Last time, I suggested that human beings have almost always lived within a worldview in which everything is interconnected and where we knew we had responsibilities to act in certain ways to ensure nature’s generosity and abundance would continue. But suddenly in the past century we’ve become blind to those interconnections and therefore have lost our sense of responsibility – and now it’s putting our future at risk.
So how have we come to this state? I believe it has been the sudden confluence of a number of factors that have had the collective effect of shattering the world we perceive. The most obvious factor is population.
Human numbers have exploded in the past century, rising from a billion and a half people in 1900 to more than six billion by 2000. When populations grow so rapidly, it means the average age declines. Most people on Earth today were born after 1950. They have lived their entire lives in an absolutely unprecedented and totally unsustainable period of growth and change. But because that is all they’ve ever known, it seems the norm and must be maintained.
Likewise, most scientists who have ever lived are alive and practicing today. Scientists focus on a part of nature, separate that part, control everything impinging on it and measure everything within it, thereby acquiring insights into that part of nature. But in the process of focusing, we lose sight of the context – the rhythms, patterns and cycles – within which that fragment exists and functions. So we fragment the whole into isolated bits and pieces.
Ideas from science are applied as technology, which can be extremely powerful, but furthers the disconnect between us and our world and fosters the illusion that it is technology and not nature that provides us with what we need to survive. As an unexpected side-effect, rather than freeing us from work and responsibility to give more leisure, it has sped up time, allowing us to jam more and more things to do into a shorter period and rewarding us with a river of new toys and stuff, instead of free time to enjoy life.
In my experience in television, the rapid growth in available channels has resulted in shorter, more sensational reports that contain less and less information or context and more and more factoids or visual images. When a radio or TV announcer says, “And now for an in-depth report,” it may be two minutes long. So information, as typified by the news, is increasingly chopped into short soundbites that fail to include the context, history, or suggestions as to what can be done, thereby again shattering the world we are seeing.
The twentieth century also brought about a stunning shift in the way humans live. In 1900, most people lived in rural villages – we were an agrarian species. Only a hundred years later, most of us live in large cities as urbanites. This transformation has severed our connection with nature, leading us to assume that the “economy” is the source of everything, as if it exists independent of the world around us.
Urban children today don’t recognize that wieners and hamburgers are the muscles of an animal. They don’t know where water and electricity comes from or where the toilet flushes to or garbage ends up. Too often, urban children are warned not to touch something because “it might bite” or “it’s dirty” or simply “Yuk. That’s disgusting.” We teach our children to fear nature and fail to make connections with the natural world.
We in developed countries are lucky because most of us don’t have to worry about day-to-day survival. With 80 per cent of us in cities, our world is largely of concrete and steel, and all the amenities we could ever want are at our disposal 24 hours a day. The goods we need come in on trucks and our wastes go out on trucks or through pipes. We don’t have to think about these things.
Or do we? We are now paying the price for our disconnect from the natural world. Global warming, species extinction and a gradual erosion of our quality of life are all symptoms of the problem. But there is a way out. We can reinvent our future and choose a new path to sustainability.
Take the Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.