Planet Before Profit: Let’s Not Sleep Walk Into Extinction

On our recent holiday to Canada, I was again reminded of the impact of climate change on our planet and what this may well mean for future generations.

What initially sparked my train of thought was a visit to the Athabasca glacier, part of the Colombian Icefield. Whilst people can pay to take trips out on the glacier, anyone can walk out to within a few hundred metres from the base of the glacier. Yet this is a walk, that in one sense, takes you back through time because interspersed along the route are markers indicating where the glacier previously ended at varies points over the last century.

On visiting the discovery centre, I had the opportunity to look at information showing how the glacier had receded and projections concerning how long it would be before this glacier entirely disappears. It is now believed that this will roughly be by the end of this century! It does not take a lot to imagine the impact on not just the local eco-system, but also all eco-systems and communities fed by the water from this icefield.

Let’s not sleep walk into extinction

At about the same time Greta Thunberg was making her “We will never forgive you!” speech to the United Nations. Indeed, we are now being told that 70% of climate change is as a result of human activity.

In Canada, I saw a number of presentations concerning climate change and its potential impact. Indeed, I felt encouraged by this forward thinking approach. However, I was also informed in one talk that 90% of the trees that are cut down are not used because they do not meet the required standards to be used as timber. On the one hand there are a lot of trees in Canada, and yet I recalled just how many trees I had seen at various times that had obviously been cut down and just left.

For me, this is an example that goes right to the heart of the challenge humanity now faces. It could be argued that the predominant system and ideology is that of capitalist consumerism. This approach has been driven out United States and the major powers in Europe since the industrial revolution.

For those less fortunate in the West, they are encouraged, through advertising, the media and political ideology to improve themselves in order that they can access the benefits of this system.

For the more advantaged in countries that operate under different organising systems, such as communism, they generally aspire to the perceived benefits of this consumerist system.

In the west we have huge multinational organisations that are geared towards both promoting and meeting this drive towards consumption, whilst not fully accounting the costs in terms of eco-systems and the planet.

They can spend vast amounts of money to lobby governments and influence their policies.

On the other side of the coin, we as individuals in the West have become used to consuming.

We find it difficult to consider giving up what we have: hot water from our taps, freely available electricity, centrally heated homes, the choice of foods and products in our supermarkets, refrigerators and freezers to keep our food, driving to wherever we want to go, holidays to other parts of the world, smartphones, home computers and the internet.

These things have come to form part of the fabric of our lives. It therefore appears that this ideology may well speak to something quite fundamental in human beings.

An option here would be to look at how we might change our cultural ideology away from this consumerist mind-set. However, when we look at history, there will always be those scrabbling for the top positions in any society, and the advantages these positions hold. So, no system will be perfect.

Yet change is needed! Perhaps what is needed is a shift in our current ideology, which is more of an evolution rather than a revolution. That we move into an ideology of “Ethical” Capitalism.

In this ideological system, some shared values would need to be agreed and upheld. Organisations and governments would need to be held to account. Financial and political gain would need to be framed within the context of how it supports our planet, rather than at the expense of our planet.

Governments would need to have an increased role here, promoting this ethical approach, holding businesses to account in meaningful ways when they fail in achieving this.

I personally think “Extinction Rebellion” is well named. It may be that you feel supportive of what they are seeking to achieve, or it maybe you are so wrapped up in your life and its immediate demands that you see them as a personal inconvenience.

However, when I think about this and the efforts of Greta Thunberg, I wonder if they are like the child who is trying to wake the parent to let them know the house is on fire, only to be sleepily told to leave them alone and go back to bed. In the meantime the house is still burning, flooding, being blown away!

Let’s not sleep walk into extinction!

Mark Head

(written in 2019 in the pre-coronavirus era)

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