December 30, 2017 by Cláudia
I have been studying Humanities for the past 6 years now and Humankind never ceases to amaze me, in all possible senses. Humans are such a fragile species, so easily destroyed. Humans have tamed Nature, changed landscapes, changed our own bodies, learned about our planet, even about our Universe… It is mesmerizing how much our species has achieved in a relatively short amount of time. And yet, Humankind never ceases to amazing with how unintelligent it can be. While we are capable of creating unspeakable inventions and modify our world in a way no one could have predicted, paradoxically, there is no bigger danger to us than ourselves.
Brilliant in so many other areas, us humans are extraordinarily and primitively dumb when it comes to survival. If the danger is imminent, our survival instinct triggers extremely effective responses but if we don’t explicitly see the danger, we continue to act in an irresponsible (and ultimately suicidal) way.
We are currently living in the Anthropocene – the period of relative climate stability that lasted around 12000 years named Holocene is over. The Anthropocene, usually considered to have initiated with the Industrial Revolution, means that Human intervention in the ecosystems has been so significant that is now considered the major geographical force intervening in the ecosystems. In other words, the geological properties of the Earth – the atmosphere, biodiversity, landscapes, chemical composition of water and air… – are largely controlled and modified by the Human action. Mountains are transformed in plains, lakes and rivers have been overused to the point of draught (see for the example the case of the Aral Sea), forests have been transformed in residential or agricultural areas and air, water and soil chemical composition have changed, just to state a few examples.
Our current paradigm is based on the idea of infinite growth, not taking into consideration that we cannot infinitely grow using finite resources. Our economy is linear, that is, it harvests natural resources, transforms them and then dumps them as trash. Because our society is so focused on economic growth – it is seen as the main goal not only by economists but also by politicians and even individuals – medium and longterm consequences are discarded in order to gain financial benefits in the present. For this infinite economic growth to be possible, production also needs to infinitely grow which requires high inputs (of resources and labour).
Products are made to not last very long or to no longer be functional after a while (what is called Planned Obsolescence). For example, very few people still use the Iphone1, both because it has broken in the meantime as it is extremely fragile and because almost all apps require a system that is not compatible with older versions so it is hardly practical. Another way to make people buy more is to make them feel embarrassed and outdated if they don’t own the latest product (Perceived Obsolescence), a mechanism profoundly explored by the fashion industry, but not exclusively. Usually, companies combine these two so whether the product has stopped working shortly after the warranty expired, it cannot support new features or it is perceived as no longer fashionable, companies manage to keep selling their products.
This, of course, entails consequences as we are producing and consuming far more than what would be necessary or sustainable. Resources are overexploited, workers are exploited and huge amounts of (non-biodegradable) trash are dumped in landfills, contaminating soil, water and air. All of this just to earn more money in order to buy more stuff.
When I say that humans can’t think long term, this is what I mean. Pollution, resource scarcity, toxic chemicals in air and water will negatively affect us humans more than anything. Nature is resilient and adaptable and life will persist far beyond our extinction. It’s us – such fragile creatures – who will suffer the consequences that we are creating.
Jared Diamond in the book Collapse speaks of “Ecological Suicide”. We are consuming resources at a far faster rate than they are being produced and creating trash a lot faster than it can decompose. It does not take an ecology major to realize we soon will be living on a planet with no resources drowning in trash. Or rather, we won’t be living at all.
Humankind seeks immediate benefits and disregards consequences that aren’t immediate. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers greatly increased agricultural production but in the long run, create serious health problems and contaminate soil and water. Food is no longer safe. Food used to be seen as a source of health and well-being but right now it is the cause of health problems. We are slowly poisoning ourselves and waiting to see if there are any severe consequences. Same goes to GMOs: studies in animals have shown how it can have short/medium-term consequences for our health, such as increased food allergies, infertility, liver disorders and gastrointestinal disturbances, but the long-term effects are yet to be understood. We are all laboratory guinea pigs in a huge experiment without ever having agreed to.
The examples are endless but the fact is that there are limits to growth and in many cases, these limits have already been surpassed. This is not meant to scare anyone but the reality of our situation is that we should be scared. Humans have been historically arrogant and close-minded and, despite a tremendous evolution in many areas, we remain obstinately arrogant and close-minded. We cannot hope to survive without resources, we are simply and utterly useless to every ecosystem: the world would strive without us but we cannot survive without the Earth.
It may come as a surprise, but there are more important things than money, such as food, health and clean water. If we continue the way we are living, buying and producing, we will be left with nothing but money and maybe finally see it for what it really is – useless pieces of paper and metal.
Please get informed so we can change the suicidal future of Humanity! Some resources:
- About the Anthropocene: The Anthropocene; The Major Transitions in the History of Human Transformation; The New World of the Anthropocene
- Planetary Boundaries: Planetary Boundaries
- Health Risks of Pesticides and Chemical Fertilizers
- Health Risks of GMOs