The disproportion between what we lose and what we gain

It’s just been confirmed that 2014 was the hottest year on record. A new paper in the journal Science has just reported that humans are “on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them”, something its authors are calling the “precipice of a major extinction event”. Coral reefs—one of the world’s most important ecosystems—have declined by 40 per cent as a result. Last year, the World Wildlife Fund announced that over half the world’s wildlife has been lost in the past 40 years alone.

This is the result of nothing less than a total indifference towards, and deliberate assault on, the living world—and it’s beyond depressing.

British environmental journalist George Monbiot summed it up best: “This is a moment at which anyone with the capacity for reflection should stop and wonder what we are doing.” To say the least. Monbiot goes on:

“This is what hits me harder than anything: the disproportion between what we lose and what we gain. Economic growth in a country whose primary and secondary needs have already been met means developing ever more useless stuff to meet ever fainter desires.

In a society bombarded by advertising and driven by the growth imperative, pleasure is reduced to hedonism and hedonism is reduced to consumption.

We care ever less for the possessions we buy, and dispose of them ever more quickly. Yet the extraction of the raw materials required to produce them, the pollution commissioned in their manufacturing, the infrastructure and noise and burning of fuel needed to transport them are trashing a natural world infinitely more fascinating and intricate than the stuff we produce. The loss of wildlife is a loss of wonder and enchantment, of the magic with which the living world infects our lives.”

What humans are doing to the living world is the direct result of an entire global culture built upon and consumed by the illusion of infinite economic growth on a finite planet.

It’s the direct result of a relentless tide of pervasive advertising and marketing into every aspect of our lives.

It’s the direct result of a “culture of inevitability” defined by popular culture as well as market-driven development that lulls us into inaction.

It’s the direct result of a mindset which fetishizes the quantification and monetization of everything on the planet, reducing the living world into a collection of discrete widgets to be exploited, bought, and sold.

It’s the result of “technological solutionism”, an ideology which ultimately encourages us to passively wait for others to whip up silver-bullet technological fixes and optimized algorithms to counteract our life-destroying ways, rather than treating the underlying problem.

We return again to Monbiot:

“Is this not the point at which we shout stop? At which we use the extraordinary learning and expertise we have developed to change the way we organise ourselves, to contest and reverse the trends that have governed our relationship with the living planet for the past two million years, and that are now destroying its remaining features at astonishing speed? Is this not the point at which we challenge the inevitability of endless growth on a finite planet? If not now, when?”

It’s sometimes the honest and piercing questions that can offer far more insight and hope than any technological or market-driven solution can.


Photo credit: Jason deCaires Taylor