The basic premise I shall expound upon in this brief reflection paper is the notion that in order for human beings to live more sustainably with the environment they will have to ask all members of the five kingdoms of life, and the natural worlds provisions upon which they are reliant for their survival, what their interests are in the gross interplay of the dynamics of self-organizing organic systems.
To consider this idea immediately poses a problem for most modern civilized westernized cultures – which I shall refer to as occupiers; the situation is quite different for many indigenous cultures whose survival is intimately intertwined with the land they inhabit – thus, I shall refer to these people as inhabitants.
Since we can’t communicate directly to organisms other than humans in a language that is familiar to us we have decided to make decisions for them without asking them what they want. In the best case, we have decided to be the stewards of nature. In the worst case we have decided to consider other living organisms and the organic systems upon which they are reliant as resources for us.
This speciesist arrogance poses a severe problem for humans regarding their survival. Since the air we breath, the water we drink, the land on which we walk, and the atmosphere that protects us are all influenced by human activity and, for so long, humans have not considered the other than human living beings and the water, earth and sky’s needs for their health – if not happiness – humans are finding that the normal structure and function of the earth’s inhabitants and environment have been influence in a way that has not only harmed other organisms and the environment, humans themselves are suffering the consequences of their own actions. Perhaps the most noteworthy examples of the consequences of humans not paying attention to the environment is global climate change and the fifth mass extinction.
It makes sense, however, for an occupier to ask, “What should we do to find out what they want if they can’t represent themselves at a MSP party when we get together to determine how we shall exploit natural resources for benefit and profit?”
The answer to this questions is quite simple: ask them.
“How do we know what the answer to our questions are,” would be a next logical question?
As you might expect, the answer is quite simple: pay attention and listen.
So, for example, if you ask the diatoms in the oceans, which supply a majority of the atmospheric oxygen that people like humans need to survive, if they enjoy and appreciate the temperature changes and toxins we give them as a result of our activities if they are happy and healthy and then listen to the signs they are giving us we might quickly conclude that our actions, which will ultimately not benefit us, do not benefit them. If we ask the tens of thousands of species of amphibians who have gone extinct because of human behaviors which have caused changes in weather patterns and acidification of the rain and earths waterways what they want we shall see and hear no response. However, I speculate we can take their silence as a sign that they are dissatisfied with our selfish behavior. If we ask the river, who provides life for vast numbers of species in vast numbers of ecological niches, if the dam that was built by humans served the river well in providing for the welfare of the interconnected webs of lives, you might speculate that it’s diminished flow was simply a stream of tears from the sadness and humiliation it feels for not being able to provide for the lives of its inhabitants and for not being able to control its own destiny.
These words and thoughts should not be taken to imply that every species that becomes extinct and every diatom that dies is the result of human activity. Likewise, it is also clear that it is impossible to consult all beings of all species all of the time to determine if it is FOK to burn this tree for warmth or to kill this opossum for food. Similarly, there is no absolute proof that global climate change is the direct result of any and all human activities – as local, and even global, fluctuations are perhaps the result of other factors. There is no certainty in these areas. This, however, does not and should not warrant arrogance and ignorance of the lives of others and, of course, the organic systems upon which they rely for their survival.
It is, in my opinion, always better to error on the side of caution. Especially in cases where so much is at stake. If we consider the notion that ‘effectiveness is the measure of truth’ and we ask ourselves how it is that in the last 45 years approximately, since the publication of “Silent Spring”, so much environmental degradation has taken place and so many non-linear changes have taken place in the environment and compare that to, for example, some indigenous cultures of the North American continent who had lived for 12,000 years, sustainably, in their environment who did strange things like asking trees, snakes, spiders, lakes, rivers, streams, and even their dreams, what it is they wanted out of this shared existence – this co-existence – they might very well say something like this, “The same things you want: to be considered, to be cared for, to be loved, to control my own destiny, to provide for my basic needs, and to be happy – as a bare minimum.
The challenges for a culture of occupiers, who consider the earth’s inhabitants and systems as resources for exploitation, to transform their behavior to an inclusive disposition in a global multi-stakeholder process are significant but not, theoretically at least, impossible. In order for a change to take place such that there is a shift in the perceptions of humans to consider the welfare of other living beings and systems as being important to those living beings and systems (let alone important for the survival of human beings) there will have to be a change in the attitudes and behaviors of people and this can be achieved through education. This shift in attitudes and behaviors has certainly begun as it is obvious that there is great attention being paid to the earth’s inhabitants and organic systems by children, educators, scientists, politicians and even business persons for they/we all realize that everyone’s survival, ultimately, is at stake.
While the shifts in perceptions, knowledge, attitudes and behaviors is obvious, the question I have is is it still possible for this shift to be reinstated as a part of a culture of inhabitants in time for the general trends of species extinction, climate change, resource wars, and so on to be slowed down and/or reversed in their course. Clearly, an extinct species will not come back to inhabit the earth, but maybe the general trends of climate change can be affected by changes in human behavior. My knowledge and understanding as a scientist is that it is already too late for the general trajectory of environmental degradation to be changed. The human population is increasing. While first world nations are struggling to limit, not necessarily reduce, the greenhouse gas emissions they produce, the second and third world nations are struggling to exploit more resources and produce more waste.
There are many other impediments to this shift in attitudes and behaviors that prevent attention and energy from going to the dire environmental circumstances on earth that threaten human survival and, of course, the survival of all living beings and the organic systems upon which they rely. I argue that these impediments are largely based in issues of identity. For example, while people are busy with their gender identity, or their national identity, or their religious identity, or their personal identity as relates to things like styles of hair, clothes, shoes, nails, eyes, lips, money, etc, attention to the environment is reduced to a minimum or is simply not there at all.
Necessity is the mother of invention, it is said, and so, as it becomes more and more necessary for people to focus on survival, perhaps the attitudes and behaviors of humans will change such that they/we begin to take into account the needs, desires, wills and expectations of all of the stakeholders in this multi-stakeholder process of the large scale dynamic of life on earth (generally best referred to as either ‘survival’ or ‘reality’).