This one might get a little depressing for some so if you have a tendency in that direction you might want to stop now. To make a long story short, this post is about living through cognitive dissonance, through avoiding reality in order to get through each day, and, in general, the illusion of doing good in this world.
First, a disclaimer. I enjoy life. Despite what follows, I happily get out of bed to meet the day, I find joy in many people and things around me, I often feel quite fulfilled and yet..
This is the issue. If you read the news and pay attention, if you look at the academic studies, you realize that the world is in bad shape in more than a few ways. The oceans are deserts compared to what they were a century ago. Thousands of acres of tropical forest are being cleared to meet the shortfall in cooking oil. The rising middle classes of once poor nations are now adding to the weight of the world not to mention the ever increasing load of the increasing demands of the developed world.
Ever day we hear about ecological crises and new worries about diminishing stores and yet our economies which appear to be entirely divorced from reality do not reflect the news. What are we to think when we see tuna or bananas on sale right after hearing they are in jeopardy? I always thought that the cost of goods was supposed to be based on their rarity and the costs in getting them to me. I know that seafood is rare, that the infrastructure to get it to me is expensive, and yet the cost keeps going down. And this is true of almost everything.
Not only that but the world continues to look beautiful. Even on its deathbed, and it almost certainly is, this world is awe inspiring. I see beauty in the sky, in the small animals that somehow live in my neighborhood (squirrels, hares, magpies), and the piles of snow on the branches of the firs. When I travel, I can barely comprehend the riches that cover this world.
I guess the world never really dies. Even if most species die, if global warming is rampant, if the oceans are completely barren and there are no birds in the sky any longer, this world will still be, and it will still be remarkable.
But I believe a verdant and fecund world is a better kind, and even if they look similar, its the one that seems best. And the issue is that my very existence threatens it.
I don’t believe that humans are unique despoilers by nature. We just have those unfortunately large brains that give us the means to do what any species would in our place. Consume all you can.
Its the nature of life. Consume, revel in nature, and create some more consumers. We are just incredibly efficient.
So this is the conundrum. How does one live knowing that one is bad for the planet. Because no matter how green you are, you consume more than you create or recycle. Logically the only really green action is to cease to exist and not to procreate.
I have a daughter. I eat things that once were living. I own a car and a house and sometimes travel by airplane, all of which diminish this planet. I have a job, and like almost every job, that too uses more resources than if I didn’t. I consume.
I can say my consumption levels are low in comparison to the general population but in terms of the planet, its really splitting hairs.
So how can I live? One of the great conundrums is that every advance in health, that is everything that improves the health to humans, will damage the planet more. One has to choose. So, though it it entirely illogical, I will support improved health to humans, even though every year added to someone’s life means that some other kind of life is removed from our common planet. I will work hard to protect my daughter and her potential offspring, who will consume more, I will continue to enjoy life and that very enjoyment cannot be disentangled from consumption.
I do not argue in favour of suicide or of inaction. I do not walk about with my head hung in shame. But I find it necessary to be mindful of the costs of existence, and to confront one’s nature. The same large brains that give us the lever to tip over this planet is the same large brain that gives us the guilt to accompany the action. Of our many imperfections in our relations with the world and each other, this is the greatest but we are what we are. We are eating the world; at least we can be thankful.