How Utopian the Environmental Activists’ Work Appears from a Pessimist’s Perspective

Muh. Syahrul Padli
4 min readAug 30, 2023

(Muh. Syahrul Padli — Pessimistic Series)

Photo by Markus Spiske: https://www.pexels.com/id-id/foto/orang-berjalan-di-jalan-2990647/

How are you observers and environmental activists? Still full of spirit on this quiet path, aren’t you? Well, you must be enthusiastic, considering that the work of preserving the environment is crucial for the future of the world.

Wherever you are, whether in the forest, at mining sites, amidst illegal stacks of logs near rivers, in settlements near limestone mountains, I hope you are in good health and remain committed to the noble intention of fighting for the survival of plant species threatened with extinction due to human actions.

With utmost respect to all of you, allow me to express this nonsensical opinion. An opinion stemming from the pessimistic outlook of a humble journalist who has immersed themselves in years of covering environmental destruction; and the desperate perspective of an ordinary citizen who feels that the fight to stop mining activities near their home is in vain. Who knows, thanks to my pessimism, you might have a punching bag to train your muscles of optimism.

Alright, let me prepare a sachet of coffee first. So that my writing carries the scent of twilight. Excuse me, I mean, so that my writing becomes more sophisticated and appears intellectual.

Here, I present the reasons why, in my view, the work of environmental activists is a job that should simply be ceased.

Firstly, environmental conservation in the name of the survival of plant species, marine life, and endangered animals is not humane. What comes first? The survival of Homo sapiens or other creatures? Clearly, it’s Homo sapiens. Our own species. So, if the impact of some human efforts to survive is indirectly causing the extinction of other species, that’s just a normal consequence.

Dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex posed a threat to other species in their time, and there weren’t plant-eating dinosaurs protesting, were there? Of course not, there were no protests, no social media. Bacteria and viruses wiped out humans in Europe and Africa through plagues, and there was no protest against the viruses and bacteria.

Viruses might be excluded because it’s still fifty-fifty whether they are considered living organisms or not. But what about bacteria? Clearly, they are living beings. Where is your protest against bacteria? Where’s the petition link to be signed as a form of protest to the president of bacteria?

And here we have humans who are only trying to survive by clearing forests to create oil palm plantations, subsidized housing, tourist areas, factories, luxury homes, new capitals — and they are protested against. Oh, I can’t wrap my head around how these environmental activist friends don’t support the comfort of fellow humans.

Secondly, environmental conservation efforts won’t succeed as long as humans reproduce. Why is that? Well, that’s just how it is. The birth rate during certain periods, which has led to a workforce boom in recent years, will result in the construction of housing on small and large scales. As long as people need housing, the environment will potentially suffer.

It has become a logical consequence that the increasing human population in an area needing housing has become one of the reasons entrepreneurs seize opportunities, searching for land for sand and gravel mining, seeking limestone hills for cement raw materials, and so on.

The personal gains of elite individuals in capitalism might become the demon to blame. It’s understandable. Environmental activists, after all, don’t really want to see things from the perspective of laborers, supervisors, managers, marketing departments, and others who can support their families thanks to the businesses established by these entrepreneur elites.

Again, in my pessimistic view, the main issue of environmental damage and the extinction of certain plant and animal species is not solely attributed to entrepreneur elites or capitalism, but to development.

Regarding development, it’s not just about large-scale businesses. You, perhaps, are also a part of small-scale development that indirectly contributes to environmental destruction.

As long as you, your friends, your family, your children, your descendants build houses using construction materials like bricks, cement, river stones — during that time, you are certainly indirectly supporting the entrepreneurs engaged in environmentally destructive businesses.

Development in one area equates to destruction in another area. That’s the ‘equivalent’ exchange that functions as a sort of natural law. How strong are you, environmental activist friends, willing to fight against this law of nature? Human-made laws like cyber regulations are challenging to fight against, let alone natural laws.

There are clear solutions to mitigate the negative impacts of environmentally damaging development. How? One way is to build houses using wood if feasible. Why? Wooden houses don’t require cement, so the impact of sand and gravel mining, along with soil excavation, can be minimized. The wood can be sourced from managed forests.

But will this have a significant positive impact on the environment? Certainly not. On a small scale, perhaps it would. On a large scale? No way. Industries like cement, brick, iron, and gravel remain promising until material engineering physicists discover alternative methods that are easy and environmentally friendly — and this takes a very long time abroad; in Indonesia, it’s not feasible because, let alone the cost of research for practical findings, even research on renewable energy like plant-based solar panels struggles to receive government support.

So, welcome to your endless effort. Keep moving forward. I want to stop now because the instant coffee I brewed specifically to accompany my typing is finished. I’m going to stock up at the neighboring store in preparation for writing another pessimistic article.

So, if you decide to use my writing as material for bullying, as an example of a piece born from the mind of a writer as small as a mustard seed, as a target for continuous attacks to strengthen the unity of environmental activist friends across Indonesia, and if that can extend the optimism of you environmental activists, I wholeheartedly accept it.

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Muh. Syahrul Padli

A Science Teacher, Head of Penghayat Sumur Community and Digital-Creative worker. co-Founder YT Bawah Pohon Science (an alternative education platform).