Monday, 17 November 2008

Time To Reconnect

I’m not an economist.

I’m not a scientist.

I’m not an industrialist.

Maybe that means that I can take a more detached view of things....

I have been reading articles about biodiversity and cultural diversity, and the links between the two. I don’t need to explain that – if you’re interested you can read about it yourself. Suffice it to say that it has been very clearly established, by the UN amongst others, that there is a very clear connection between the two things. Areas on the globe which have strong cultural diversity, evidenced for instance by the variety of languages, also have strong biodiversity, as indicated by the number of species of animals and plants.

Similarly, where cultural diversity has been eclipsed by the shadow of globalisation, biodiversity has also suffered.

The survival of life on this planet depends upon the maintenance of biodiversity, and this depends upon the maintenance of cultural diversity. Take a look at (for instance) some of the indigenous peoples in South America. They are by and large content (except when their homelands are being destroyed by globalisation), and have developed a way of life which is in harmony with their environment. They are not interested in ‘growth’, and exist in a steady state economy. They maintain their own culture, and live in a sustainable way.

What a lesson for the rest of us.

I recently travelled from Cornwall to London by coach. You can see a lot through the window of a coach, and I admit that as we left Heathrow to head for the centre of London I was bewildered by the sheer volume of traffic. I found myself wondering how on earth we, the ‘civilised’ society, arrived in this horrendous situation, in which we are too busy chasing meaningless goals to enjoy life.

Can the driver for all of this be greed?

People have ambitions, fuelled by advertising, by ‘competitive materialism’, by dreams of what their perfect life might be, and yet it has been well established that having more money doesn’t automatically enhance happiness. George Soros, financier of note, counts his annual income in the billions of dollars. For an individual, that obscene quantity of cash is meaningless – what can he, personally, achieve with a billion that he couldn’t achieve with a million? And would he really suffer if he only had $100,000 a year?

I listened to an interview with Peter (now Lord) Mandelson this morning. I happen to think that he is one of the best brains in politics, but I was depressed to hear him state that the global economy would double over the next twenty years. Our leaders are convinced that healthy economies are growing economies - but I know what happens when you keep on blowing up a balloon!

Perhaps in the present crisis he needs to say such things, but he seems to have glossed over our impending double whammy of Climate Change and Peak Oil: these two little gremlins are likely to scotch any ideas of a growing economy – indeed even a ‘steady state’ economy will be very difficult to achieve under the pressures of peak oil and energy descent. And the general consensus (leaving out 10 Downing Street) is that peak oil will be with us at some point between now and 2012. Unfortunately Downing Street thinks peak oil will not be with us before 2030.

But in any event, some time soon we are all going to be forced to accept the conclusion that globalisation no longer works and that growth is no longer possible.

We in the Western World have become so disconnected from our natural surroundings that we no longer appreciate what our environment has to offer. I took a young friend of mine (age 10) out for a drive earlier this year and discovered that she didn’t know what a foxglove was – and we live in the country. How can this be?

I sat in my parked car this morning and watched a minute insect scurrying around on my windscreen: I became fascinated by the miracle of such a small creature containing enough energy to allow it to move so quickly over such long distances without recharging. Later I watched a couple of ravens lazily going about their business above, in no great hurry, and quietly gossiping with each other. We miss so much in our perpetual frenetic rush towards ‘more’ and ‘better’. Even in these economically uncertain times, I saw on the Freecycle website that someone is giving away a 21” CRT TV, presumably because they have upgraded to an up-to-date slim line model. And yet I am certain that the older model works perfectly well.

The older I get, the more I am convinced that the secret of a happy life is to be content with what you have. We need to relearn respect for our environment. This way we may just learn to deal with our climate and energy crises before it’s too late. But this needs to be a ‘bottom-up’ exercise, not top down.

No individual can do it alone, but many individuals, over time, by setting an example, working within their own communities, and talking about what they do, can – indeed, must.

1 comment:

Dorothea said...

Mandelson might well have a big brain - it's what he uses it for that bothers me.

As you observe here, cleverness is often far from wisdom.

Wisdom is what our self-proclaimed "civilisation" has lost. If modern Britain is civilised, give me the uncivilised any day!