Have we gone past the turning point?

He wrote, “We live today in an interconnected world in which biological, psychological, social and environmental phenomena are all interdependent. To describe this world appropriately we need an ecological perspective which the Cartesian world view does not offer.”

My focus for the last twenty five years as a painter and thinker has been on developing an ecological perspective as to the nature of Earth and our relationship with Earth.

I illustrate this article with my painting ‘The Ecological Self’, which is both an image of Earth from space, as well as a human form. It is a portrait of someone who has reconnected to her evolutionary roots and therefore takes her place within Earth’s planetary system as ‘that part of the Earth which is conscious of itself, and which thinks, paints etc.’

From this viewpoint, let us look at the crisis or collision course between our global civilization and ecological reality. What started as our struggle for survival against scarcity and Nature, has led to a global civilization that has itself become a destructive planetary force. We have reached and gone beyond the limits of the planetary ecosystem. We have become addicted and mesmerized by our systems of consumerism and technology, and we conceive of the Earth as a commodity provider and background for humans.

To add to our knowledge of the grim reality of Climate Change and resource depletion, our recent scientific studies of ice cores show us that drastic climate change can happen swiftly, in a decade or two, or less. So our future no longer depends only on what we do to reduce carbon emissions, but also on how the Earth responds to what we have already done.

Dianne Dumanoski, the award winning Environmental journalist in the USA explains how, in our drive for maximum economic efficiency and productivity, we have designed massive interdependent global systems and abandoned processes and structures that would have been conducive to self reliance, adaptability and resilience in times of natural disaster or catastrophe.

The global culture has also failed so far to act cohesively even in levelling off carbon emissions, let alone reducing them. It treats the systemic problem of Climate Change as an isolated symptom. Geo-engineering and technological quick fixes are suggested; many of which have dangerous and unpredictable side effects or would be more expensive than getting ourselves onto renewable energies. It looks as if Paul Watson, captain  of Sea Shepherd, is right when he says, “We are busy putting ourselves on the Endangered Species List”.

So, rather than trying to solve the crisis while hanging on to the status quo, is it not a matter of necessity to stop limiting our options and design human systems in harmony with Nature’s systems, instead of in conflict with them? Is it not time to liberate our true selves from ego-centric lifestyles and values, and measure our quality of life by its ecological sensitivity, equity, creativity and spirituality? Guided by values such as these, our scientific knowledge and technological ability could enable us to live significantly more lightly on the Planet.

Gus Speth, the dean of Environmental Science at Yale, in his book “The Bridge at the Edge of the World,” writes “Signs of a worldwide creative renewal are unfolding outside the interests and coverage of the mainstream media, but in all realms of society, including science, technology, economics, engineering, law, the arts, religion and education.”

Paul Hawken points to the global civil society that is emerging and describes the truly genuine and ethically driven NGO’s working to create viable human Earth partnerships. “In two decades they have become a force to reckon with.”

For more information on the new thinking and the solutions, I highly recommend Gus Speth’s book “The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability” and Dianne Dumanoski’s book “The End of the Long Summer: Why we Must Remake our Civilization to Survive on a Volatile Earth”. There are scores more books which emphasize specific aspects of the new thinking, for example economics, architecture, psychology etc, but these two are more general than specific, very readable, well researched and hopeful in a realistic and plausible way.