Crossroads -- Choosing our Way
To an extent the environmental crisis has been inevitable. As soon as we combined the energy of fire with the power of technology we embarked upon a fateful course. But we embarked upon it with the best of intentions. We were applying our unique creativity to the task of improving the quality of our lives. We were seeking a longer, healthier life, in more comfortable conditions. And there can be no blame for that.
It is only now as we realize the many ways in which our best intentions have backfired that we need to correct our behavior. It is now that we have the opportunity to respond to the crisis we have inadvertently created. Yet the will to respond seems curiously lacking. Instead we rush headlong towards catastrophe.
The closing pages of Émile Zolas novel, The Beast in Man, come to mind. A train full of soldiers on the way to war is rushing downhill, while the driver and fireman are having a fight. The fireman insists on stoking the engine, and the driver is trying to stop him. As they tussle, one grabs the other by the throat and together they tumble off the engine -- leaving the train-load of drinking and singing soldiers hurtling through the night, totally unaware of what has happened. And there the book ends!
We seem to be in a rather similar situation. We are hurtling at an ever-accelerating pace towards disaster, and with no one in the driving seat. The one significant difference is that we are not unaware of the dangers ahead. It is as if the conductor has come back down the train announcing that we are out of control, and we still sit playing cards. We hear the bad news, but for one reason or another -- perhaps because we are too numbed by the news, feel so powerless, or are too concerned with our selves -- we continue as if it will all turn out fine. Most of us appear more concerned with defending ourselves against our fellow passengers. Or with making sure we win our game.
The Will to Change?
We do not lack the science and technology to tackle most of the problems facing us. In almost every area we know what needs to be done to restore the environment and keep it in a healthy state; and where we do not yet have the necessary means, we know how to set about developing them.
Nor are we short of the money needed to mend the world. The WorldWatch Institute in Washington DC. has estimated that the total cost of a six-year program to protect the soil, reforest the land, reduce population growth, retire the debts of the developing countries, raise energy efficiency, and develop renewable sources of energy would amount to around $750,000 million. A lot, yes; but no more than the world currently spends on arms in just one year! All that we lack is the will.
Are we prepared to reconsider our priorities?
Can we stop destroying the rainforests, now, before it is too late? And who is responsible? Is it the timber-hungry industries, or the hamburger-manufacturers who encourage farmers to cut down the forest and use it as pasture for a few years? The governments that allow this to happen? The banks that demand an interest on their loan? Or all of us who in one way or another support the present system?
Can we stop pouring carbon dioxide into the skies; or do we love our energy-hungry lifestyle too much? Can we significantly reduce our use of fossil fuels; or are we too attached to our current technologies and to the comforts they bring?
Can we stop acid rain? Or is the momentum of industrialization too great?
Will we stop destroying the ozone layer? Or will a total ban on the offending chemicals prove too impractical, or come too late?
What will it take for us to change the way we farm the land, to put as much in as we take out? Do the short-term economic and practical considerations of such change make it near impossible?
What of the other half of humanity who have not yet enjoyed the benefits of development. Can we expect them not to want to join the party -- especially when at last it seems within their reach?
Given such a litany of problems, and the difficulties we face in resolving them, one could be forgiven for thinking that the only thing our ever-accelerating development is taking us towards is unparalleled disaster. Certainly grave dangers lie ahead. But there is also light at the end of the tunnel. And it is towards that light we are ultimately headed.
To find that light we must look beyond the many crises now facing us and investigate their underlying cause. Which brings us to the essential question behind all these questions. Why does humanity continue to behave in ways that are clearly not in its best interest? Is there something wrong with us?
Date created: 3-Oct-03