“The General Assembly has widely acknowledged that the world’s depletion of natural resources and rapid environmental degradation are the result of unsustainable consumption and production patterns which have led to adverse consequences for both the Earth and the health and overall well-being of humanity.”The United Nations resolution on Harmony with Nature
My old guru, the King of Alabama, defined neurosis as “stupid and wrong-headed behavior to the detriment of oneself.” In short: Shooting yourself in the foot and then complaining that your foot hurts. It’s a good definition, especially in light of the fact that Homo erectus asphaltus is adroitly competent at self-inflicted injury. And while repeatedly shooting your own foot is highly questionable behavior, stupidly befouling the only planet known to support life is an order of magnitude more idiotic. And yet, here we are, shooting ourselves in both feet while lighting our beds on fire.
Shortly after Al Gore’s plunge into movie making, his inconvenient truth became little more than a whisper amidst the background noise of our miasmic technological-industrial culture. Once the hoopla faded into the bowels of the Internet Movie Data Base, it was back to business as usual, as if global warming was nothing more than a slight irritant best left to people preoccupied with what kind of lightbulbs to buy.
Meanwhile, those with a keen sense of the obvious can see that things are not going according to plan, at least not where our long-term survival is concerned. Every hour brings a new prediction about the effects of our behavior on the planet’s biological systems, including exponential warming trends. Add to that a growing population desirous of fast food, air conditioning, smart phones, and SUVs, and the prognosis for reversing the nefarious effects of climate change look increasingly grim.
For reasons known only to them, mainstream environmental groups tend to be suspiciously timid regarding our planet’s undoing. This seems odd, considering the stakes: Wholesale extinction of species, the inexorable weed eating of the Amazon rainforest, melting glaciers, rising seas, the spread of incapacitating diseases, and the global loss of biodiversity.
Did I mention shrinking aquifers, climate refugees, renegade plastic islands, food shortages, and the potential for widespread conflicts over ever-diminishing natural resources?
It’s time for the Big Green gang to emerge from behind their desks and put their money where their mouth is. The time to articulate a coherent plan for revamping modern society is upon us. Not the tired rhetoric of reforming industry; not a wonky techno-fix; not a plea for more efficient cars. This is no longer about technology saving us from ourselves. It’s about facing up to the fact that the entire system needs an overhaul. Starting with our insatiable consumer gluttony. An economy based on ever increasing consumerism is not only stupid, it’s dangerously profligate.
“It’s the system we need to change, rather than the products of the system. It is as citizens that we must act, rather than as consumers.”George Monbiot
Yes, we’re deep in the cess pool. But every so often the unexpected jumps out from behind Door Number Three, wiggles its middle finger, and flips the script. If it were otherwise, life would be interminably boring. And, in no small part, due to the arrival of a rather unusual Swedish teenager, the somnambulant environmental movement has been rudely awakened from its Green Dream.
Without a phalanx of fund raisers, lobbyists, or policy wonks, young Greta Thunberg has managed to propel millions into taking action against the onslaught of climate change, with or without the Big Eco-groups at her back. The news that our climate is rapidly becoming hostile to a plethora of biological creatures and ourselves is rightfully terrifying to today’s crop of youngsters. That generations of their predecessors caused such a dilemma is doubly troubling. They have met the enemy, and it is their parents, uncles, and Grandpa Jones.
There is something viscerally satisfying in seeing a teenager singlehandedly call out the United Nations’ failure to live up to its lofty, if vapid, rhetoric on climate change. Not to mention the world’s noted policy geeks and their tepid lip service to the nebulous Harmony with Nature.
Needless to say, Greta Thunberg’s clarion call landed in the dank pit of political inertia even as her incendiary words singed the U.N. delegate’s tympanic membranes. One suspects her screed will live on long after those same delegates are mumbling inanities inside the nursing home of their choice.
The world belongs to the young. And they appear to resemble an awakening dragon.
“The scientific community has well documented evidence that our present way of life, in particular our consumption and production patterns, has severely affected the Earth’s carrying capacity.”The United Nations resolution on Harmony with Nature
So where do we go from here? Has the game become so quixotic that all we can do is dress up in animal costumes and carry “Save the planet” placards? Green New Deals notwithstanding, do we really believe we can march down Main Street every blue moon and expect significant results? If so, stand by for a loud pop! We just shot ourselves in the foot.
“In the event of the unwillingness of the government and the elites to respond even minimally to demands for structural change, we must draw the conclusion that, due to the dire crisis we face, only a change in the political system itself can lead to our demands being rapidly enacted.”Roger Hallam, Extinction Rebellion
By now it’s obvious that we can’t rely on political institutions to reverse our headlong rush into the proverbial brick wall. Democracies are slippery creatures, subject to whatever whims have captivated the electorate in the immediate moment. That a Kardashian wardrobe malfunction gets more ink than the melting of vast areas of permafrost is evidence of a people in need of a cultural enema.
And while seeing hordes of young climate protesters is invigorating, no amount of street theater is going to avert the climate’s tipping point, at last not in time to prevent ecological meltdown from pole to shimmering pole. While I’m all for massive protests, we must fess up to a fundamental truth where the environment is concerned: Growth for the sake of growth is a cancerous metastasis. As it spreads, incremental ecological disaster occurs, eventually killing its host. Unfortunately, cancer is indiscriminate; as we head down the slippery slope, we’ll take untold numbers of our fellow species with us.
“… collectively, our growing appetite for digital services means the datacentres that power them are now responsible for about 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, a similar share to aviation.”The Guardian
So, perhaps a bit of introspection is in order; let’s reboot the software and ask a few questions of ourselves. In essence, what are we willing to sacrifice to “save the planet”?*
Are we prepared to abandon gas guzzling SUVs, juicy hamburgers, and endless hours of Netflix streaming? Is checking off the bucket list really that vital to one’s sense of self? If it comes down to our “smart” phones or the planet, which will we choose? Can we exist without FaceBook, Instagram, or Google?
Would we turn off the all-knowing Internet if it meant victory over climate catastrophe? Let’s be honest – it may come to that.
The American Dream never was a particularly good idea. Like all dreams, it was a collection of random fantasies cobbled together into a seemingly real experience. To put it bluntly, any ideology premised upon wholesale resource extraction and endless economic growth is an ideology destined for failure.
While so-called “minority traditions” revolve around living in harmony with the ecological system that sustains them, America has taken a decidedly different path, priding itself on being the world’s behemoth growth engine since the first colonist set foot in the New World. You know your raison d’être has gone rogue when the nation’s mantra is “shop till you drop.” But, as they say in Mississippi, that dog won’t hunt. At least not when the bell tolls and we’re staring at a climate that would be a challenge even for Davey Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier. Waking up from the American Dream is going to be rude in the extreme.
“We don’t have a right to ask whether we’re going to succeed or not. The only question we have a right to ask is what’s the right thing to do? What does this earth require of us if we want to continue to live on it?”Wendell Berry
There comes a time in every civilization’s existential arc when the only choice left is a complete make-over. When every credible indicator points to impending ecological collapse, you either get with the program or become yet another specimen of historical roadkill. The choice is ours. But we no longer have the luxury of stupid and wrong headed behavior to the detriment of the environment. The jig is up.
At this point, neither Big Tent political party appears willing to admit the truth: Economic growth fueled by an insatiable lust for more of everything is killing the fabric of life upon which we all depend. Now is the time to ask whether we have what it takes to turn ourselves around before it is forced upon us. And as the old saying goes: Nature bats last.
As Arne Naess tells us: “Quality of life is here considered to be something incompatible with artificial, material standards above that necessary for the satisfaction of fundamental needs, and secondly, that ecological considerations are to be regarded as preconditions for life quality, therefore not outside human responsibility….”
In other words: Think global, act local. But act!
* Note to reader: The notion that humanoids are in some way capable of destroying the planet is laughable. Regardless of our unsustainable, carbon spewing, obsessive compulsive consumerism, the planet will, to reference the Dude, abide. That we may not survive to enjoy the show is an entirely different matter.