by Jan Lundberg
It may be unprecedented that a species destroys its own habitat completely. In this pursuit we are well along, according to plenty of evidence. With 6.3 billion people, ninety per cent of the big fish now gone from all the oceans, and more than eighty per cent of the world's forests destroyed since pre-modern times, we need not dwell further on endless studies such that we delay action.
Beyond examining the ecological facts and historical record, the question of our cultural responsibility comes up in terms of identifying causes and seeking solutions for the precarious state of our world. The dominant culture that embraces the basic values of Western Civilization is out of control, and has a mad dog called The Economy preventing our approaching to offer changes.
Economics is the chief imperative to address, as it commodifies and destroys the forests, farmland, wildlife habitat, and our air and water. Unless we change economics immediately, the climate may become unlivable in the next several decades in most of the world. Is an increase 15.8 degrees F by 2100 enough to warrant droves of intelligent consumers to now go car free, for example?
That figure is what the UK's Hadley Centre (World Meteorological Organisation) estimates as the global rise when accounting for some of the positive feedback loops going into effect (e.g., sea-level rise kills land vegetation which releases carbon, which adds to the global temperature, which adds to sea-level rise, ad infinitum). For every additional amount of average warming, climate disasters are more easily brewed, and along with the warming trend they have now been established as fixed and ongoing, according to world scientific consensus.
A movement for a new way of
The steps and opportunities are many, and even amidst the oppressive, vicious global economy people are creative. One day there will be a convergence that will signal an historic change in the world, and it will be greater than the combined 1960s elements of new relevant music, massive demonstrations and the back-to-the-land movement.
Activists are justified in working on all areas of concern. No one in his or her right mind would want WTO watchers to give up pressuring the World Trade Organization and its members to respect the environment and the rights of workers and peasants. Other forms of activism are as diverse as providing love and care to autistic children, creating a permaculture yard, and agitating for bicycle facilities where cars dominate.
Yet, unless enough of us agree on an approach to our common plight as overconsuming, overcrowded individualists, it may be that the countless efforts by the few citizens who care will be swept aside by a collapsing economy and the failing ecosystem. However, all good efforts for sustainability have their reward and positive reverberations. So the countless efforts by the few cannot be for naught, no matter what the outcome.
The one approach we as the conscious citizenry may first agree on, prior to concerted action on a large issue such as global warming, could be to find common ground in sensing the force of major change toward transition. Then we can discuss the most significant changes afoot and what desirable changes deserve immediate attention.
A discussion of our destructive dominant culture has been initiated in recent years by several writers, publications and a few organizations. However, they do not equate to a movement for cultural change in such a way to be really noticed by the majority. In the late 1960s, the public was acutely aware of alternative lifestyles and revolutionary thinking that challenged habitual attitudes of patriotic consumers particularly in the U.S. The same movement survives under the surface to this day, although dissipated and disempowered by plentiful petroleum and other trappings of highly technological civilization.
Several decades after the '60s, the majority of people - while at least somewhat aware of global crises - are able to keep destroying their ecosystem and over-breed as if there is no alternative or need to change.
Authors such as Daniel Quinn have alerted a mass audience to the contradictions inherent in our culture. For example, "totalitarian agriculture" means claiming ever more land for (certain) crops and depriving other species and peoples of habitat. Voila, the Agricultural Revolution, spawned by our dominant culture dating back to the earliest towns in the Mesopotamia region. Totalitarian agriculture diverged from and attacked the predominant methods of subsistence all around that featured much less work-effort. With the desired surpluses and division of labor in early Western Civilization, humanity saw the first of empires that have risen and fallen to the present. Civilization has turned forest and other rich lands into deserts, always moving on. It has never been worse than now. It is not a secret to anyone interested in the world. The men who have done this are well aware. They have always been the dominant culture's principal leaders.
The juncture at which we find ourselves is to choose whether civilization , embodied in the global economy, can and should continue its greedy thrust into all remaining resource-rich regions of the Earth. Clearly, it is not a choice where all of us are considered. The species rapidly going extinct get even less consideration. It is critical to look at ourselves - each one of us and each community - as involved to some extent in the global economic juggernaut. Then choices can be made at the micro level to perhaps fight the hegemony of the global economy (including actively opposing new road construction and deforestation) and/or take steps as households to slash energy consumption. Efforts are being made along these lines, including reducing waste such as in paper, plastic, and space for living-quarters. A class of mostly young warriors for peace does more, such as involvement in campaigns to stop further contamination of sovereign lands ridden with U.S. depleted uranium.
The transition from the current culture - characterized by consuming in isolation and lack of group decision making - to a sustainable and more participatory society seems to be underway. We may view the coming collapse of the teetering economy - and even climatic disaster brought on by human activity - as necessary to the re-emergence of strong, local communities that sustainability is based upon.
The many steps and routes toward sustainability are for the most part known and accessible. The denial of the majority of modern humans, as to their blind complicity in using too much energy and other resources, will persist as long as today's heavily subsidized petroleum and petroleum-derived food are available widely along with money and business/job "opportunities." Ignorance seems to rule the day, propped up by slavery involving the need to work.
The deep feelings that activists such as the extremely articulate Brian Willson have, towards the pain of people tragically manipulated and killed for U.S. government/corporate ventures, are part of our universal love for ourselves, family, community, the human race, and life itself.
Brian is not going to suddenly appear on the screens of millions television watchers to explain what he has learned and wishes to impart; it would be a national shock that every major TV executive would prevent. Brian is an incredible, jarring figure for peaceful rejection of violence, especially when his dues-paying past is made known: in 1987 Brian's peace activism included an action where a U.S. military train deliberately ran over him. He gets by admirably today with prosthetic lower limbs, and relies partly on a hand-pedaled recumbent tricycle. His most positive passion now is permaculture, which he regards as holistic organic gardening with a future - "Proliferating edible landscapes," as he says.
There is no telling how many aware citizens such as Brian Willson and his fellow travelers are actively supporting cultural change. Acknowledging the high birth rate, and second-rate formal education offered for sustainable living, we should not be under any illusion of any critical mass building that will take our present direction into a common, sustainable future. Yet, if we firm up our efforts, we could succeed.
Times are changing relatively fast. The city of Vancouver, Washington recently denied a building permit to a developer wanting to cut down a stand of large trees by the Columbia River. All interested state and federal agencies weighed in against the scheme. Not many years ago, such a decision would have been unheard of.
Obstacles too politically
incorrect to address
It is little known that the nation's numbers are increasingly added to primarily by immigration and the higher birth rate of immigrants. Immigration that is legal at the behest of corporations controlling Congress is the greater part of overall immigration. Over a million more U.S. consumers legally arriving annually are counted on to (A) become shoppers - enriching the corporations - and (B) keep down our wages. This means more greenhouse gas emissions, paving over the land, and the mass adoption of the most wasteful society ever known. It is true that U.S. foreign intervention is a major reason for immigration and refugees to the U.S. and elsewhere. Our newcomers, especially "illegal aliens," have often been deprived of their former lands and sustainable ways. The problem of population growth for the U.S. and global environment is that people consume in the U.S. twice the per capita energy-use of Western Europeans, for example. U.S. legal immigration may not be reduced significantly as long as entrenched interests still hold sway, but awareness needs to improve in the sustainability movement.
Back to the trees
Meanwhile, it may help to remember that the critters in the trees - what's left of the critters and trees - are living as our common ancestors were, and that each life form has a vital purpose in nature - or it wouldn't be here. To disregard this and kill wantonly is to kill ourselves, one tree, one flick of a switch at a time. Modern humans are not a world unto themselves, able to cut off our own limbs of our perch or person.
- Read the words of Brian
Willson and see his peace links.
Jan Lundberg formerly ran Lundberg Survey Incorporated which once published "the bible of the oil industry." He has run the Sustainable Energy Institute since 1988. It can use your assistance and generous help.
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