DESTRUCTIVE human behaviour based on selfishness, greed and ignorance has created the interrelated environmental emergency. A global crisis of unprecedented scale that threatens the survival of over a million plant and animal species, the security of tens of millions of people and the health of the planet.
Unlimited irresponsible consumption of goods, services and animal food produce is the underlying cause; destructive unhealthy behaviour encouraged by short-term political and business policies rooted in nationalism and the ideology of competition and greed.
Land, sea and air are contaminated everywhere, more or less; the natural climatic rhythms have been radically disrupted, chaos created where order once held sway; the great rainforests of the world are being decimated, trees cut down, land turned over to cattle, or agriculture — principally to grow soya for animal feed — indigenous peoples displaced or killed, cultures shredded, ecosystems shattered, animal habitat destroyed, plant species crushed under the vile weight of corruption and money.
The scale and urgency of the crisis is impossible to overstate; with every new scientific paper that appears the reality becomes more and more overwhelming, the task of salvage more daunting, the need for action more urgent. Most people, of course, don’t read such texts or notice the rare piece of news coverage that they, or the natural world, more broadly receive. And despite being the most pressing issue of this or indeed any other time, within government circles, corporate boardrooms, as well as far too many individual households, the environmental catastrophe remains a marginal matter within the relentless urge for profit, economic growth and personal pleasure; little more than an afterthought within the business plan, a political add-on to appeal to the green contingent or customer base.
In opposition to this crippling complacency there is a growing army of people ringing alarm bells, trying to instil a sense of urgency and wake people up. Loud voices, some well known, like Sir David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg and prince Charles, who has been ‘banging on’ about environmental abuse for thirty years or more, together with movements like Extinction Rebellion and the School Strike for Climate, and a raft of environmental campaign groups such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund. All work tirelessly to share information about the scale and depth of the crisis and raise awareness.
And awareness is growing, behaviour is shifting; the details and scope of the emergency may not be known but there is a general awareness (in developed nations at least), however vague and inadequate, that the natural environment is in crisis, particularly among young people, who, in many cases are rightly appalled (and extremely worried) at the level of environmental vandalism perpetrated by previous generations. But the scale of change is nowhere near what is needed and it’s too slow; gradual changes over decades or generations will not cut it, neither will reliance solely on technology.
The response among corporations and governments is consistently inadequate, and the reaction of the mass of people is often indifference and/or a sense of individual inadequacy in the face of such massive issues. Most people live hard insecure lives, are physically tired, emotionally drained and mentally confused, overwhelmed by their own difficulties and trying, for the most part, simply to get by, to feed themselves and their families and find some lightness within what are often heavy days and dreary nights.
If, and it’s a large ominous if, humanity is to reverse the damage, education and widespread environmental and social responsibility are essential.
A global public information campaign is urgently needed. Coordinated by the UN environment agency utilising national media outlets and designed in conjunction with environmental groups to raise awareness not just of the scale of the emergency, but to encourage responsible ethical behaviour among populations, corporations, businesses and governments. Environmentally progressive policymaking can no longer be a series of ill conceived half-hearted add-ons within the manifestos of political parties and leaders running for office. Environmental responsibility must be fostered so that it becomes the central consideration in all decision making, for governments, businesses and individuals. It is part of a broader sense of social responsibility, which includes the recognition that we are responsible for one another, and requires the cultivation of a general attitude of positive communal living.
To be responsible is to respond. To respond to the need, whatever that may be, to the challenge or the urgency of the time. The nature and quality of the response is critical, what it is that we respond with. If the response is anchored in selfishness and conditioned by motive, if it is limited by ideology or constrained by considerations of personal gain, financial profit or economic growth, for example, then the response, and this is what happens in most cases, will not only be inadequate to the demands of the moment, it will intensify the issue, or crises. Such actions are rooted in the past and cannot, therefore, sufficiently meet the crisis; whatever it is, in this case, the environmental crisis, fully, because the crisis is taking place now.
Being responsible also means being ‘accountable for one’s actions’, which is a quality of living that is lacking in varying degrees, among politicians and corporations — where it is virtually totally absent, as well as large swathes of the world’s population. In place of social or environmental responsibility the dual poisons of complacency and irresponsibility habitually condition action, adding to an overall atmosphere of selfishness and social division. We have come to believe in separation, identifying ourselves with a nation, race or belief system, divided from, superior or inferior to another, ‘the other’, who may not look, pray or think like we do, and therefore cannot be trusted. The ideology of division, based as it is on fear and hate, is anathema to responsibility.
If, and there again is that omnipresent if, there is to be an adequate response to the environmental emergency a new atmosphere of collective responsibility needs to be fostered and the nations of the world must unite; this call for united global action is a common-sense statement enunciated and agreed upon many times at various gatherings, but like world peace or equality its little more than a hollow ideal under which the pattern of competitive nationalism drones on, and on and on. International agreements are signed, no doubt in a spirit of optimism, and sincerity, but hypocrisy and duplicity are the worldwide hallmarks of politicians, and commitments are largely ignored, the business of corporate politics continues unhindered and little or nothing changes.
The greatest environmental impact, for good or ill, lies with governments and corporations, but the behaviour of individuals is crucial; en-masse it is the neglect, greed and rampant consumerism of the people of the world (primarily the wealthier people of the world) that is the underlying cause of the interconnected environmental crisis. All of us are equally responsible — individuals, businesses and governments — particularly those of us living in the developed nations, and that responsibility demands a change in lifestyle: living simpler lives, consuming less, in many cases, much less, and making decisions based on environmental considerations first.
If we embrace this sense of individual responsibility for the whole, recognising it to be not just true, but an opportunity to contribute in a positive manner, fully and deeply, then maybe, just maybe, the planet beautiful can be salvaged and with it social harmony and unity be realised.
Dissidentvoice.org, November 4. Graham Peebles is an independent writer and charity worker. He set up The Create Trust in 2005 and has run education projects in India, Sri Lanka, Palestine and Ethiopia.
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