Statue of Sir Peter Scott, London Wetland Centre, by Ginny Battson © 2014
“The world has gone mad.”
I am hearing this often in my particular sprachraum (the Anglosphere, at least), off-line and on-line, an almost daily occurrence from one quarter or another. Along with a sharply rising global temperature mean, record breaking norm-shattering meteorology and ice-melt across consecutive months, we are witnessing regressive steps in socio-political relationships; intolerance and prejudice gaining traction as some kind of reactive protest against uneven wealth distribution and increasing migration of the dispossessed. The far right have their heads up for the main-chance. This is deeply worrying to those with a conscience.
Yet still, so few engage with what all urgently need to discuss ~ our relationship with Planet Earth, our home amidst a sixth mass extinction, the source of our very existence and our ultimate survival kit, regardless of who or to what our perceived moral community extends. Moreover, the intrinsic value of life, all life, and the processes and interconnections between all.
Never have we been so vast in number. Never have we, or any other living being, witnessed such unbridled ecocybernetic change. One cannot simply call this era the ‘new normal’, because it is highly dynamic. Each dataset combined appears as a new abnormal.
We exist in a falsely-assumed human realm, an evolutionary cul-de-sac, into which we are all symbolically corralled by our own global media and techno-markets. The truth is that we are so interconnected to all living beings and all inorganic phenomenon that we shall never fully understand it entirely. Humans are simply part of the whole. Despite what science and scientists may imply, the uncertainties are vast. Just to understand that we shall never fully understand the ultimate complexity is a humility. It is to inject some wisdom back into our times, when all else seems lost to our own arrogances.
The irony is that so many problems are made worse by delusional and fragmented ways a dominant Western pedagogy view the Earth, its systems and unfathomable complexities. Purely anthropocentric “utility” of nature (servitude and subordination to humans) still reigns supreme in UK conservation circles, indeed UNEP. It is no panacea, as if nature is inert and placed here for one purpose only. Sometimes, I find it is these individuals and organisations who make me more angry than the just plain greedy. Given their privileged status of being educated, they ought to know better. Some are even ecologists, studying some of these very interconnections.
I think, as others do, many are limited to a narrow field of vision, disjointed fragments of connections, encouraged by the rationalisation of Western education tied to a career-plan ~ the training of specifics, cognitive biases towards the familiar, a lack of the cross-disciplinary, rendering many blind to the peripheral vision required upon the ‘whole.’ Or is it desperation? On the frontline, they may be tired of a fight, susceptible to caving in to global financial ambitions towards exponential growth on a finite planet. Those dark forces are, indeed, strong. But giving in is not pragmatism. Giving in is simply giving in.
I have written before on the dangers of so-called Natural Capital valued by a single unit of financial measure. Now the WWT have released their latest policy document on economic value into the very heart of the neoliberal centre-line in Westminster, subjecting nature to the same volatile economic paradigm that favours the rich and acutely fails to ‘trickle down.’ How can we legitimately and morally divide into financial units that which is hugely interconnected and that we do not fully conceive? We too are nature, the moon and the stars. Where does this end?
This is on top of the widespread eco-illiteracy of even the most basic of underlying cybernetic principles of the ecosphere. WWT were, and are, leaders in voluntary environmental education. I revere them in this sense, utterly. Peter Scott’s beautifully altruistic ambitions have influenced many across the globe, ~ no mean feat. In his wake, I wish this respected organisation would expand education into the mainstream, not enter the fray on economics as if there were no economic alternatives than to subject nature to the language of commerce and government ~ the corporates, lobbyists, hedge funds and bankers. Investment in support of nature (including us), is important, that the flow of resources towards habitat restoration and integrated protection is generously provided via better understanding. But to value non-human life in packets of currency is another matter, I don’t care how desperate things may seem! A 25 year plan along these lines makes me suffer from eco-anxiety. I am imagining the abuses possible by a hedonistic, self-regulating City of London as I write. Many new Cabinet members don’t even acknowledge climate change as a real and present threat, leave alone that a sixth extinction is underway, and between them a small to non-existent understanding of functional ecology. Money is not an ecological educator. No matter how ‘regulated’ this new order may seem, entrepreneurial spirit and diligent accountants will find the gaps in order to take advantage at a profit. There can be no guarantees all will be for the good. This is the nature of free commerce right now. The whole paradigm needs to shift.
And it is not by accident that our consumption-driven culture is stealing the human cumulative brain-force that could be working on better solutions. And as the shopping malls hum with either those with cash to buy or those eternally unhappy people with unrequited aspirations and no cash, the planet burns. The 1% percent skim it all off and walk away scot free. Leopold spoke of land as community to which we should belong, not chattels to be owned. Pricing nature implicitly commodifies, even if unintended, like a serious side-effect to be listed on pharma labels. And let us not forget that slavery is immoral. Ownership of all living beings follows (even domestic animals – an argument for another day).
I am being blunt here, because I feel blunt is required. “The world has gone mad?” It is the human world that is mad. The majority of Earth is probably trying to regain homeostasis despite us. There are better ways to induce care for one another, our non-human kin and the inorganic phenomenon which are integral to life. Egalitarian eco-education/mentoring has not yet been tried, not least in the corridors of the City of London and Westminster, indeed any centre of power in great force! There’s huge room for engendering respect and reciprocity, love ~ I have not and will not give up on the ultimate power of love ~ and, with a will and a way, a return to the ecosphere perceived by the majority as sacrosanct.
I will write again on the sacrosanct, the return and the sacred, soon. And with love!