I’m obsessed with history and archaeology. For me, there’s a fascinating mystique that surrounds the exploration of advanced ancient cultures from the early Egyptians and Sumerians to the later New World Mayas and Incas. One thing they all had in common was a deep respect for the natural world that sustained them.
Try to imagine the innate knowledge ancient humans once possessed; the kind of skills and oneness with nature that was required for groups to navigate their way from one continent to another during the last Ice Age. These early explorers depended more on their knowledge of and continuity with nature than on the primitive technologies that were available at that time. Where is such intuition today?
The only navigating skills many modern humans seem to have is the ability to use GPS to find the nearest Walmart or shopping mall. Our dependence on science and technology has not only separated us from the rhythms of the natural world, it has been responsible for the loss of our primal connections to nature itself.
Our modern world
Ahhh, modernity! We’ve created quite a life for ourselves, haven’t we? Many of us share the blessings of seemingly unlimited possibilities due to advancements in communications, mobility and purchasing power. We rush from one scenario to another with barely a thought about the effects our actions are having on the world at large.
Whether its vast swathes of tropical rain forest being cleared for palm oil plantations (to satisfy Western tastes in food and beauty products) or the environmental degradation being wrought in order to manufacture all the disposable conveniences we take for granted, the results are the same: our collective lifestyle choices are having a dramatic negative impact on our planet.
Simply put, modern humans have become arrogant, especially when it comes to living in harmony with nature. We expect something (or someone) else to save us from our wasteful ways because we don’t want to change our daily habits. Trust me, I get it. I fight the same daily battles with my own expectations and desires.
We smugly say to ourselves that technology has always come to our aid in the past when we were standing on the edge of a precipice? When we needed vaccines to halt the spread of killer diseases, voilá!, science provided them.
When populations expanded more quickly than farmers’ ability to produce enough food, scientists developed new methods of agriculture which allowed higher crop yields from the same piece of land. Think of the Green Revolution of the 1960s which produced a spate of new chemical fertilizers that increased crop yields that in turn helped feed burgeoning populations, especially in countries such as India.
However, depending solely on science and technology to save us from ourselves isn’t necessarily the panacea we might envision.
Unfortunately, decades after the Green Revolution began, many of the areas that benefited most from those scientific advancements now suffer from a lack of water due to overuse of irrigation and the poisoning of wells by a variety of those once miraculous chemicals. Sometimes science and technology solve one problem while creating another.
“Everything in excess is opposed to nature.” Hippocrates
Business as usual
Perhaps it’s all simply a plot cooked up by governments and mega corporations to keep their revenues flowing. The culture we exemplify encourages our short-sighted, wasteful behavior which in turn gives the corporations a mandate to invent new products and services that simply place a bandage over the problems we’ve created.
Just as the pharmaceutical companies know there’s a lot more money to be made by producing medications to treat disease symptoms than finding cures, our wasteful habits are encouraging the new remedies continually coming down the pipeline. Whether deliberate or not, it’s a continuous cycle few at the top of the food chain want to see change.
It’s sad that modernization has turned us into such short-sighted creatures. In our daily rush to complete our list of tasks, we’ve lost sight of the bigger picture. If we continue along the same fossil fuel burning–cut down the rain forests–consume everything in sight trajectory, we will be responsible for the demise and ultimate extinction of our species.
Sure, you say, but that probably won’t happen in my lifetime, so why should I care? I work hard, so dammit, I’m going to enjoy the fruits of my labors–whatever money can buy, the sky’s the limit and all those famous refrains. Honestly, I believe in living in the moment too, but as a state of mind, not as a nose thumb to our planet.
In addition, we’ve burdened the Earth with too many other little consumption machines just like ourselves. Birth rates in many countries may be falling, but overall world-wide population is predicted to increase from the current 7.3 billion to 9.7 billion by 2050.
The bulk of the increase will take place in South Asia and Africa, regions already reeling from water and food supply shortages. Will it be possible for the billions now living much more frugal lives to be able to reach the same levels of prosperity we in the West enjoy? And if not, how can we in good conscience tell them they aren’t allowed to adopt the same lifestyles, no matter how hard they’ve worked?
We need to admit to them (and to ourselves) that such wasteful lifestyles aren’t sustainable and thus not the way forward if we want future generations to flourish.
We must bring about positive change
We need to change our short-sighted desire for instant gratification and wake up to the fact that long-range planning would be far wiser. And yes, that means negotiating and working closely with other world governments. We can no longer afford to ignore the fact that all our fates are crossed, not only economically, but physically as well. What happens in one world capital has major repercussions in many others as well.
I appreciate scientific endeavor and the benefits new discoveries and technologies provide for us, and I’m certainly not advocating a return to the Stone Age. However, I am promoting collective, positive change—the kind that can only come when we accept responsibility for our actions. [read more in my post Making a Commitment to Sustainability]
It no longer makes sense for us to drive individual cars and trucks anywhere and everywhere we choose, nor does it make sense to continue building grand air conditioned shopping malls and fancy hotels with lakes, dazzling fountains and golf courses in hot desert zones where it rarely rains.
Isn’t it time we seek to regain some of the ancient wisdom and respect for nature humans once possessed?
Think about it.