“There are limits. We may be able to ride the current wave of extinction, but we do know we can’t ride it all the way down. Taken as a whole, natural systems are the basis of life on earth, as easy as that my be to forget in times when meat comes from the grocery store and water from the turn of a tap. Grasslands still feed our livestock, and forests still store and filter our water. Even wild foods remain critically important to modern life: the oceans provide us with about 90 million tonnes of fish each year, feeding billions of people every day. The community of living things, from microbes to megafauna, is endlessly producing oxygen, generating topsoil, stripping our chemical pollutants from the water, slowing erosion, controlling pests, moderating the climate. Economists try to place a value on these ‘ecosystems services,’ but the numbers — one pioneering estimate was $35 trillion — are too large to be more than abstractions, and too small to express the reality that we are nowhere close to being able to replace a living world with human technology. Nature is priceless. As the environmental historian Donald Worster says, “We have not learned how to live on a planet that is dead.”
I have just finished reading The Once and Future World by J.B. MacKinnon (from which the above section is taken) this week and found it very interesting. It is hard to imagine what our landscapes may have looked like when there were more “wild”. Each generation is born with its own benchmark of normal and of “wild”. We live with this collective amnesia that leaves us blissfully ignorant. Regardless of what an ideal relationship between humans and every other living thing on this planet may look like, the truth of the above passage is blunt. We can never live on a planet that is dead.
Also this past week, I saw this quote:
“Canada, the most affluent of countries, operates on a depletion economy which leaves destruction in its wake. Your people are driven by a terrible sense of deficiency. When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.”
Comments by Alanis Obomsawin in the 1972 book titled “Who is the Chairman of This Meeting?” (source: https://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/10/20/last-tree-cut/ accessed 2018-11-12)
I remember how incensed I was in my first year environmental economics class when I heard that an oil spill increases a country’s GDP. GDP (gross domestic product) is what politicians use to track how economically prosperous a country is. Governments worldwide want higher and higher GDPs because it reflects a more prosperous country. The resources required to clean up a major oil spill increases a country’s GDP. This is so sad. It is so disheartening. It’s like having a household that shows a higher annual spending for a particular year… One can look at that and say, “Hey, they’re doing better!” but a deeper look may reveal that there was a devastating fire without proper insurance and so personal savings had to be withdrawn for rebuilding.
The bottom line is that the environment has never played a big enough role in our economic system. Economics (and I’m no expert) is mathematical. It works when we can attribute a finite number to something. An equation doesn’t work if you insert a photo of old-growth forest as a variable… it requires a number. This is impossible. The two things just DO NOT BELONG together.
If you are like me, and feel deeply that we CANNOT live on a dead planet and that money, technology, progress for progress’ sake etc. are not the best places to be investing our energies, then you also must feel small like I do sometimes. I know sometimes I feel like someone being forced to move one grain of rice at a time from one pile to another when everyone else seems to be adding grains of rice to my starting pile by the cup-full! People are busy with their lives, trying to attain happiness, trying to achieve goals. Many of us are happy to be ruled by “structural changes”. In other words. we are waiting for the rules of the game to change, forcing us to change our own lives. Government terms are too short for politicians seeking re-election to make large, meaningful environmental changes (and succeeding governments can just change back again anyway), and the people leading the world in economical / business areas are driven by profit. If you are waiting for someone to change the rules so you are forced to be more “green”, you will be waiting a long time for meaningful change (a change that would, for all intents and purposes, be “too late”).
But, it is certainly not time to despair! As I often say, it is far harder to change someone else’s mind than to change your own behaviours. Structural change does not limit individual actions. And, the hope would be that individual actions could temper the playing field for structural changes. In other words, don’t look at that big pile of rice you have to move grain by grain. Just focus on each grain as you’re moving it. 🙂 The best antidote against despair is action!
My own recent little changes include :
- Buying from the Bulk Barn using their “bring your own container” option. Also, checking with customer service at Bulk Barn to make sure I am indeed buying bulk (and not just scooping Cheerios that have been poured out of non-bulk boxes!)
- Walking 20 minutes farther to get fresh fish so I can bring my own container (instead of buying Styrofoam close by). Only eating fish every once in a while as a change from our mostly plant-based diet.
- Switching to milk in glass bottles (and drinking less milk because organic and glass bottles = higher price).
- Quitting coffee and tea cold-turkey. Little if any nutritional value and definitely NOT local.
We keep looking for little things to change as a family. We are focusing on our own little grains of rice. Do not make changes simply because others are making them. Look first at your own life and make the changes that are right for you. Inspiration can be found from outside sources but your own changes need to make sense for you. There is not place for judgement (self-judgement or judgement of others). Set your intention and make meaningful actions.
The important part is to know that we are not alone. You are not alone.
He goes on to encourage us all to read this article from The Guardian by Rebecca Solnit –> Don’t despair: the climate fight is only over if you think it is
What will be the next little grain of rice you move over? 🙂