Message of Overconsumption
The magazine “New
Scientist” recently published a remarkable set of graphs that make
visual case for the overconsumptive predicament our civilization is in. They are reproduced below:
From the “New Scientist”
This collection of graphs, all showing
apparently exponential increases in
consumption – especially since 1950 – serves to remind us that human
the world has accelerated dramatically in a variety of wildly different
They also pose a series of unspoken questions:
For me, these burning questions have
lost a lot of their urgency over the last
year or so. I decided long ago that the correlation is real and is
by cause and effect linkages. I also decided that the overall trend is
irreversible, although changes are definitely possible within some
Still, the accumulating evidence of interlinked, accelerating problems in widely separated parts of the human experiment screams out for strong solutions. Why is it that with the exception of a few eccentric people and a few small fringe groups everyone is proposing solutions that are nothing more then variations on the theme of Business As Usual? There is scant evidence of solutions whose strength matches the scope and scale of the problems.
Why is this happening?
As social creatures, we are all acutely aware of the continuing breakdown of our social contracts. Communities are being reduced to soul-less husks with a Wal-Mart at their core. Extended families are now largely distant memories, and even the nuclear family is succumbing to the disruptive energies of the atom-smashing civilization we have created.
I see the breakdown of
small-scale social structures like
families and communities as being driven by the same general forces
breaking down the environment, the economy, and the human spirit. These
seem to work fractally, generating similar problems at all scales of
experience: from dying species to dying towns, from ruptured ocean
ruptured personal relationships.
Now, it may not seem as though strip mining and cruising for chicks could possibly have the same underlying driver. They operate at entirely different scales, by totally different rules in completely different areas of our culture and civilization, and operate. Why do I lump them together so casually?
I have come to believe that the story of separation we tell ourselves has a general pervasive influence on all our activities, whether the activities are directed at inanimate nature, other living species or other members of our own species. Here is how it works.
Because I have a neocortex I am self-aware. I can feel my sensations
experience my thoughts. However, I can feel only my own
I can experience only my own thoughts. Because of that, I am
"real" object in my universe, and therefore all other objects in the
universe are less real than I am. Because they are less real they have
value to me than "I" do.
We can learn to give others as much or even
more value than
ourselves. We can learn to see our welfare as inextricable from the
the natural world. We can even learn to see that we "contain" the
entire universe -- what the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh
However, these attitudes must be learned.
The fact that we
have this fundamental sense of objectification (which is really a
for solipsism) built into our nature courtesy of our brain structure
we are very susceptible to learning cultural stories that devalue "the
other" -- whether the other is human on not.
Where do we go from here?
I see one possible long-term resolution
path, even if my
belief about the root cause is true. It's a two pronged approach.
involves deep cuts to Business as Usual using the technological and
tools everyone is familiar with. Given the entrenched interests of our
Institutions this change alone is hard enough, as we have seen at
The second prong of this approach, the one
that I view as the
real game-changer, might be considered even less likely. It
involves a global, grass-roots transformation of consciousness
from an economic paradigm to an ecological one.
To make this shift we need to help people to
understand that without an
underlying ecology there is no
economy: that economics is a purely human
construct that depends on a functioning ecology for its existence,
is a fact of nature like gravity that functions on its own. When I talk about a transformation of
consciousness to the ecological, I really mean recognizing the primacy
ecology, and as a result understanding and accepting that our economies
are only branch
If you are so inclined, you can see this
spiritual terms, as a reclamation of the sacred through a recognition
of the ecological
interconnection of everything. If it
happens, it will be a metamorphosis in the truest sense of the word. Humanity will step from adolescence into
adulthood, as mature beings able to accept our role in the world,
damage we did while we were getting here, and look back with compassion
those unconscious dreamers whose sleepwalking caused so many
The only reason I give the possibility of
such a shift any
credence is that, as Paul Hawken has described in his book, "Blessed Unrest", it’s
already happening. And that is the
greatest reason for hope I can possibly imagine.
June 12, 2009
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