Where is our new world?

Fixing the environment is not just an technological problem, though everyone would prefer it is.

It is also a political, psychological, sociological, economic system, and spiritual problem.

But it’s simpler than that. It comes down to how we think. Those values so deep you don’t even know they’re there.

A big one is that we think we are separate from our environment. Humans here, nature over there.

This might go back to some of our original myths. The Bible, all those proclamations about being the boss of the beasts.

The philosophy will not hold. It never really did. It just seemed that way because the planet could absorb our delusions, hide them in its vast generosity.

We’re all beginning to feel the truth that we are one node on the network of life. Yes, a very successful node. A node crowding out the others even while it depends on them for its success. Eight billion of us on the way to 10 billion. That is a lot of success. I’m sure most of it is due to the odd delusions our brains are able to generate. That story-making magic. That god-level, well-crafted, virtual-world-building — that window through which we have viewed Earth for generations — has let us plunder nature without restraint.

We have consumed our land, water, air, and fellow beings. It’s not necessarily evil. It’s just striving, desiring, chasing dreams. We take all of those breathing and unmoving things and convert them into an imaginary construct called money, an odd tool we created that served us at first. Now? Now we serve it.

The planet has begun to stop supporting this tale, this human conversion of living energy into a story we concocted. We’ve taken much without leaving time and space for replenishment, and our home is tiring.

Gasping for air, we persist in thinking our health is independent of the health of our environment. We still think we can go on without changing a thing.

Businesses really like this. After all, it is the mindset that will keep the money flowing. They’ll say the right things to keep you thinking that way. They’ll assure you they’re here to help you save the world and you don’t have to change a thing.

Anytime anyone tells you they want to save the world, ask them which world they’re talking about.

Companies naturally want to save a certain type of world: one where profit remains the boss. Why wouldn’t they? It’s why they exist. They are here to turn any human need, desire, and activity into a profit-generation machine. Of course.

To speak to the worries of the day while remaining on that course, they’ll change one type of industrial input for another. One with some difference in the loss going between trophic levels. Yes, this is progress. But it’s a baby step. And it may not be heading the right direction.

What about the underlying problems? The knots holding together human society that are not technological, mechanical. What about the delusion that the planet’s only purpose is to be converted into money, which we need so we can convert the energy of other humans into the important things and experiences we want and need?

Look at Tesla. It is the new version of the exact same problem. The only difference? It uses electrons, not gas. We still need to generate the electrons. Are those a better fuel? In many ways, yes. But it’s still a box on four wheels that furthers our delusion that every single person can, shall, and will become a king of the roadway, a ruler who gets to go wherever they want, whenever they want, regardless of the collective cost.

That’s what sells. Control. Power. You go where you want to go, when you want to go, and damn everything and everyone else, right? No one pays to reduce their misconstrued notion of independence. People pay to feel like the boss.

The funniest part of all our hyper-independent trinkets is how useless they are without the fruits of our collective goodwill. A car needs roads, built and maintained by governments. The roads need rules, enforced by public officials. Creating electrons doesn’t magically happen — we still need to convert something into that flow of current using other fuels and tools built with other fuels and tools and on and on and on. Everything, from the pen on your desk to the rice in your kitchen — when you look at it closely — has a network of other things, people, and activities behind it.

What if you didn’t buy a Tesla? Rode your bike, instead? Or tried taking the bus. Walking.

I know, that’s just not realistic for many people. People need cars because the whole system presumes their usage. Homes dozens of miles from workplaces. Insane assumptions that we build homes anywhere and then connect them to centers of non-residential activity with roadways.

The way we build, the tools we use to build, the deep ways we think — they inherently work against the goals we need to pursue to address the environmental crisis.

We must build a way of human life that supports other forms of life. That sees them as collaborators and companions, not wheat for our scythes, kindling for our fires, meat for our hunger. We need to see the world as more than something we consume without restraint to satiate our fantasies. We must give the planet time and space to heal. Which means giving ourselves time and space to heal.

We cannot buy our way out of this problem. That is using the tool triggering the issues to try to address the issues. You all know this. You feel this. It is behind the rage in the public sphere. People know recycling is close to meaningless if factories keep churning out plastic bottles — and if we still give permission to each other to elevate our individual convenience over our collective survival.

We must imagine what a world in balance looks like. We must dream up the human systems that unlock it. One outside the capitalistic habits we’ve fallen into, the hyper-individualistic pathology barreling us to extinction. We must believe it is possible.

But now it seems we are fighting each other over who gets to retain control to a dwindling supply of resources rather than reinvent the way we live.

The winners of that conflict will inherit a brutal world. They will not perpetuate the remarkable comforts we’ve enjoyed. That takes a collective reimagining of why we’re here and how we live to acknowledge we must tend to the health of the planet that makes our lives possible.

And yet human beings in groups are waves.

Collective action takes on its own momentum.

Perhaps a crash is the only way we will wake up.

I hope not.


Out of curiosity, I followed the instructions in Steven Macdonald’s post on LinkedIn to have ChatGPT create three questions and answers about this essay. The prompts are “Read the blog post below and suggest 3 questions that a reader will have that are not answered in the article: (Add URL)” and “Now answer the questions. Avoid bullet-points.” I did not edit the results:

How can individuals reconcile the desire for personal freedom and independence with the collective responsibility to address environmental challenges?

Balancing personal freedom and independence with collective responsibility for the environment requires a reevaluation of societal norms and priorities. Individuals must consider how their actions impact the broader ecosystem and be willing to make adjustments to align personal choices with the greater good. This might involve advocating for policies that promote sustainability, supporting initiatives that reduce environmental harm, and reimagining notions of success and fulfillment beyond material possessions or individual convenience.

What specific societal changes beyond technological advancements are necessary to shift humanity toward a more sustainable existence?

Beyond technological advancements, addressing environmental challenges necessitates profound societal shifts. These changes may involve rethinking economic systems to prioritize sustainability over profit, fostering a deeper sense of interconnectedness with nature and each other, and promoting collective well-being over individual gain. It also requires challenging ingrained cultural beliefs that prioritize consumption and growth at the expense of planetary health.

How can we effectively navigate the tension between individual consumer choices and systemic changes required to address environmental issues on a global scale?

Effectively navigating the tension between individual consumer choices and systemic change requires a multifaceted approach. While personal decisions such as reducing waste or choosing sustainable products can contribute to positive change, true progress requires systemic reforms that address underlying structural issues. This might involve advocating for policies that hold corporations accountable for their environmental impact, supporting initiatives that promote renewable energy and conservation efforts, and actively participating in grassroots movements aimed at challenging unsustainable practices. Ultimately, individuals must recognize their role within larger societal structures and work towards collective solutions that prioritize the health of the planet and future generations.

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