Forging a New Relationship with the Planet

Photo: Franck V/Unsplash

Photo: Franck V/Unsplash

The scientific evidence is irrefutable, the deadlines have been calculated, and we’ve identified the scale of change required. It’s going to take nothing less than a fundamental shift in how we, as a species, interact with our planet to make it habitable for future generations. It seems inconceivable that after roughly two hundred thousand years of inhabiting the Earth, it has fallen to us — the handful of generations alive today — to walk away from how we were brought up to think of our relationship with the planet.

Regarding ourselves as the superior species has led to treating Earth’s resources and its other forms of life as separate and apart from us, and existing for our purposes only (excepting many indigenous populations who have understood and practised a more respectful way of relating to the natural world) . This way of thinking has facilitated our exploitation, pollution and destruction of much that sustains our existence. The math tells us this cannot continue. At our current rate, we consume 1.7 times Earth’s sustainable resources annually which means we’ve used up its replenishable resources by August. In 2018, “Earth Overshoot Day” was Aug 1, according to research organization, Global Footprint Network footprintnetwork.org

In high-income countries, our wasteful, disposable- and consumption-focused society, is geared to replacing our cars, washing machines and clothing long before it’s necessary. And there are companies deliberately making goods not built to last and some refusing to repair them at all. In preparing ourselves to live differently, many of the solutions have already been identified, for example, minimize waste — in technology (do we need a new phone?), in fashion (do we need the latest style?), all the while, we waste approximately one-third of our food. And then there’s excess packaging, over-use of plastic, and our dependence on the two largest drivers of GHG emissions: fossil fuels, and animal agriculture — which, compared with plant-based alternatives, is also responsible for the highly inefficient use of land and water in producing protein.

All this “buy, buy, buy” is turning into “bye-bye” to 99.9% of critically endangered species that took billions of years to evolve; and to the 83% of wild mammals that have already gone extinct WEF.ch/watch. Animals can’t evolve fast enough to keep pace with how quickly we’re destroying their habitats.

How do we forge a new relationship with the planet and its other inhabitants that respects the connectivity that links our fates together? Last month’s report from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, “The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture”, warns the current rapid loss of plant and animal species is a major risk for our food security and the livelihoods of millions of people, fao.org/state-of-biodiversity-for-food-agriculture. The resources of the land, forests, and fresh water — not to mention the oceans — are not ours to plunder but to respect, to nuture, and to replenish. Solutions lie in a new combination of government regulations and policy, market-based incentives for industry, demands from society for change, and individuals voting for leaders that make these issues a priority. Consumers can also vote with their dollars to drive markets and companies to implement behaviours that support sustainability.

Humanity has proven to be a lousy steward of the planet. And now that we know what we’ve done and where we’re headed, this knowledge comes with the responsibility to act. Fortunately, there may still be just enough time to adopt a new world view.

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