By Roland Watson
In the last article I said that the earth is alive - a living organism, and that we - human beings - are killing it. This in turn raises the question: Why are we behaving so negatively towards our ecology, towards our own home?
The role of ignorance
The specific character traits that are to blame are ignorance, and selfishness. And, for the first, our basic ignorance is our misunderstanding, or lack of understanding, of the concept of value. We do not appreciate the value that is inherent in diversity, in the diversity of habitats, resources, and life on the planet.
One way to understand this better, ironically, comes from the world of business. In business, people understand that options have value. Simply being able to do something, even if you choose not to do it, is of value.
It is the same with the planet. The resources, species and habitats of the planet are options. While they exist, we can choose to do different things with them, if we want. Of course, we can also choose to do nothing.
However, if we destroy them, they are gone. A world with an abundance of life has great value. A world barren and devoid of life has none.
As part of this, we do not appreciate that extinction is forever. (As an aside, this is further proof of the point, in the series of articles on the universe, that we are unable to grasp the concept of infinity.)
When a species, or habitat, or resource is gone, it can never be reclaimed. Its value, which is actually far greater than any value that it might have to us, in terms of how we can use it, is gone forever.
Our ignorance is actually far more profound. We do not recognize that habitats and species have value - and rights - in and of themselves, without regard to us at all. They have struggled to live under the conditions of the planet, and succeeded. We do not have the right, unilaterally, to be their judge, jury and executioner.
These are quotes from the book Timber Wars, by Earth First! activist Judi Bari.
This is "a revolutionary concept - biocentrism, or deep ecology - the idea that humans are not the crown of creation, but rather just another of nature's many species.
All species have a right to exist for their own sake, regardless of their usefulness to humans ...
Humans must learn to live in balance with the needs of nature, instead of trying to mold nature to fit the needs of humans."
Personally, I believe it is time to update our famous statement of equality, the language that Thomas Jefferson used in the Declaration of Independence.
Jefferson wrote: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ..." and "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed ... Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it..."
This should be revised to:
"We hold this truth to be self-evident, that all life is created equal and is endowed with the same inalienable rights. Further, all human social institutions derive their power from the consent of the people, and whenever any institution becomes destructive of the rights of life it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it."
We are finally beginning to recognize the rights of other forms of life, but only at a snail's pace. For example, we don't allow the abuse of pets, although we do of food and laboratory animals.
This is another situation where we need to accomplish a global change. Given the resistance to granting rights to other forms of life, though, the greatest probability is that the coming century will see an ecological cataclysm - the devastation of enormous bioregions, and which will lead to social upheaval for people as well.
The role of selfishness
To continue, our other negative trait is selfishness. Of course, ignorance and selfishness are linked.
We all want to have babies, to add more humans to the pile. But, these babies will make more demands on the planet. Every new child born is, on average, the creation of an eighty-year long act of consumption of the earth's resources.
And, at present, we do little to control our consumption. Indeed, the social forms I have described encourage us to consume as much as possible.
Also, when we consume we do so such that we can never consume the same thing again. In all but a few instances, planet-wide, we do not practice sustainable consumption, meaning that we limit our consumption to preserve and maintain the earth's resources. Nor do we recycle our consumption's end products, in other words, our waste and other by-products.
The role of technology
For technology, Pandora's Box is open and it is an exceedingly powerful form. Technology is one of the clearest examples of a form whose underlying purpose is to shape and control us to meet its needs, meaning the needs of the businesses which fund it, and of its creators, including scientists, technicians, computer nerds and technology administrators. Once you are dependent on technology, there is no going back.
At the risk of courting controversy, I will quote from the book, Industrial Society and Its Future, written by the criminal, Ted Kaczynski. The reason I'm doing this is because he clearly stated the idea, and if I don't quote him, I will be guilty of plagiarism. He said.
"When a new item of technology is introduced as an option that an individual can accept or not as he chooses, it does not necessarily 'remain' optional. In many cases the new technology changes society in such a way that people eventually find themselves 'forced' to use it."
This certainly takes place, witness such things as computers and cars. Indeed, it is a perfect example of feedback.
However, are such changes really irreversible? What about our will? Can't we restrict or limit our use of technology? Can't we give up our computers and cars?
More generally, can't we avoid the forms of technology that are destructive of the earth's ecology, and only apply those that are supportive of it or benign, such as alternative sources of energy, particularly solar?
Technology, used properly, could be our biggest boon. For instance, the invention of the printing press enabled the widespread dissemination of information, and the education of the public. This, historically, is what undermined the power of the Catholic Church in Europe, since prior to the invention of the press the Church, through its priests, monks and monasteries, controlled education, effectively ensuring that the general public remained ignorant. And, of course, printing technology continues to play an essential role in combating dictatorship.
However, used improperly, technology will lead to our destruction, and quite possibly to the destruction of all other life as well. Moreover, it will forever remain a great risk.
The reason for this is that technology reaches so deeply into the complexities of life, one can never be sure of what will result. We should be prepared for many more unpleasant surprises.
As an example of this, it has been discovered that the sperm counts of men are falling all around the world. This apparently is due to the vast amount of estrogen-mimicking chemicals that have been excreted into the environment. This is actually leading to reduced masculinity among the males, and increased masculinity among the females, of many species, and also yielding, in certain species, cases of androgyny, of individuals that are both male and female.
Technology is changing our gender characteristics just as surely as cloroflurocarbons contribute to the destruction of the earth's ozone layer. And, again, one cannot underestimate just how severe the consequences of this might be.
Life on earth, while often beautiful, is regularly brutal and unfair, and this is a condition we cannot change. Also, we have had devastating consequences for the rest of the life on the planet, which we must halt. Our impact, undeniably, is bad form.
We must eliminate our ignorance, by spreading ecological consciousness to all of the people around the world, and by embracing biocentrism.
We must also reduce our selfishness, by limiting our child-bearing - by fighting the genetic and social forms that underlie our desire to procreate - and by fighting the socially-imposed form of overconsumption, particularly of new technology.
In the next series, I will review our background as a species.
© Roland Watson 2014