My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.
You may want to comfort yourself by thinking I am exaggerating. But, before you dismiss me, please read this essay. Think about the ideas and then decide for yourself.
I used to believe that consumerism – the contemporary manifestation of human civilization – might yet morph into something that was not doomed. That once we saw and understood what we were doing to ourselves and to the world that we would change our beliefs and so change our behaviours.
However, despite all the efforts of individuals to be “environmentally responsible” and all the advertising about being “green”, all living systems on the planet (on which we depend) are continuing to decline – rain forests, fish stocks, coral reefs, wetlands, crop lands etc. etc. Can you think of any environment that is thriving – apart from garbage dumps?
The oceans once thrived with marine life – now all the stocks of fish we eat today are expected to be gone by 2040. “Thrive” – it’s not a word we think of today with regard to life on Earth is it?
All of us know this, despite the best efforts of deny-ers and the multi-million dollars campaigns of corporations (and their captive think tanks) to convince us that the truth is otherwise. The current public relations efforts to cast doubt over climate change, for example, is much like the smokescreen the tobacco corporations created to confuse people about the facts about smoking when their own research proved its harm.
All of us are aware of the great harm human beings are doing to this amazing planet, yet we are powerless to stop ourselves. Like zombies, we are caught in a group-think which allows little common sense and which denies the importance of emotional intelligence and spiritual awareness.
We know (before we then deny it) that something is deeply wrong when rain forest is turned into barren land, to be sprayed with chemicals to grow soya beans to feed pigs for people (in Europe) who already eat too much.
We know killing all the herring and capelin and other fish before they spawn and give life to new generations is madness and that it can only lead to the destruction of the fisheries.
We sense the intelligence of whales and dolphins.
We sense that eating fruits and vegetables sprayed with poisons is crazy.
Do you notice how much stronger “to know” is than “to sense” “Knowing” is a rational, intellectual activity – we have no equally strong words to mean “knowing through our senses”. See? I can hardly explain what I mean. Opponents of oil sands development, vivisection, whale slaughter etc. are always accused by corporate spin doctors of being emotional and not being rational. As if the rational mind is always “rational”.
We live inside a bubble of “rational awareness”, a group-think that continues to deny the cumulative effects on the Earth of economic human growth, human population growth and resource depletion. We are indeed powerless to alter our choices (action not words!) and we watch the continuing degradation of living systems on this planet like people who are stoned.
Instead of frightening human beings – Homo sapiens, aka “wise man” – the “environmental crisis” has become a cliché, a minor god to which we genuflect and can then safely ignore. So corporations labels products “green” when they have the same ingredients as before. People buy energy efficient light bulbs but live in houses with more rooms and more lights.
After the economic collapse of 2008 (itself a result of this group-think and the denial of common sense) almost everyone yearns for the return of our great god. That god, of course, is Economic Growth. How else are we to pay our debts and lift “millions out of poverty”?
The fact is, during the first decade of this century, the richest 1% of Americans have captured 58% of the growth in income, for example. To put it simplistically, more than half all the activities trashing the planet have been in order to provide even more to those human beings who already have many orders of magnitude more than enough.
What’s rational about that if, as we claim, our aim is to create conditions for everyone on the planet to have decent living conditions?
It’s remarkable, isn’t it, how extraordinarily religious and superstitious modern people are, given the disdain with which so many traditional belief systems are treated? Like all the others, the god we worship cannot be seen, touched or even divined – yet we still bow down and do whatever its high priests tell us to do.
Yet if our god of endless economic growth brings ever increasing happiness (which is claimed to justify the growth) why are people in the West not four times happier than their grandparents? We are not; so why do we go on worshipping this false god?
I recognize that, under our current “debt as money” system, our civilization will collapse if it does not continue to grow. (Almost all money is someone’s debt that must be repaid with interest.) But all this only demonstrates the urgent need for reform and change.