The difference between reality and rhetoric in which all are said to be equal and to have the same opportunities is simply too great. Our use of both mineral resources and living resources, with their origin in photosynthesis, is now at a level that simply cannot be sustained.We have now reached a stage where we need to divert more attention to building a new world than to fixing the old one.
1. Our relationship with nature is characterized by over-exploitation of raw materials and natural resources. Certainly, history shows that we have a remarkable capacity to overcome the limitations of our natural environment. Nevertheless, our use of both mineral resources and living resources, with their origin in photosynthesis, is now at a level that simply cannot be sustained. This can be expressed in different ways such as that we are soon reaching ‘peak oil’; that our ecological footprint is already one and half Earth; that we are already using more than half of the entire biosphere; and that wilderness is now only marginal compared to human-dominated ecosystems.
2. We know that the release of greenhouse gases, largely the effect of extraction of fossil fuels and degradation of natural resources, will lead to marked changes in climate, resulting in great human suffering and material costs. In addition, we have caused severe reduction of biological diversity, the very web of life on earth. We have manipulated other life processes, such as the nitrogen cycle, to such a scale and in such a way that it will most certainly lead to severe disruptions.
3. We have unleashed 100,000 chemicals, but we have no idea how they affect us. We take medicines, eat food additives and indirectly consume pesticides we spray on crops. Drinking water and the air we breathe are full of man-made chemicals. We have very little knowledge about the long-term impact on us of the cocktail of chemicals we spread, and we know even less about how it affects our living environment.
4. The production and productivity revolution, which we explain with entrepreneurship, the superiority of capitalism and an individual’s strive for personal gain can equally be interpreted as the result of one thing: access to external sources of energy, primarily fossil fuel. Use of energy is also the cause of many problems, most obviously the greenhouse effect. At least equally serious is that energy is the engine in almost any other resource depletion and degradation of ecosystem services. But the cheap energy sources are drying up and, more importantly, their efficiency is dwindling.
5. With the commercialization of farming and the introduction of chemical fertilizers, we no longer have to reproduce our production ability and capacity within the system itself. To replenish natural capital, fertility, labour and genetic resources are bought over the counter, thus separating production and reproduction. This system is commercially efficient, but very inefficient in its use of energy; it is threatening the long-term fertility and capacity of the soil. Despite the emphasis on production, a billion people go to sleep hungry every day.
6. The system does not have sufficient self-correcting feedback loops to keep in check income inequality; the only thing that can keep it running is a constant economic growth so that those at the bottom, after all, will be a little better off every year. This is not primarily an economic problem but a social and moral problem. The difference between reality and rhetoric (in which all are said to be equal and to have the same opportunities) is simply too great.
7. The capitalist model of development was most successful in countries that industrialized first, followed by countries that had different comparative advantages in certain development stages. But large parts of humanity are outside of the development, including both the individuals who are left behind in industrialized countries and those whole countries that have no comparative advantages to exploit. Just like not all communities could make the transition from gathering and hunting to farming, many communities today cannot make the transition to a capitalist society because they lack the right conditions.
8. The values, attitudes and mechanisms that form the foundation of capitalism are obstacles to the harmonious development of society. Competition is promoted at the expense of cooperation, self-interest at the expense of solidarity and commitment to others, private property at the expense of commons and exploitation at the expense of stewardship or nursing.
9. The combined effects of those values, industrial technology, capital accumulation and market competition drive endless growth and consumption. It is certainly within human nature to be a little dissatisfied, to want more, to explore new opportunities. Without those properties, we would probably never become human beings in the first place. It is in society’s nature to contain these desires so that they continue to benefit us all. With the capitalist takeover of society, these restrictions don’t work any more, and we are all trapped in a treadmill of ever-increasing consumption. This consumption, driven by several of the factors mentioned above, has made us healthier, wiser, more beautiful and perhaps happier to begin with, but it has long crossed a line after which ‘more things’ do not mean more well-being.
10. That things are not a lot worse than they are is a result of the deep and strong properties of humanity and of our larger organism, our society. We do our best to mitigate the ills produced by our economic system. When old social institutions break down, we build new ones; when old values and culture lose their meaning, we develop new ones. Ultimately, we will also build a new world. We have now reached a stage where we need to divert more attention to building a new world than to fixing the old one.
These ten points are from the introduction of Garden Earth which is due to be published within a month. I will keep you posted...