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Shane Smith on the Need to Protect the Earth from Environmental Catastrophe

It's increasingly clear to me that the environment touches every single human on Earth – perhaps in different ways, but when the environment is hurting we all suffer.

Dear readers,

I'd like to start by admitting that I am an unlikely environmental activist. A punk rocker who grew up loving hyper-urban cities (the dirtier, the better), I was more concerned with learning about the new bands in Maximum Rocknroll than about the environment. Perhaps it was the fact that my first job out of university was working for Greenpeace Canada, going door-to-door trying to persuade people to donate, and I saw that, while most people cared, there was a tremendous amount of apathy about what people could actually do about it. Perhaps it's because one of my darkest fears about the future is a world where a kid can't play outside, go fishing in a river, or get lost in the forest. I used to think that maybe I cared about nature so much because I'm Canadian and grew up with the wilderness close at hand. But it's increasingly clear to me that the environment touches every single human on Earth—perhaps in different ways, but when the environment is hurting we all suffer. And in the end that is what we're talking about here, what this issue of the magazine is truly about: the fate of the entire human population.


I wish I were exaggerating, but the statistics show a world in free fall: 40 percent of water in the US is polluted. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are at their highest level in 650,000 years. Nine of the ten warmest years since humans started keeping records are years since 2000. Global sea levels are rising dramatically and are certain to rise much, much more in the coming decades (with 600 million people living in coastal areas only 33 feet above sea level, this is a major issue). On top of all that, the World Health Organization predicts that, between 2030 and 2050, climate change will cause an additional 250,000 deaths per year from heat, malaria, and malnutrition.

Now, I'm a father of young kids, and every day I tell them how great the world is and how vast the opportunity is before them. I want to believe it. But if we're going to change things, if we're going to halt the skid toward total environmental degradation, we need to first understand what's really happening out there, and sadly, despite global scientific consensus that we have to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent ASAP, that is where our battle lies. Because there are entities out there, Big Oil, petrochemical companies, etc., actively spending billions of dollars on media to obfuscate the truth. We have to fight that, and that's what this issue is.

VICE is committed to this battle, and we are putting our editorial where our mouth is. As long as we have magazines and online networks, books, movies, and TV at our disposal, we will continue to provide environmental programming. Why? Because we have to.

The "easy" thing about the environment is that it's fairly simple to define good and bad. There are no gender or age gaps, no race gaps, no 1 percent versus the 99 percent when it comes to the destruction of the natural world. There is just hurting the environment versus helping it. As journalists, we at VICE have the responsibility to discuss these issues honestly and frequently, even when other stories take over the headlines. You also have a responsibility to be a voice against ignorance and complacency. Because, sad as it is, there are many, many people who deny that anything bad is happening at all.

This is a huge and pressing problem for all of us. It is the future we're hurtling toward. We're going to have to face it, and we're going to have to fix it. Thanks for reading, and stay with us here in the magazine, online, and on television as we go see firsthand what's happening on the ground and who out there is trying to do something about it.

Oh, and please recycle this when you're done.

Shane Smith
VICE CEO and co-founder