“Fire made us human. Fossil fuels made us modern, wealthy, and dominant.”
“You know the pope just put out an important church teaching in his recent encyclical about caring for the environment and the poor. He says that our planet is beginning to look more and more like an ‘immense pile of filth.’ Isn’t he telling us that it is our responsibility to care for the environment, Clara?”
Paul supported her with,
“Yeah, Pope Francis’s words really rocked the boat for many Catholics. He’s saying that we have come to see ourselves as lords and masters of the Earth, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence and callousness we have in our hearts is directly reflected in the sickness of our soils, our water, our air and in all forms of life. I tend to agree with that. We are really pushing limits here.”
Clara fired back,
“Well, don’t assume this pope is not being manipulated by the devil! Who knows what the real agenda is here — perhaps this very influential pope is in on a grand conspiracy to pave the way for a One-World tyrannical government that will surely take away all our God-given freedoms — and our guns!”
Jack could no longer stay silent and felt the need to pass along an insight from philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
“C'mon Clara, there is no devil, only ignorance. Anthropogenic climate change is being ridiculed … and denied … and violently opposed, just like what happened with the theory of gravity, the heliocentric solar system, the theory of relativity, quantum physics, … you name it. Sure enough, soon it will be described as obvious and ‘self-evident.’ We’ve been here many times before. The longer we keep lyin’ and delayin’ — thanks in large part to the well-funded ‘disinformation’ campaigns of the real devils in our society — the worse our predicament is going to get. We are becoming ever more ‘productive’ at burning flammable fossils such as oil, coal, and natural gas to convert high-value natural resources into low-value waste in manic pursuit of continuous economic growth. We pat ourselves on the back for our cleverness and ingenuity. But we are only moving ever closer, at an accelerating rate, toward a global ecological disaster. It’s collective insanity. This Great Burning has to end.”
Tucker couldn’t resist the chance to school the naive treehugger on the realities of the ruthless shark-tank corporate capitalist world he swam in so naturally,
“Oh you’re just bitter because you Earth-huggin’ scientists will never get rich from the work you do. Society rewards with great wealth that which it values. Scaring people with disaster scenarios ain’t gonna change that. Fire made us human. Fossil fuels made us modern, wealthy, and dominant. Deal with it, man!”
Lua calmly interjected,
“Yes, Mister Tucker, but now we need a new ‘fire’ that keeps us — and future generations of all species on this Good Earth — safe, healthy, and secure. ‘Business As Usual’ — continuing to pursue the relentless growth paradigm that has dominated economic policy since the end of World War II, or a slightly more environmentally sensitive version of the model promising ‘green growth’ — will surely take us over an ecological cliff, with the second option only moving us along toward that tragic fate at a more relaxed, feel-good pace. Our management of energy resources has been based too much upon short-term market considerations, excessive discounting of the interests of future generations — a sort of ‘slow violence’, intergenerational theft — and too little sensitivity to either intergenerational equity or intragenerational justice. We must not let appetites for excessive material consumption today blur our sensitivity to the conditions essential for moral and sustainable development. Industrial technology has more than succeeded in addressing the core desires of what are proving to be insatiable human appetites for consumption. This process generates flows of materials and energy far in excess of the capacity of the Earth’s ecosystems to assimilate the outflows sustainably. Brakes are needed. Economic incentives must be applied to limit these flows and keep them at sustainable levels.”
Lua cited mounting evidence of the harmfulness and diminishing returns on well-being of high-consumption lifestyles. Happiness does not increase appreciably with increasing income beyond a fairly low threshold. The added stress of high-income lifestyles erases many gains and even results, in some cases, in dramatically lower levels of overall health and well-being.
Material consumption beyond practical need is indeed a ‘sugar high’ that only satisfies for the moment and ultimately leads to depression. It doesn’t take long for hedonic adaptation and social anxiety to kick in and erase any momentary gains in feelings of happiness, status, brand membership, and success.
Recent studies suggest well-being tends to correlate strongly with health, level of education, family time, time in Nature, and engagement in community.
Lua believed that any new economic system must resurrect ancestral wisdom from the past and blend in the multidisciplinary systems sciences of today in order to provide the next generation with a realistic democratically generated shared vision and plan for a just, desirable, and sustainable future for all.
But to envision effectively, it is necessary to accurately identify genuine deep desires, not what we tend to settle for: we settle for a fancy car when we really crave greater self-esteem, drugs when we want serenity, medicine when we wants health, and GDP growth when society really needs sustained well-being.
What is particularly important is the clarity of values in the vision and acknowledging the very real biophysical constraints of a limited biosphere.
This values-based vision must bridge racial, ethnic, religious, and gender divides; acknowledge social injustices past and present, such as stolen Indigenous lands and stolen African people; and radically re-direct our efforts to begin the long process of healing the planet rather than perpetuating destabilizing wars and obscene outflows of life-choking industrial waste.
Any new economic system must offer navigational instruments and policies to achieve a balanced working of the human economy within Earth’s ecological capacities without destroying the global ecosystem — in which we are embedded — and on which we ultimately depend.