I watched the climate change episode of the new Cosmos series with Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and was surprised that he named “greed” as the main reason for the problems we are facing.
That may be a small part of it. But it’s not the main part, and it’s also not a helpful orientation if we want a change. We have tried shaming and blaming, and it doesn’t work very well.
To me, it’s mainly structural. And it’s also about identity.
We have an economical system that’s not aligned with ecological realities. It’s created as if there is unlimited natural resources, and unlimited capacity to absorb waste and toxins. And the same goes for how we have organized ourselves in terms of transportation, energy, waste, politics, education, and more. None of these systems have been designed with ecological realities in mind.
And there is a good reason why: they didn’t need to. When they were designed, or when they evolved into what we have today, ecological concerns were peripheral at best. Other concerns were far more salient and important. Ecology wasn’t important, since we didn’t have the technology to wreak the kind of havoc we can today, and we also didn’t have the numbers to make it add up the way it does today. Our current systems were designed in a very different situation than we have today, and they are outdated, and have been for a while now.
These systems were designed, unintentionally, so that what’s easy and attractive to do – for individuals, corporations, and societies – often happens to be what’s destructive for the living systems we are part of, and depend on for our well beings and lives. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s how it is right now. More and more people are waking up to this.
And we cannot fix it by patching here and there. We need to redesign these systems at a very basic level. We need to redesign them so that what’s easy and attractive to do, is what’s most supportive – or even restorative – for the Earth’s living systems, for ourselves and our families, for the global society, for non-human species, and for future generations.
We know quite a few solutions. One is to tax what we don’t want, and subsidize what we want more of. Another is to set product prices so they reflect an approximation of the real ecological, health, and human costs of the product.
This is also about identity.
If we see ourselves as an integral part of the Earth’s living systems, we are more likely to be concerned with this and support the solutions.
And if we are faced with (a) reasons to support these changes that fit into our existing values and identity, and (b) solutions that do the same, we are also much more likely to see this as important, and actively support it – through voting and how we live our lives.