What else if not semi-environmentalism?

BY PINA HAAS

February 3rd, 2019

Environmental degradation, resource exploitation, pollution, mass extinction of species and most importantly, climate change are issues widely discussed in the media, among politicians, among the public and even among children. The past year, the year 2018, was of great significance for environmental activism. Many events brought the issue of climate change on the desk of the international political agenda and on the private dinner tables of many world citizen. The publication of the IPCC report, the climate protest of the young Greta Thunberg that inspired the worldwide student movement “Fridaysforfuture” and the climate marches in Brussels are just a few events that happened in 2018 and continue to grow and with that contribute to a greater awareness of the issue. Climate Change is not a novel issue, scientists have been telling us for 40 years now that we cannot continue exploiting resources and polluting the planet as we do or we will face severe problems. (Rich. N, 2018) Since then scientific evidences are amounting and effects of global warming are not in the far future anymore, but experienced all over the planet. Yet, we are lacking political and societal action and solutions for the problem. Not enough is happening, the situation is so urging that now even children feel the need to skip school to defend the interests of all future life on this planet.  

I realized that in my view, semi-environmentalism is not an option. I think we need to completely reassess the way we are living and structuring our lives- a deeper change needs to happen.

What does deep change mean?

In order to answer this question, we need to look at the nature of the very problem we deal with. I think climate change is a symptom of an underlying problem, a problem with the way we see the role of the human being on this planet. Western values like individualism, rationality and social Darwinism have made us believe that we humans are at the top of the hierarchy of life and have the right and the power to dominate all other life on this planet and beyond. This idea is promoted by scientists, politicians and philosophers since the enlightenment and shapes our ideology and lifestyle significantly. We are raised to believe that we are invincible if we only rely on our rationalism and intellect which will give us the power to invent the right technology to reverse climate change. This worldview proposes: science has all the answers to our problems and is often called the mechanistic paradigm. (Capra, 2014) It is dominated by the assumption that everything equals the sum of its parts and in order to make the world ours, we only need to understand all the parts.  The problem with this paradigm however is that it continues to alienate us human from nature. It reduces the world to material and mechanisms and denies the interdependencies of all the parts that constitute this planet, including us humans. Live is a system, every organism has a role and function but we have proven ourselves to be unable to recognize, worship and protect this fragile and interdependent ecosystem. I agree with thinkers like Capra and Enrique Leff;  If we continue to see ourselves as the dominator of this planet, we won’t advert climate change and secure a peaceful life on this planet, we need to change our paradigm. (Leff 2011, Capra 2014) As Einstein once said:We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” (BrainyQuote.com, 2019)

We need a deeper shift in the way we are living our life’s and inhabiting this planet.

The current world order is based on infinite material growth. In order to secure economic growth, we need growing consumption. In order to secure growing consumption, we raise the citizen of the world to believe that consumption will make them happy and will fulfil all their needs. The production of all these commodities is destroying the very basis for our life here on planet earth. That this mass consumption is not only bad for the planet but also for the well-being of the human being is often forgotten. Taylor et al. for example write in their article the Collapse and Transformation of our World that “the consumer worldview represents the commodification of both humans and the natural world, it promotes the illusion of a separate self that exists independently of both the larger human and biophysical communities” (p. 39). They explain in their article that the current world order is not sustainable. But not only is it not sustainable in the ecological sense but also in the emotional sense.

If you think about what really makes you happy, it will most probably go beyond material needs for shelter and food. We need the feeling of belonging, we need social interactions and meaning. These needs are neglected by the current world order and we are led to think that material consumption can satisfy these. We are trapped in the cycle of running after instant gratification, instead of creating wholesome well-being.

But what to do?

We need to reassess our values and ideologies, we need to realize that infinite growth is not a paradigm we can sustain, neither ecologically nor sociallyo r emotionally. We are only one part of a bigger system in which every part plays a crucial role.

This needs to be reflected in the political systems too. We need to move towards more participatory democracies. We need to decentralize politics and give people more power but also responsibilities to manage their own lives. Being a human should give us rights yes, but it should also imply duties. The duty to respect others and the planet. By giving communities the chance to manage their own lives, to take decisions over resource distribution for example, we would move towards more horizontal structures among citizen. I am convinced that these new structures would transcend human relations and lead to a more holistic approach in how we treat our surroundings.

If we want to keep on living on this planet, we have to start respecting it as the complex web of linkage and interdependencies it is. We need to start respecting all live on this planet as equally important and worthy as humans. But we cannot respect other organisms if we cannot respect our own complex needs. I therefore promote:

More Whole, Less Some!

Works cited:

Capra, F., & Luisi, P. L. (2014). The systems view of life: A unifying vision. Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, D. M., & Taylor, G. M. (2007). The collapse and transformation of our world. Journal of Futures Studies, 11(3), 29-46.

Leff, E. (2011) TEDxAmazônia – Enrique Leff quer que nos cuidemos. TEDxAmazônia. min. 0-13:18. Retreived from:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxCGZhGUEbk – last accessed February 3rd 2018.

Rich, N. (August 1st,  2018) Loosing earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change. New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/08/01/magazine/climate-change-losing-earth.html#main – last accessed February 3rd 2018.

Albert Einstein Quotes. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved February 3, 2019, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/albert_einstein_121993

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