Today there was important news on the latest and perhaps most comprehensive study thus far about the poor state of our planet’s natural environment. Earth’s diversity, beauty and balance is being marred at the hands of ever-expanding and ambitious human systems. There are many titles for this dangerous revolt against nature: modernism, imperialism, westernization, globalization, capitalism, humanism, industrialism, materialism and Protestantism*. But let words be as they may; the essence is in what is happening and how it can stop. The study goes into dreadful detail such as the loss of 100 million hectares of forest from 1970 to 2010, the endangerment of 25% of all animal and plant species, the explosion of urban population/middle class and the consumption that goes along with it, the pollution of global waters with 300-400 million tons of industrial waste (including plastic) every year, and the decline of natural ecosystems by 47% on average. The authors, who penned a summary for politicians and leader, warn that a transformation in our way of life and thinking must occur before the decline can be controlled. More particularly, they advise that the notion about what constitutes a “good quality of life”, usually is determined by quantity of consumption, must change, as also related notions about the “limited paradigm of economic growth” that seeks to elevate everyone into an equal level of supposed prosperity. The authors add that “Then we must restore nature and drive innovation. Only then will we leave future generations a healthy and sustainable planet.”
This is a document desperately needed to alarm and propel the world to action. And yet, in spite of earlier warnings, the world still seems to go its own way. Then there is a hidden truth: the West, which consumes most of the world’s resources, is doing well to protect its own natural environments, while causing other poorer nations to destroy their natural environments either to provide for Western consumption or to compete with Western standards. The high Western demand for Palm oil that is destroying many forests in Indonesia is an example of the former and the Chinese obsession with economic growth and the middle class is an example of the latter. How will this end? I doubt that “innovation” will help; it sounds like a decorated excuse or a expedient means to maintain the status quo and avoid serious reduction of comfort. Even worse, I am afraid that more innovation will lead to more complications of the original problem. Far better is changing the mentality about what a “good quality of life” means and instituting serious policies that go beyond the short-term ambitions of political parties and leaders. And surely the spreading of polytheism, along with its inherent veneration for the natural world, can greatly contribute to the effort. I hope this futile wrestling with the Gods ends, because it will only cause our own misery, if not extinction when things go too far. I had rather have myself, my progeny and all other people live on for many thousands of years to come, in harmony with nature and at a basic level of subsistence**, than to enjoy everything we desire for a few centuries or decades. To ensure this legacy must become our foremost duty and priority. The Earth, with all its manifold divinity, is eternal and can bring forth other life if we rebel and threaten her well-being continuously.
* Monotheism would be too general a term here, especially considering that the earliest Jews and Christians held views that opposed civilization. The story of the Tower of Babel, though unknown in polytheistic tradition, matches with the shared story of the Deluge. Utnapishtim is the Mesopotamian equivalent of Noah. Later monotheism took on an imperial character, chiefly at the hands of the Christians and afterwards the Muslims. But it was the species of Protestantism that did the most harm precisely because it was driven by the middle class what with all its innovations and energy. Hence the “Protestant work ethic”. And yet we have the irony that the revival of polytheism owes a great deal to this Protestant diligence.
**Which was consistent with historical conditions. Nowadays it is called “poverty” with heavy connotation in order to encourage the wealthy to allow others “less fortunate” to share their high position. Perhaps the opposite direction is wiser? Or even better, meeting at the middle somehow. In any case, great (uncomfortable) action will be needed.