The more we consume, the less we care about the living planet.

18 05 2014

monbiotGeorge Monbiot has just published a most fascinating article about the environmental impact of various nations, their feelings of guilt over the matter and so on, with terrific charts to clearly explain the sordid state of affairs we have now reached..

George reminds us of the famous quote perhaps mistakenly attributed to Gandhi. When asked by a journalist during a visit to Britain, “What do you think of Western civilization?”, he’s reputed to have replied, “I think it would be a good idea.”

Not unexpectedly…….:

mapping climate change commitmentsAs for the US, Australia and Canada, they are ranked among the worst of all: comprehensively failing to limit their massive contribution to a global problem. We justify our foot-dragging with a mistaken premise. Our refusal to stop pumping so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is pure selfishness. [click on map for larger view]

The fact that the poorer nations are doing more, far more in fact, than we are to combat manmade climate change and feel more guilt than Australians (or other Anglophone nation!) blew me away……  we truly don’t care.  It seems that Western Civilisation is in fact a bad idea…..

“Why” asks George “is it so difficult to persuade people to care about our wonderful planet, the world that gave rise to us and upon which we wholly depend? And why do you encounter a barrage of hostility and denial whenever you attempt it (and not only from the professional liars who are paid by coal and oil and timber companies to sow confusion and channel hatred)?”

“The first thing to note, in trying to answer this question,” writes George “is that the rich anglophone countries are anomalous. In this bar chart (copied from the website of the New York Times) you can see how atypical the attitudes of people in the US and the UK are. Because almost everything we read in this country is published in rich, English-speaking nations, we might get the false impression that the world doesn’t care very much.”

bar chart from New York TimesAustralians obviously don’t care much either.  After all, we elected the most uncaring government ever.  They don’t care about the aged, the weak, the sick, the unemployed, and they sure as hell don’t give a stuff about the environment.

Both the map and the bar chart overlap to some degree with the fascinating results of the Greendex survey of consumer attitudes.

For years we’ve been told that people cannot afford to care about the natural world until they become rich; that only economic growth can save the biosphere, that civilisation marches towards enlightenment about our impacts on the living planet. The results suggest the opposite.

Greendex graphNotice how there are no nations in the Low Greendex/Very guilty corner…….??  “The more we consume,” says George, “the less we feel. And maybe that doesn’t just apply to guilt.”

Perhaps that’s the point of our otherwise-pointless hyperconsumption: it smothers feeling. It might also be the effect of the constant bombardment of advertising and marketing. They seek to replace our attachments to people and place with attachments to objects: attachments which the next round of advertising then breaks in the hope of attaching us to a different set of objects.

So the perennially low level of concern, which flickers upwards momentarily when disaster strikes, then slumps back into the customary stupor, is an almost inevitable result of a society that has become restructured around shopping, fashion, celebrity and an obsession with money. How we break the circle and wake people out of this dreamworld is the question that all those who love the living planet should address. There will be no easy answers.




One response

19 05 2014

If we don’t grow up pretty soon and start caring and making caring choices, we will bring down upon ourselves a disaster that will force us to care and make caring choices. Either way, it’s going to happen. One way is more painful, is all. Another great post, thanks so much. ~ Linne

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