If we are to use what the Earth is able to provide in terms of resources, more efficiently. If we are to distribute these resources in a fairer way so that everyone has their fair share, without some having too much and others too little. If we are to reduce our consumption of these resources to levels that the Earth is able to sustain now and into the future. If we are to prevent waste generated by a throwaway mentality from choking us. If we are to slow population growth to numbers that will not tip us into an overpopulated abyss – then it is vitally important that certain fundamental shifts take place in our collective thinking. These five paradigms are some of the most erroneous of our time:
There’s always more where that came from – This paradigm takes the viewpoint that nature is infinite; that nature is there to serve us; that disposability and planned obsolescence equal profitably; that constant growth and demand are positive forces; and that environmentally damaging practices are justified in order to drive the world economy. On our people-abundant but resource-scarce planet this is patently no longer the case as there is simply no longer “more where that came from!”
I’m all right, Jack – This paradigm takes the emphasis from the good of the collective and replaces it with that of the individual, a perspective which has meant that greed, corruption and short-sighted self-interest have virtually guaranteed ecological and social bankruptcy in many parts of the globe. As we progress further into the 21st Century, with inequality and ecological bankruptcy as powerful destabilizing forces, it is glaringly obvious that unless we change this thinking, none of us will be all right Jack.
Might is Right – This paradigm maintains that power, affluence and position, once cast-iron protectors, provide entitlement for the powerful, wealthy and high-born or highly-positioned. But how will power buy clean air once the planet’s atmosphere has become too poisoned to breathe? How will wealth purchase water if all the rivers have run dry? How will position restore forests, wetlands and polar ice-sheets that have disappeared forever? How will status bring back species that have become extinct? How will might guarantee a safe future with a catastrophically changed global climate? We are part of a massively changing population on a massively changing planet, and might can never again be right.
Don’t worry we’re in control – This mindset maintains the illusion that we have control over our environment, when, in fact, planetary forces have control over us. Powerful magnetic storms that knock out global communication systems; earthquakes that crack open the Earth destroying roads, bridges and buildings; mudslides that slice off sides of mountains; avalanches that envelop everything in their downhill rush; tsunami waves that race along the surface of the ocean to crash onto the shore – these are dramatic reminders that we are but travelers in time and space, guests of the planet Earth and not its masters.
If it doesn’t work out we can always leave – This paradigm presupposes that there is somewhere else to go if things on the planet don’t work out. Well, until we have learnt how to inhabit other terrestrial bodies, the truth is that there is nowhere else to go. This is it. This is all we have for now. Earth is home. For good or bad we are all on this Earth together.
Our challenge this century will be to replace these erroneous paradigms with thinking that is appropriate to our current circumstances and burgeoning numbers on an increasingly constrained planet. Are we up to this challenge? I believe we are.