontaneously.” The bubble tried its best, but the truth squeezed through.
The silver-lined facade implemented in my own city is one case out of thousands used to alleviate the crushing aspects of ecological disasters, exacerbating Earth’s downfall. One such facade is used in the food industry. The shark-fin soup and finning cultural practice in China and Hong Kong has turned into a restaurant staple for its marketed exoticism. What most don’t realize (or choose to ignore) are the mounds of amputated shark corpses dumped back into the ocean after being brutally sliced for their fins. And although shark-fin soup has decreased dramatically in China for this reason, the tradition has ultimately placed more than 70 species of sharks at risk of extinction. If this occurred, prey populations would surge, erasing the only marine plants absorbing Earth’s carbon from the air. Even by a regional cultural practice, it is evident that labeling the murder of biodiversity as exotic or as a delicacy has an enormous impact on the rest of the world.
Earth and its inhabitants cannot afford a future where we’re stuck in our own bubbles. It doesn’t reach that future to begin with. If you have not concluded by now, the bubble I have referenced throughout this writing is a barrier of two driving factors that push against the fight for environmental justice. First and foremost, it is privilege. A sincere privilege is given to those, including myself, who do not live in the underdeveloped regions of the world prone to the effects of natural and man-made disasters. We only learn about these things on the internet, in a magazine, or on a short television segment because elevated profession, location, and invisible status make it so.
What directly stems from privilege is ignorance. Every time we toss a half-full water bottle in the trash carelessly, buy a surplus of meat at the supermarket, or choose not to educate ourselves about the ecological crisis, we are ignorant. Amongst all scientific causes to biodiversity loss, perhaps chosen ignorance prevents the largest breakthrough of all. The ignorant believe that the loss of biodiversity will not affect them. Or if it does, it will not happen until 100 years from now. This mindset is a fallacy, for one step outside will reveal the warmer weather patterns closing in as an effect of greenhouse gases. One glance will see the fires raging across Australian and Californian soil, forcing a mass evacuation from homes. There is no place the ecological crisis will not reach because, unlike so many other things, nature slaps back. 
These frequent environmental disasters in human chronology are not to conclude that we are collectively moving backwards in our fight for ecological salvation. In fact, when I see the efforts from foreign nations around the world, I am transfixed. More than that, I become hopeful. I am inspired when I see projects like the Eau de Paris providing clean, free, uncontained water for all citizens in Paris to utilize. Its technology transforms the way consumers receive their absolute right to fresh water, and it could eventually lead to a significant decrease in the 500 billion plastic water bottles produced globally each year, thus protecting natural biodiversity from toxic microplastics.
On a local scale, my high school has recently introduced an environmental science course teaching young change-makers in society about the technical inner workings of the environment affected by human activity. Though not perfect, the class presents the world through the eyes of nature instead of the human perspective used in other subjects. As a result, my city holds an annual Arbor Day where each student may plant a tree on school grounds, creating a cleaner, fresher air environment for the leaders of tomorrow.
It is innovative actions like those of Eau du Paris and my school that allow me to dream of a less polluted, dare I say it, revived Earth.
In retrospect, Earth’s biodiversity is resilient. It grows in small clumps of algae between the sidewalk squares of my home. It shines through the clouds of smog that have so recently crowded the skies. Its communities occupy the deepest trenches of the sea. It migrates thousands of miles to a sense of home instilled from birth. It even breaks through the soil under bioluminescent lights on the moon. It is undeniably resilient, yet human-caused degradation has painted a picture of biodiversity that is weak and desperately trying to keep up with humans. In actuality, we must keep up with nature. Japan’s bullet trains were designed after the kingfisher bird for its silent diving techniques. Deer antlers set the foundation for our strongest industrial materials. Geckos have multifocal vision that inspires an improved version of contact lenses. The intricate web of nature is more than resilient- it’s revolutionary.
It’s time we all step out of our bubbles and join the revolution.


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