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Blog item: Enough!

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6 comments, last: Jan-4-2011   Add a comment   Author:  chefurka (Nov-3-2010)
Categories: Economic/Financial, Philosophical & Quality of Life, Pollution, Sustainable Living

Whenever I contemplate the spectacular mischief that we humans have wreaked on our world, I am compelled to ask how this could have possibly happened. The despoilment of our planet seems to be the exact opposite of how I would expect a thinking, feeling, caring creature to treat their home. What could have driven us to this, and what perverse qualities could have allowed us to ignore the consequences of our actions for so very long?

At first blush, our problems seem decidedly physical. Dangerous gases drift in the air; acidity rises slowly in the ocean as the fish disappear from its depths; garbage and detritus of all kinds fouls the land where lush forests and grasslands once ruled. All these disturbances point back to human actions.

The proximate causes of this planet-wide distress include economics, politics, and personal and corporate greed – all facilitated by a technological cleverness that rests on a bed of dispassionate science.

I have spent over 50 years of my life trying to understand our environmental problems as purely physical problems.  When I viewed them in those terms, the fact that such problems even existed in a rational, scientific culture seemed nonsensical. However, when I recently began to understand them as consequences of a rupture in the human spirit they finally began to make sense to me. Yes, they are compounded by political and economic forces, but in my view even politics and economics are simply consequences of the same qualities of the human psyche.

Since the dawn of consciousness, human societies have been driven by a complex web of factors with their roots embedded deep in our evolved human nature. Power relationships and hierarchies, kinship and xenophobia, selfishness and altruism, competition and cooperation, curiosity and apathy, and countless other polarities mingle together to form the infinite variety of human dynamics.

Underneath it all, though, lurks our self-awareness. Human self-awareness is the root of our sense of separation from the natural world, and from each other for that matter. It's the crowning paradox of the human condition – at once both our greatest glory and our fatal flaw. It is behind the dualism – the perceptual split into subject and object – that gave us science. It's the source of our ability to see others as "different yet the same", giving us the power to act altruistically. It's also behind the sense of self and other that has allowed us to assume dominion over all we survey, whether animal, vegetable, mineral or human. Our sense of separation is the rupture of the human spirit that has allowed our current predicament to develop.

If this is the case, then no physical, political or economic remediation will heal the wound. The solution to our predicament is not – cannot be – material, political, economic, or simply philosophical. If a "solution" exists at all, it's orthogonal to all those domains. Only by healing our belief in our separateness will we be able to finally and fully restore our balance with Nature.

When I began to view the situation like this, I was finally able to see that there are in fact solutions, where none had previously been visible. These new solutions don't attack the predicament directly as a series of material, political, economic or technological problems. Instead, they seek to effect change from the center, by encouraging people to mature into an inter-connected adulthood and assume personal responsibility for their actions.

This approach follows Gandhi's dictum, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

**************************************

The mischievous idea of science and technology as a post-modern "religion of salvation" with Ray Kurzweil's transhuman singularity playing the role of the Rapture and an economist making a cameo appearance as the Devil (think infinite growth on a finite planet...) resonates very strongly with me.

But to be a little more precise, it's not exactly science that has failed us. We have been undone by a toxic stew of classical economics, technological cleverness, love of progress, an attitude of Manifest Destiny and an unwillingness to accept any limits on our growth.

Technology lets us use scientific discoveries to satisfy human desires of all kinds. When we harness scientific knowledge to human ends, the outcomes we choose to implement are based on our wishes. If our wish is dominion over nature, we will use scientific principles to invent technology like mining machinery, continental energy grids, factory farming and the automobile.

Of course, each of those inventions is presented within our cultural narrative as an obvious, irrefutable boon. One of the points of having a cultural narrative is to put a positive spin on human activity. The spin is always in line with the narrative – or more precisely, in line with the wishes of those who create and sustain the narrative. The fact that these inventions, the technological expressions of science, have a subtext of dominion over nature is carefully camouflaged, and the idea that this might possibly be a bad idea is thoroughly discouraged.

None of this would have been so damaging if people didn't have such a natural ability to delude themselves into believing that whatever they wish for hard enough is possible. It's kind of like clapping for Tinkerbell. "The future is always going to be better than the past," and "My kids will have better jobs, bigger houses and faster cars than I did," are examples of such magical thinking at its finest.

Those two kinds of wishing – the wish to improve the human condition and the wish to see the human milieu keep growing forever – are not inherently different. I see them more as two points on a continuum. On one end is simple desire; on the other end is unreasonable desire. They are distinguished less by any intrinsic difference than by the attitude and realism of the one doing the wishing.

It can be very difficult to tell when the reasonable morphs into the unreasonable."I wish to own a small piece of land" becomes "I wish to own an entire island" which inflates into "I wish to claim a continent for my King" and eventually becomes "I wish to rule the world".  The underlying desire is the same; it's just the scale and reasonableness of the wish that changes.

Whether or not a wish is realistic or deluded depends very much on the one doing the wishing. There are people who wish for our (and by extension, their own) material wealth to continue growing forever. There is no shortage of economists who will tell them that such a strange thing is possible. Are the dreamers deluded? Are the economists deluded? What laws of nature would need to be violated for such a delusion to become reality? How is the worship of the Charging Bull of Wall Street materially different from worshiping the Golden Calf of the Bible, when both imply a violation of the laws of nature?

**************************************

The world changes only when enough people have made a choice to change themselves. At what point will we each say, "Enough!" and choose a different path? Is anything keeping you from making that choice right now?

As you finish reading this article I invite you to say it quietly to yourself.

"Enough!"

If you listen closely with your heart, you may be able to hear the life that shares our planet say,

"Thank you."

 

Related PlanetThoughts.org reading:
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  Transfiguration (Oct-22-2009)
  What Makes Europe Greener than the U.S.? (Oct-2-2009)
  Reptilian Brain and Wisdom Brain... What's Going... (Aug-3-2009)
  The Guardian Institutions of Hierarchy (Jul-23-2009)
  The Message of Overconsumption (Jun-14-2009)
  Clarifying the Science with Mutual Respect, or: ... (Feb-23-2009)
  "You are that vast thing that you see far, far of..." (Feb-18-2009)
  Alan Watts And 'Conversation With Myself' (Feb-18-2009)
  Blagojevich-ification: The Mind Stops Here (Feb-4-2009)

Click one tag to see readings related specifically to that tag; click "Tags" to see all related readings
  
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Comment by:  chefurka (Bodhisantra (Paul) Chefurka) (Jan-4-2011)   Web site
It's time I said something in public about the population question.

I've come to the realization over the last few years that human population growth is not The Problem. Population is not the elephant in the room, it's not the 800-poind gorilla. Human activity (aka consumption) is the problem.

I came to that conclusion after careful thought about the nature of the predicament that we face, how we got here, and what it might take to mitigate it.

I'd like to point out two salient facts:

1. Human population growth is no longer exponential, it's linear. We are adding a constant 80 million people to the planet every year, but this growth is constant, not exponential. Population growth has been approximately constant ever since we left the sheltering umbrella of the Green Revolution in 1980. This simple fact lends great credence to Russ Hopfenberg's theory that food causes people.

2. Humanity is in ecological overshoot already. Up to 50% if WWF and the Global Footprint Network ar to be believed. If our population magically stopped growing tonight, igf we could cut our growth by 80 million people a year right now, we would still be in overshoot. The rest of us are consuming too much for the planet's safety.

3. The half of the world's crude births that occur in nations with the highest ecological footprints consume three times as much of the world's resources as the half that occur in the nations with the lowest ecological footprints.

4. If the Ecological Footprint is a good measure of sustainability (and I think it probably is) the world could comfortably support its current population in perpetuity at the living standard of Vietnam. If we had a uniform Ecological Footprint of India the earth could sustainably support over twoice as many people as it does today.

The problem is that we don't have the ecological footprint of india, the world average is more on a par with Costa Rica or Turkey. The 1.8 billion of us that lead unsustainable lives consume as much of the planet's biocapacity as the 5 billion who lead sustainable lives.

The problem is consumption. Yes, there are probably too many people, but its our consumption, not our numbers, that is wrecking the planet.
  
Comment by: StevenSALMONY (Steven Earl SALMONY) (Jan-4-2011)   Web site

Why not join a conversation...........

“Talk of the Nation Special on Population January 6”

What an opportunity!

It is the willful and pernicious silence of so many experts as well as broadcasts of ideological idiocy by clever sychophants and duplicitous minions of the wealthy and powerful for the past 60 years that make the mere chance for an intellectually honest and morally courageous conversation on “Talk of the Nation” so potentially valuable now here. Opportunities like this one have been occurring for many years but were routinely missed. A catastrophic failure of nerve by many too many of ‘the brightest and best’ among us who chose, instead of presenting scientific research as was their duty, to foster belief in erroneous preternatural theories; to say whatsoever was politically convenient, economically expedient and socially agreeable; to go along with global gag rules as well as ignore and censor exchanges of sound perspectives regarding human population dynamics and human overpopulation of the Earth. This failure could be one of the great mistakes in human history. I fear our children will come to see it in just that way.

The growth of the human species worldwide could be the proverbial “mother” of human-induced global challenges. If that is so, then failing to acknowledge this predominant challenge will render efforts of humanity to overcome other human-driven, increasingly complex challenges to human wellbeing and environmental health ultimately irrelevant, I suppose.

Please consider that both those who believe human population numbers are exploding and those who believe human numbers are collapsing are correct. Globally, human numbers are undoubtedly increasing, but in some places on the surface of Earth human numbers can easily be seen decreasing. It depends upon your scope of observation. I am perceiving and thinking globally when I report human numbers are skyrocketing. In a similar manner, I can certainly recognize that human numbers in many places (eg, Italy) have been declining. But in order to make that report it is necessary for me to change my scope of observation.

Imagine that a change in one’s scope of observation is like the difference between looking at the forest or the trees. Looking at the forest is like looking at absolute global human population numbers; whereas, looking at the trees is like looking at the population numbers in a place like Italy. Global human numbers can be increasing, while the human population numbers in Italy are decreasing.

So much of the Earth’s environs are being degraded and so many of its natural resources dissipated. So many people are coming. So much time has been wasted. So many opportunities missed. Time is precious….and short. Windows of opportunity are closing, one after another at an accelerating pace. Let us agree not to let this “Talk of the Nation” opportunity be another missed opportunity like so very many others in my lifetime.

We could begin this week by talking to all nations. After all, what are we waiting for? The clock to run out of time, so as to relieve us of human distinctly human responsibilities we can assume and duties only human beings with feet of clay can perform?

  
Comment by:  Locomotiveman (Tom) (Jan-2-2011)   

Bodhi Paul,
Answer: Yes, it is amazing. About that moment of my gazing at the giant Palm fossil. It was so viseral, the incongruity of the aroma and steam of that ancient fossil Palm leaf and the chug-chug of my diesel engine did NOT escape me; rather, it consumed me. I had a calm sense of finally knowing the ancient Earth as 'home'.
Peace and Good Vibrations. Locomotiveman
  
Comment by:  chefurka (Bodhisantra (Paul) Chefurka) (Jan-2-2011)   Web site

Tom,

Wow. Just wow! It's amazing how many different ways the universe finds to give us that same lesson, isn't it? Congratulations!

Bodhi
  
Comment by:  Locomotiveman (Tom) (Jan-2-2011)   

To Paul and All,
Hello and welcome to my world. My perspective on your comments re: Peak Oil and Climate Change may be unique; hopefully they can 'illuminate'; pun definitely intended. My epiphany as regards climate change came in a most primordial location. A coal mine.

I was operating a large Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer, specifically prying off the last layer of hard Shale/Siltstone from atop the layer of coal beneath. It was past Midnight, under a bright starry sky high up in the Wyoming, USA desert. I pried a massive slab of this 'overburden' upwards, and in the headlights of the dozer I saw the most elegant and fantastic fossil imprint of a prehistoric Palm tree leaf I ever saw. I stopped, dismounted from the Cat and literally stepped under this room-sized specimen and gazed at it with an awe and connectivity with the Universe I had never felt before. "So, THIS is what it's all about." Wow.

Now, after decades of hauling billions of tons of bituminuous coal for railroads to distant coal-fired powerplants I still have as my singular, exquisite moment the sight of that 20-foot long palm leaf solidifying for me my place in the totality of it all. It was quite a feeling. Humbling? Yes. My inclination to be non-judgemental began there, at that moment.

Peace and Good Vibrations to one and all. Locomotiveman
  
Comment by: Steven Earl Salmony (Jan-2-2011)   Web site

Dear Paul,

Happy New Year to you and Kath.

Your comments appear to point in the same direction and toward the same unfortunate outcome.

Many too many so-called experts have consciously and willfully chosen NOT to openly discuss the root cause(s) of the global predicament resulting from human overpopulation of the Earth because they did not think it would be helpful, I suppose. But look at what silence during the last 60 years has wrought. Elective mutism by so many experts regarding outstanding empirical research of certain human population issues, particularly human population dynamics, has effectively and perniciously vanquished science. This outcome could be the most colossal failure of nerve in human history. The consequences of this incredible mistake do not simply threaten a civilization with collapse. The collapse of civilizations has occurred before. Sometimes on a smaller scale and other times on a larger one. But at no time in history can I find records of the precipitation of a human-driven collapse with such profound implications not only for a civilization, but also for life as we know it and the integrity of Earth as a fit place for human habitation. The ‘brightest and best’, most knowledgeable people, those in positions of much influence and great power, have not spoken out loudly, clearly and often enough.

When scientific knowledge is deludedly regarded as a threat to human wellbeing, and intellectual honesty, moral courage and personal accountability are everywhere eschewed, how on Earth do we ever give ourselves so much as a chance of mitigating damages, much less “solving” problems for which we bear a large share of responsibility?

I do not know what the future holds for the children. I am hoping they will find ways to muddle through. If they manage to do so, it will likely not be the result of the efforts of those in my not-so-great generation of elders. We have failed them so far “on our watch” and will continue to do so as long as we continuously choose to keep doing the same unsustainable overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities we adamantly advocate and relentlessly pursue in our time, I suppose.

Silence will not save anyone from anything, and surely will not save humanity from itself. Perhaps we can agree that the Earth will go on, with or without the human species.

  
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About author/contributor Member: chefurka (Bodhisantra (Paul) Chefurka) chefurka (Bodhisantra (Paul) Chefurka)
   Web site: http://www.paulchefurka.ca/

Member: chefurka (Bodhisantra (Paul) Chefurka) I am a Canadian ecologist with a passionate interest in outside the box responses to the converging crisis of industrial civilization.

The crisis of civilization is not simply a convergence of technical, environmental and organizational problems.  These are symptoms that are themselves being driven by a philosophical and perceptual disconnection so deep that it is best understood as a spiritual breakdown.  The disconnection goes by the name of Separation.

Our sense of separation is what allows us to see ourselves as different from and superior to the rest of the apparently non-rational universe we live in.  In this worldview the complex mutual interdependence of all the elements of the universe is replaced by a simple dualistic categorization:  there are human beings, and everything else in the universe—without exception—is a resource for us to use.

The only way to keep this planet, our one and only home in the universe, from being ultimately ravaged and devastated is to change our worldview and heal our sense of separateness.  Unless we can manage that breathtaking feat all the careful application of technology, all the well-intentioned regulations, all the unbridled cleverness of which we are so proud will do little to delay the final outcome, and nothing whatever to prevent it.

My desire is to find ways to heal that sense of separation, with the goal of helping us prepare for ecological adulthood.

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