Groundviews

THE THREAT TO LIFE

Image via 350 dot org

It is very gratifying to see Pope Francis declare in his encyclical that, in terms of the Earth,  “We have grown up thinking that we were her owners and dominators, authorized to loot her” he states that “The violence that exists in the human heart, wounded by sin, is also manifest in the symptoms of illness that we see in the Earth, the water, the air and in living things.” The problem is “aggravated,” the Pope said, “by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels.” The Pope’s criticism of the “myth of progress” reflects the statement by Ananda Coomaraswamy , lamenting on the ideas of ‘progress’ by the Ceylonese of his time,  “we who call art significant, not knowing of what , are also proud to progress we know not wither”. They both question the current model of ’development’ and call for responsible action.

One supposes that such clear, concerned thinking in the defense of humanity will fly in the face of the ‘consumption is development’ philosophies created to ensure the sustainability of those non-human robots, the corporations and banks. As  the musician Neil Young  notes, “ These corporations were originally created to serve us, but if we don’t appropriately prioritize, they will destroy us. Corporations don’t have children. They don’t have feelings or soul. They don’t depend on uncontaminated water, clean air or healthy food to survive. They are beholden to one thing: the bottom line”.

The attack on the person who affects that bottom line  will be fierce, it will be an extraordinary person who can withstand these pressures. But a Pope who cares for all humanity and extends this care to all living things, is an extraordinary person indeed.  His call demands attention.  To help make the sense of urgency in his message a bit clearer. I append an article  originally published in 1986, very relevant for now.

THE THREAT TO LIFE

From whatever perspective we choose this fact is clear ‘there is a threat to life as we know it”, and this threat is being constantly amplified by the actions of man. The actions of modern technological man have helped bring this threat very close to becoming real for us on this planet Earth.

In a fundamental sense, life can exist only in low entropy “islands” within the isothermal energy system that is the universe. Here, information that allows for more detailed descriptions of greater complexity, can be conserved. All being organized and sustained by the differential flows of energy possible in such “islands”.

One such organizing principle has been termed “life” and the expression of this principle in our physical/chemical milieu studied as biology. The first beginnings of life on this planet, as well as its subsequent evolution has been well documented by the fossil record: and biological evolution has been demonstrated to involve a hierarchical ascendancy to more and more complex forms of living beings. We humans, being one expression of life at a time when it has been achieved the greatest diversity in its expression on Earth.

If the historical record demonstrates that the manifestation of life on this planet shows a tendency towards greater complexity, any reduction of the conditions or options allowing evolution along this path will stifle the expression of the organizing principle (life) on it. Observation confirms the fact that the actions of man have contributed to such a reduction of options. In the course of history, the forests of the Mediterranean or the floodplains of China provide some examples of this reduction. However all these reductions pale into insignificance by the action of modern man.

Today we rapidly remove the conditions necessary for the continued existence of genetic, ecological and cultural information, as these are seen to be unimportant to the society of modern man. These losses have now reached critical proportions, the actions leading to such losses being vindicated by the human value system called “Consumerist Growth”. This value system claiming representation of the will of humanity.  Using a theory called “Consumerism sovereignty” where  “whatever contributes to the satisfaction of the individual is decreed good and whatever detracts from the individual satisfaction is decreed bad”; the salesmen of the world set about the activity of creating desire. So that, more and more resources were required to satisfy the individual preference, The individual preference being constantly redefined by the pecuniary actions of these same salesmen. The product of these actions has been to place an ever-increasing demand on all resources, be it renewable or non-renewable. As the values and ideals of the “Consumerist, growth oriented society extend to include more and more of humanity, there is a proportionate reduction in the ability of life to express itself on this planet.

The diversity of species or ecosystems, the function of the great chemical cycles such as Oxygen, Carbon Dioxide, Nitrogen, etc. The value of public goods such as clean air and water, are but some units that we can measure this threat to life by. But until the paralytic grip that the present economists and salesman have on the decision-making politicians and administrators are weakened, there exists a little hope for planning a sane, sustainable future for living beings on this planet.

The “Consumerist, growth oriented society” is in a fundamental sense, an antithesis to life. Its promotion and sale to the world as “development” and “progress” can only be seen as an irresponsible action by power brokers that view the development of a currency system to be of greater validity than the conservation of the living systems.

In the worlds of the American cartoon character Pogo Possum “We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us”. But the problem lies in belling the cat. Self criticism is hard enough for an individual, for an entire discipline and it’s associated professions it will require a sense of responsibility of gargantuan proportions.

Today in Sri Lanka, we are looking for a new and sustainable direction to base our development efforts on. Now that the world has begun demonstrating a new direction, the divestment of all interests in Coal by the Norway Fund or the recognition of the inability of fossil fuels to contribute to development by the G7 countries, suggest future scenarios. We should be cautious in proceeding with planning made without consideration of these realities. We should look towards a national sustainable development plan that considers the history of our current situation while planning for short, medium and long-term goals to frame our progress. We should do way with the ‘model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels’ that we are so addicted to at the present.