Climate, Environment, Economics and Human Well-Being

Posted by on February 14, 2014 in Featured, Thoughts | 2 comments



Recently I have written about the Australian government’s totalitarian approach to ruling this country, and how they are attempting to quash dissent by making the channels of information disappear. While this government’s aim is to make their movements as opaque as possible, I couldn’t imagine how what they are doing could be more transparent.  While pandering to the mass media, and particularly the Murdoch owned tabloid regime, they are also making allies with the richest and the most destructive forces within this great country, namely the mining giants like the Rinehart dynasty, and those of international coal interests. And while this is destructive to many internal workings of the country, where budget cuts to services like pensions, health, education and so on are making life more difficult for the people, the bigger picture, what this does to the planet, are often overlooked, simply because these larger issues are beyond our scope of view.

We see this trend showing up in many “first world” nations, and in my opinion, things couldn’t be more alarming than they are now. It seems that we have reached a decision, as made by those who stand to gain financially, that the world and its resources are becoming so scarce, and that the economies of the world are so important, that the race to find and consume the last remaining coal, gas, oil and mineral deposits has begun, and the planet will be the one who suffers for this.

Naively one could demand that all the scorched earth policies of conservative governments be halted, but it seems that the alternative, the “left wing” of politics are not much better, and those that are in charge have made these decisions about our world without consulting us, or the scientists, or the experts, and are running blindly forward with only their short term goals in mind.I have never felt so alarmed in my life about the future of this planet, and rightly so, because this trend stands to impact every single one of us negatively.

Take a step back and look at what the consumerist trend means.

This period on the earth is like no other in history. While the earth has seen higher levels of CO2 in its atmosphere millions of years ago, never has a single species been the cause of it. Or rather, I should say “the actions of a single species”, because our existence is not the problem, it’s how we have chosen to exist that creates the problem. The world’s dependence upon trade and economics is so ingrained in the way we conduct ourselves now that the long term consequences of the upward spiraling consumerism has been left by the wayside, and we see the problem of production versus conservation as a conundrum with no resolution. While we can’t halt in our efforts to keep an economy afloat, this doesn’t mean that conversely we should simply produce as much as possible, and the future be damned.

The production of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses is something we should be working to minimise, yet every kind of industry in this country is either dependent upon an electricity grid which produces CO2, actively creating CO2, or mining minerals which will be burnt, and therefore creating more CO2. Australia ranks as the highest producer per capita of CO2 in the world, which should be cause for alarm and action, and yet our leaders are doing everything they can to produce more, rather than the alternatives of sustainable energy and environmental preservation.

At what point, then, does this issue become one of human rights and well-being? In the short term, if you’ll believe the rhetoric of our politicians, the decision to increase our production of coal and minerals means a better standard of living for us all. However, most of the money made by this production goes straight into the pockets of the ones doing the mining and trading. So the economy is not about human rights or well-being at all, it’s about making the rich richer, and the rest of us be damned.

I have stated before that the protection of the world’s environment is an issue of humanistic importance, and should be top of mind when thinking about the rights of humanity as a whole, because as we destroy our environment we destroy the very thing that sustains us. However economies are at odds with this notion, and the very thing they depend upon is what causes the environmental degradation in the first place. Emerging and flourishing economies such as India and China are consuming ever increasing amounts of raw materials, and in turn burning more fossil fuels, yet we call that a success. As the air becomes unbreathable in Beijing and cities in India, their economies and production are increasing, further compounding the problem.

The looming threat of climate change should be enough to wake us up from our consumerist environmental slumber, yet with the pressures of the economy upon us, we as a species seem incapable of addressing it. As the globe warms, as the oceans acidify, as the weather patterns and the distribution of rain moves from the areas we populate to the ones we can’t, humans are being forced to move or die. Wars, famine, disease and general social unrest are the symptoms, and these will increase unless the world takes some kind of action to curb this trend. Anthropogenic climate change is real, and the rights and well-being of the earth’s populations depend upon the action of governments and business to change their ways in order that we don’t all suffer.

Sir David Attenborough, naturalist and documentary maker, has expressed concerns, not only about the way our economy has allowed us to populate the earth with such vigour, but that climate change and environmental degradation may prove to become the undoing of humanity on earth. In an interview with The Telegraph late last year he says:

“To start with, it is the individual’s great privilege to have children. And who am I to say that you shan’t have children? That’s one thing. Then the next thing is that there’s a religious one, in the sense that the Catholic Church doesn’t accept this. That you should control the population. So that’s another huge area of concerns. And the last sensitivity – and the most tricky of all – is the fact, when you talk about world population, the areas we’re talking about are Africa and Asia, you know. And to have a European telling Africans that they shan’t have children is not the way to go around things. We keep on talking about the problem without putting names on it in that sense. And getting it on the agenda of people.”

He concluded the interview by saying “And if we don’t do something, the natural world will do something. And you say that, but of course they’ve been doing it for a long time, the natural world.”

From a human rights perspective, the quality of life enjoyed in the world has increased, and access to health-care and other services are on the rise, but this can’t last forever, especially when the health and well-being of these people depend upon the very thing being destroyed to create this increase in life quality.

The root of the problem comes from an ideal of “human exceptionalism”. We have proven beyond doubt that we are different from all the other animals on earth because of our capacity to think and create from those thoughts. Human reasoning and ingenuity are key to this, and with these capacities we have created a wonderful world of innovation and progress. It is truly astounding how quickly we have moved forward as a world culture, yet for all of our creations, our legacy of destruction is becoming greater than the benefits. We create for ourselves, our species, our nations, our in-groups, and for the benefit of those few fortunate enough to be on the “top of the pile”, so to speak. This is nothing new, it’s basic human psychology.

While this is an overly simplistic overview of the way the world works, it stands as a testament to the flaws in world thinking, and is ingrained in human nature. Until we realise that we are just another animal on this planet, smart or not, and that we depend upon the planet for survival, this trend will continue until our own eventual destruction.

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  1. “end Human bankruptcy”an idea whose time has come.The Earth is being manipulated by its inhabitants playing gods.

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  2. I’m currently reading several books, among them Don Prothero’s ‘Reality Check’ and ‘Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors’ by Sagan and Druyan. Both books discuss the human problem, one from an analysis of science denial, the other from the origins of that problem going back to the origin of life, and how that’s affected our psychology as a species. What you’ve posted here fits into what I’ve read so far in both books. It underscores the dangers of dogmatic belief systems, especially of ideologies anywhere on the political landscape. Human exceptionalism, especially enshrined in politics and fed by a denial of facts, may well be the death of us all.

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