environmental point of no return?

Inspired by a tweet by the excellent @ruthvalerio yesterday, I want to address an issue that many people are mulling over.

Have we now reached a ‘point of no return’ in terms of the environment? Have we done such aggregious damage to the systems and materials of our world that it will never recover?

This is a complex question, and one which I am not really qualified to answer (not going to let a little thing like that stop me though).

Firstly let’s be clear, things will never be the same as they were. We cannot regain the world we had 100 years ago, 1000 years ago, or 1000,000 years ago. That world does not exist – it is gone, we cannot recreate it. The reality is that we have dug, drilled, exploded and concreted our way to a whole new kind of existance. So this is where we start from.

Secondly we have to recognise that the world we live in, is an eco system. We have to look at it from a macro perspective, and when we do we see a very large, complex system which we are all dependant upon, but which will almost certainly outlast each of us and has amazing ability to cope with the most attrocious treatment.

Thirdly we need to accept that way we live now is not sustainable. We are heavily dependent upon fossil fuels which we have expended incredible amounts of money upon extracting from the earth. If we are to talk about tipping point, or points of no return, then I think its fair to say that we’ve gone past such a point with oil. If we continue to treat oil like a cheap resource, then we are in trouble. The fact is that we all need to readdress our consumption patterns – our waste – and our philosophy of ‘stuff’.

Lets be clear, there are serious people talking about digging up landfill sites to get to buried caches of plastic because we’re running so short of resources. People in the waste management sector recognise the massive clanger we’ve collectively dropped, and are trying to do something about it.

But if we continue to live the way we are now, there is little point in them doing so. The only way we can change things (and I think we can change things) is to collectively choose to live differently. I think that in certain circles there are encouraging signs in this.

I’m encouraged that there is a growth within society of people looking at alternative ways of living a mainstream life. It is now acceptable in the mainstream to talk about co-housing, responsible food consumption, and so on. More people are eating less meat, more people are choosing to share accomodation rather than heat empty houses. These are good things, and I hope they become more mainstream as they really do have an impact on our environmental footprint.

However, these things alone, just like ensuring you do your recycling, are not enough. They are really only a sticking plaster on a severed limb.

The only thing that is going to reattach that limb is surgery, and that needs to come from two directions.

1) Massive and immediate remedial action needs to take place – substantial amounts of investment needs to be made into safeguarding precious resources and addressing ecological damage. Cooperative action needs to happen now to stop destruction of forests, to halt degradation of sea beds, and to put an end to greater exploitation of fossil fuel resources. The government in the Uk has recently trumpeted about a new oil field north of Scotland – (phew – more cheap petrol, what a relief!) No – stop this insanity! Halt that investment, let petrol prices go up to reflect the reality of this precious resource, that’s what will make people use less oil. Invest instead in renewable resources, and (gulp) nuclear power too – although it grieves me to say it.

2) At the same time as fixing the damage, we need to change our lifestyles. We have an addiction to stuff, and that needs to be broken. We have an addiction to oil and that needs to be broken. We have an addiction to imagining that we are the only people in the world that matter – and that really really really needs to be broken.  There are various things which need to happen to make these changes real – price increases for sure are going to be important – petrol prices will make people seek alternative forms of transport, I predict it and I also see it around me already. The western consumer mentality needs to be broken too, but that will be a harder nut to crack.

My prescription for that would be the most simple thing of all, and also the hardest.

We need to learn to love.

If we can learn to love, love those who are near and those who are further away, we might be able to pull back from the brink of ecological devastation. The world as an eco system has amazing capacity for self healing, but while we continue to ignore each other and the world around us, it is not getting the chance to do so.

If we can learn to love one another, then there is a chance. We will become less selfish, care more about the needs of others, recognise the need for self sacrifice in the interests of the greater good.

What will happen if we dont do that? Well there is a very good chance that the world as an eco system will find another way to survive, and my prediction on that is that it will involve a lot of death. Large scale desertification will occur, wars will be fought over food and water (in small ways they already are in fact) just as they have over oil.

Humans are clever creatures, we’ll find ways of allowing ourselves to continue our hyper consumer lifestyles, but it will be at a big cost – payable in blood. That or, we collectively begin to change our ways – and start to behave as if we really give a toss. We need to learn to love, need to turn away from selfishness, need to collectively repent. Either that or face the prospect of terrible loss of life, and a great deal of blood on our hands.

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