Met up with a few people over the festive period who I haven’t seen for a while and in-between the turkey and mince pies have been explaining what I’m up to and what my thoughts are. I find it a bit of a struggle sometimes to explain the nature of the change that I’m going through, but it does start to make a bit more sense when I frame it in the context of the Size of the Challenge. What follows might not make for easy reading, but having a point of view on the what the task is at least enables one to identify what you need to do about it:
Okay then, I’ve arrived at the use of a metaphor as the best way to describe what’s going on, what needs to happen and how likely we are to make that change. The metaphor is that the change that needs to happen for us all to live sustainably on the planet is equivalent to the change that happened when we moved from fully believing in God and religion as the answer to all questions to believing that science holds the answers.
What do I mean by that? I’m not a big history reader, but my understanding is that in the past (pre-Enlightenment) the prevailing belief was that God created in the world in 6 days, the Earth was at the Centre of the Universe and we were special (i.e. not related to animals). Then along came science and through the likes of Galileo and Darwin, they introduced ‘laws’ and proof and rationality to disprove many of the religious beliefs. So, now, we not only have a prevailing wind that science can hold the answers (or rather if you can’t ‘prove it’ it doesn’t exist), but that the economic system is the way that world works, man can control nature and consumerism and individualism is king. These beliefs, I would contend, are as strongly held as those religious beliefs that existed before science came along and the systems that hold those beliefs are as strong as the church was (and in some places still is – i.e. for half of the USA).
So, if we are to move to a more sustainable future, then why is the change as big as the change from ‘religion’ to ‘science’? Because, I think just like back then, it requires an entire re-calibration of the way you think that the way the world works, or more importantly how you relate to the world. So, rather than being disconnected from nature and seeing nature as ‘other’ we, as a species, have to understand that we are interconnected to it, want to live in harmony with it, indeed, that we are interconnected to everything else. Don’t we already do that? Doesn’t the internet let us do that? No. If we believed that then we would run the global economy with no environmental impact. We’d understand that there are things that are more important that our individual needs. We’d be thinking about what our actions mean for people living generations ahead of us and acting in their best interests, not just ours today.
If this is right (or in the ballpark) then the question then becomes ‘Can we change to think and act in a way that will allow us to live sustainably on the planet?’ Reframe that question as ‘Has mankind ever given up the prevailing system and the values it promotes without great suffering?’ I’m thinking slavery, Suffragettes, American Civil War, Apartheid, Arab Spring. But, there might be some examples where that hasn’t happened. Further, if you think about the amount of tension in the system before the system changed (read that as a lot of people dying and getting beaten up who wanted the change to happen) then we’re a long, long way off that. A few thousand people involved in the Occupy Movement is hardly Tahrir Square or Sharpeville.
So, in my mind it’s a race. On the positive, we as a species evolve fast enough to care about nature and each other. There is a sort of ‘rising global consciousness’ and somehow we understand, intuitively, that we’re all interconnected. Big business and governments change accordingly. On the more dramatic, there is a grass roots, global movement that puts an insurmountable of pressure on those that currently run the system and again Big Business and governments change accordingly. The race is that either (or both) of those things need to happen before we heat up the planet beyond acceptable levels (and the bio-diversity loss point). If that doesn’t happen then we, as a species, are in deep shit.
The last question then becomes ‘Are you an optimist, a pessimist, or a realist?’