Is anyone out there concerned about the sustainability of the human race? Big question, let me give you some back-story. Let me tell you right up front though…this post is longer than normal, and it’s riddled with paranoia. There, you’ve been warned.
Yesterday I was reading “The Other Climate Crisis‘, a report by Ken Robinson at ChangeThis. It’s not a particularly long read, but it left a mark on me, and I wanted to talk about it.
Robinson discusses a lot of important issues. I don’t want to reiterate them in great detail here (I’d rather you go read it in full), but let’s touch on a few of them. First, he points out that Western medicine (and, really, the Western worldview, in general) tends to see the human body in a very linear and mechanistic way. This has it’s up side, but many costs as well. He asserts that like any living organism, the human body is an exquisitely complex system and the many internal processes affect and depend on one another in highly specialized ways.
The Western worldview, as he puts it, “is not based on seeing synergies and connections; it is based on making distinctions and seeing differences.” This way of thinking affects more than our individual bodies, of course. It affects us as a society, a people, a planet.
A couple hundred years ago, no big deal. But with the explosive growth of the global population (It took from the beginning of the world to 1750 to reach 1 billion people. In 1930 we reached 2 billion. 1970 saw 4 billion, and by 1999, there were 6 billion people on the planet…the human population doubled in 60 years) and, in particular, the growth of cities (most of which will be in developing countries with a standard of living far below what you and I enjoy), the earth is facing huge challenges in the coming years. And to deal with them, we have to move beyond this linear/mechanistic way of thinking.
Human bodies, communities and organizations are much more like organisms than they are mechanisms, and Robinson uses some agricultural metaphors to explain these relationships. He used what farmers call ‘Companion Planting’ to illustrate. “Plants with strong odors, such as certain flowers, will keep flying insects away so they won’t harm other (vegetable) plants in the garden. And if a plant attracts harmful bugs it will need help from a companion or a “good neighbor” plant to ward them off. If plants are in some way aware of and respond to each other’s presence, how much more true is this of fully conscious human systems?”
We need to cultivate better conditions for growth if we are to sustain the human condition. We need to understand how the many different parts - of ourselves, our communities, our organizations, our ecosystem - work together to flourish. Dealing with a symptom is insufficient, but understanding the cause (or, come to that, desiring to understand the cause) requires a fairly monumental shift in thinking.
The report ends with a quote from Jonas Salk (he of the Polio Vaccine):
“It’s interesting to reflect that if all the insects were to disappear from the Earth, within fifty years, all other forms of life would end. But if all human beings were to disappear from the Earth, within fifty years, all other forms of life would flourish.”
In other words, nature is naturally synergistic. Almost everything behaves in a very certain way that syncs with near perfection with the system of which it is a part. Remove one element, and the entire system is affected. Humans are the glaring exception to this rule. As Robinson puts it, we’ve become the problem.
All of which brings me back around to the question asked in the opening sentence. Is anyone out there concerned about the sustainability of the human race? This report, and others like it, make my answer to this question ‘Yes’.
I started How To Matter because I’m concerned. Primarily, about raising my boys to successfully navigate their way through life in a world with increasingly misaligned priorities. To equip them with the knowledge, the patience, the confidence and the compassion to know where they fit, and to help others find their places too.
But when I consider the implications of Robinson’s report, I worry. Not about whether I’ll succeed at the above. But about the world itself. It quite literally pains me to think about things like deforestation and mountaintop removal mining (and many many other things). The motivating factors behind such practices are shameful. Yet, to sustain our ‘way of life’, they’re necessary. That bothers me. I hate being a part of that problem, and that’s why our society’s incessant need for more stuff is such a visceral issue for me.
I know it’s not the greatest thing to think about, but solutions require thought. Effort. Am I wrong to be concerned? Are my fears irrational/unfounded? Or is there something to it? What are your thoughts? Thanks for listening.
Photo Credit: Laura Leavell