Amongst the endless problems that we hear through the news waves today, from debates between the future leaders of the United States and the free world to the raging violence in Syria, the environment is not always among the top. Even when news about the environment does come through, the phrase "out of sight, out of mind" generally applies. Most of us already know that many stories about the environment are inevitably about the damage and pollution that we have caused, and the ways in which we can possibly repair the damage. The fact that we are continuously barraged by stories about how we're destroying the environment is bad enough, but the fact that we haven't done much as far as changing our lifestyles in order to help the environment makes it even worse. In a sense, it seems as if we're becoming even more complacent and tolerant of this pollution and damage to our environment.

When I refer to our "environment," I refer to both artificial and natural areas. From the steel beam, concrete and glass cities that pierce the heavens, to the wild, grass-laden prairies and the nearby towering, majestic Appalachian Mountains, all of these are part of our environment.

Our insatiable desire for energy is one of the chief causes of environmental damage. For example, strip mining, in which vast amounts of soil and dirt are dug up, is used to extract coal. The problem here is that it leaves behind enormous mounds of infertile dirt and rock, making it almost impossible for plants or any other form of life to thrive in these areas. Our hunt for oil, too, leads to extreme consequences, with the Exxon Valdez Oil spill in Alaska in 1989, and the more recent BP Oil spill in 2010 being perfect yet unfortunate examples, with countless numbers of animals and plants poisoned, injured, or killed by the oil spills.

The real issue is this: Why is there still significant amounts of pollution and damage, even after all this education? Why should we care?

Although we know what we're doing to the environment is wrong, why do we still do it? One reason, I think, is that we simply don't think of the environment as a priority. We help only when it is convenient. You could say that we're intimidated to sacrifice big amounts for the environment, and even if you sacrifice a lot for the environment, others might not. As a result, your effort is negligible if no one else does it. In order for any action to be truly helpful for the environment, there has to be a significant, continuous sacrifice by a large amount of people in order to work. Barring this, though, why should we care in the first place?

We know that we're hurting the environment. But why should we care? There are a variety of reasons that can be chosen, but for many people, the major reason would be for our own benefit, and for our future generations. If we protect the environment, we protect ourselves too — cutting air pollution would give our lungs a break from the oxidizing effects of tropospheric ozone, reducing the degree that it burns our lung tissue, and also reduce the severity of asthma and bronchitis. Stopping the dumping of toxic waste into streams and rivers would allow our families to enjoy the traditional fishing that we heard about from our grandparents without the risk of falling ill or developing cognitive or physical impairments. However, it sounds like we should save the environment only for our benefit. It sounds cynical and arrogant to think that we should use the environment in whatever way we want, but unfortunately, this is already true. Instead, we should be saving the environment not just for our benefit, but also as an obligatory role as the dominant species. We are fully aware of the effects of our actions, and since we have no one else to blame other than ourselves, we must accept responsibility and change our destructive habits, or else all we'll be left with is a toxic, dead rock floating through space.

— Jan Urbano is a junior in biochemistry and molecular biology. He can be reached at jurbano@utk.edu.