Grace Manning ’21
“Rebuild This Cathedral,” dares a collage of photos depicting a rainforest, a reef, a beach coated in garbage and a cluster of bees swarming a hive. It has been shared and liked and has circled the world, drawing more and more attention to the controversy surrounding the astonishingly quick raising of 1 billion dollars to rebuild Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. The general consensus among our generation seems to be: if the world can raise 1 billion dollars in two days to rebuild Notre-Dame, clearly this kind of money is out there in the world and therefore should be offered forward for other worthy causes such as repairing the Great Barrier Reef and clearing the garbage patch in the North Pacific Ocean. But does money work that way? Is it as easy as we think (and hope)?
We are an informed, worldly generation who genuinely cares deeply about environmental, social and political issues. While this is undeniably a good thing, I think we, and I include myself, can get too caught up in our passionate opinions and forget to do the background research required to understand some of these global problems. Clearing the garbage patch, for example, sounds great in theory, but where exactly is all this garbage going to go? And how can we ensure that the garbage patch won’t form again? Most importantly, who are we paying to do the work of removing the garbage? The reason it was relatively easy to raise money to reconstruct Notre-Dame is because there was a definitive way to permanently fix the damage. Construction companies can be hired, their workers paid, the equipment and materials all bought and a budget and a deadline agreed on. Cleaning the oceans is an enormous task that requires the cooperation of every country and every person in order to be carried out in a way that ensures long-term results. That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t care about large issues or that we can’t create big change by encouraging small actions. But who are we to be criticizing donors’ choices on where they want to use their money for a greater good?
Another argument made by certain individuals and organizations involves our apparent preference of culture over real human and environmental issues. “If you could only save a child or the last copy of the complete works of Shakespeare, which would you save?” they ask. To some, the answer is obvious. A collection of writing should never be valued over a human life and to some extent, I agree. My first thought was without the environment, we wouldn’t be able to exist at all, so protecting it should be our first, and possibly our only, priority. But human society is so much more complicated than a simple choice. Our culture, art, history and literature are what make us human. Without these elements of our lives, what is the point of our existence? We are a creative species who characterize ourselves by the way we relate to each other and to our surroundings through our use of imagination and innovation that makes us unique to other species. Therefore, the architecture, poetry, technology and philosophy that make up such a large part of our lives shouldn’t be abandoned in an effort to save the environment.
I don’t believe that the money raised to rebuild Notre-Dame and the issues of trying to repair our planet should be compared side by side. This implies a certain simplicity that isn’t there. Why should we be confined to caring about one issue or disaster? Those who decided to donate to repairing Notre-Dame Cathedral instead of donating to a charity or another cause shouldn’t be punished for their choice or for their beliefs. We all have the freedom of opinion and of judgement to donate to causes that we feel strongly about, whether this means saving the traditional kind of cathedral, or saving another ecological kind.