Friday, October 03, 2014

Monbiot - the Suicidal Madness of Mankind's War on the Living World

Guardian  enviro-scribe George Monbiot responds to the report that Earth has suffered the loss of fully half of its wild life over the past forty years by asking why man is at war with the living world.

If the news that in the past 40 years the world has lost over 50% of its vertebrate wildlife (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish) fails to tell us that there is something wrong with the way we live, it’s hard to imagine what could. Who believes that a social and economic system which has this effect is a healthy one? Who, contemplating this loss, could call it progress?

...There seems to be some kink in the human brain that prevents us from stopping, that drives us to carry on taking and competing and destroying, even when there is no need to do so.

...Many people blame this process on human population growth, and there’s no doubt that it has been a factor. But two other trends have developed even faster and further. The first is the rise in consumption; the second is amplification by technology. Every year, new pesticides, fishing technologies, mining methods, techniques for processing trees are developed. We are waging an increasingly asymmetric war against the living world.

...But why are we at war? In the rich nations, which commission much of this destruction through imports, most of our consumption has nothing to do with meeting human needs.

This is what hits me harder than anything: the disproportion between what we lose and what we gain. Economic growth in a country whose primary and secondary needs have already been met means developing ever more useless stuff to meet ever fainter desires.

...In a society bombarded by advertising and driven by the growth imperative, pleasure is reduced to hedonism and hedonism is reduced to consumption. We use consumption as a cure for boredom, to fill the void that an affectless, grasping, atomised culture creates, to brighten the grey world we have created.

We care ever less for the possessions we buy, and dispose of them ever more quickly. Yet the extraction of the raw materials required to produce them, the pollution commissioned in their manufacturing, the infrastructure and noise and burning of fuel needed to transport them are trashing a natural world infinitely more fascinating and intricate than the stuff we produce. The loss of wildlife is a loss of wonder and enchantment, of the magic with which the living world infects our lives.

...A system that makes us less happy, less secure, that narrows and impoverishes our lives, is presented as the only possible answer to our problems. There is no alternative – we must keep marching over the cliff. Anyone who challenges it is either ignored or excoriated.
And the beneficiaries? Well they are also the biggest consumers, using their spectacular wealth to exert impacts thousands of times greater than most people achieve. Much of the natural world is destroyed so that the very rich can fit their yachts with mahogany, eat bluefin tuna sushi, scatter ground rhino horn over their food, land their private jets on airfields carved from rare grasslands, burn in one day as much fossil fuel as the average global citizen uses in a year.
Thus the Great Global Polishing proceeds, wearing down the knap of the Earth, rubbing out all that is distinctive and peculiar, in human culture as well as nature, reducing us to replaceable automata within a homogenous global workforce, inexorably transforming the riches of the natural world into a featureless monoculture.

Is this not the point at which we shout stop? At which we use the extraordinary learning and expertise we have developed to change the way we organise ourselves, to contest and reverse the trends that have governed our relationship with the living planet for the past 2m years, and that are now destroying its remaining features at astonishing speed?

Is this not the point at which we challenge the inevitability of endless growth on a finite planet? If not now, when?

Monbiot and others, including this writer, see the world and our global civilization as caught in the death grip of neoliberalism.  A good while ago as I was wrestling with the intractable nature of climate change it came to me that the problem itself and our inability to confront it effectively arose out of the dysfunctional manner in which we had become organized - socially, economically, and politically - through the cumulative impacts of 18th century economics, 19th century industrialism and 20th century geo-politics. 

All of these institutions worked reasonably well, for us at least, up to the point where the global population topped four billion - about forty years ago - just when we began shedding what is now half of all wild life on the planet.  We've been, as Monbiot puts it, waging war on the living world ever since then as we cling to institutions that have steadily lost their utility.

Now we have Naomi Klein adding her voice in "This Changes Everything," in which she calls for the end of free market capitalism not as something ideologically desirable but as a step fundamental to the survival of our civilization. 


Lorne said...

Your post put me in mind of the recent scenes showing huge lemming-like lineups for the new IPhones, Mound. Ironic, isn't it, that while we seem to disassociate ourselves from the animal kingdom, we show repeatedly that we have much it common with it?

The Mound of Sound said...

I think if we can cause change this cataclysmic in such a brief interval, Lorne, what must lie in store for us in just another decade or two?

We're not only consuming the resources essential to sustaining all life on Earth at 1.5 times the environment's replenishment rate but our consumption leaves nothing for everything else.

We have a very poor grasp of the critical importance of biodiversity to our own survival.

I've watched closely to see what reaction this report would garner in the halls of power. Nothing, nothing at all. At this point, Lorne, we're all Easter Islanders.