In recent years I have become increasingly aware of and concerned about the impact that we are having on our environment and have taken a wider interest in that in addition to exploring and writing about other environmental and global issues and learning about my disability.
This blog is important to us all and confirms the clear evidence that the human tendency to consume is changing our planet and life on it.
Over millions of years global catastrophic events such as volcanic eruptions and asteroids have made dramatic impacts on our planet’s life in the past. Yet there is an increasing consensus that there is a new global threat capable of destroying life itself and it is driven by the human desire for material consumption and ironically this is a consequence of human life itself. We need to take this seriously.
We are surrounded by material objects, whether we need those objects or not. For every bit of the material we use, there is a growing web of global actions that is slowly depleting Earth’s resources and degrading our planet’s habitats. If left unchecked, there is evidence that human consumption may eventually make the Earth uninhabitable.
While there is evidence that materialism is learned and shaped by our societies, some argue that natural selection may have predisposed our species, with a desire to accumulate material belongings as a sense of security and status.
The limits of science have never been more obvious when trying to solve this problem. Reliance on green technological innovation and solutions alone is flawed because the focus is still based on new stuff and more use.
For example, there is a huge drive to replace petrol and diesel vehicles with electric ones, but even if we replace all fossil fuel-based vehicles with electric ones, cities are already struggling to accommodate the road space required, and electric vehicles and the supporting infrastructure have their own footprint on the world’s resources due to the materials needed to build them. There is also little research out there for us to understand the long term connotations of driving on batteries 24/7.
Covid-19 has reminded us how fragile and unprepared humans are when it comes to even known disasters like a pandemic. It has also taught us that while human behaviour can dramatically impact global events, we are also naturally disposed to disregard issues that don’t interfere with our daily lives, or those which dilute our convenience, until we’re made to face those issues head on.
Also, the rapid depletion of natural resources and biodiversity is not a normal evolutionary race that nature is used to. While some species can adapt to the changes taking place in our environment, humans are no longer a mere species that follows Darwinian theory of evolution but a much larger force that has come to drive evolution on the planet.
Studies have shown that for most species, evolutionary adaptation is not expected to be sufficiently rapid to buffer the effects of environmental changes being wrought by human activity. Clearly our own species will be no exception to this.
While there is no proof that we will destroy ourselves, there are already clear indications that we ignore our impact on the planet at our own risk.
For example, some of the mass extinctions in the Earth’s history are related to acidification of oceans. The oceans absorb about 30% of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, which in turn increases the ocean acidity and the oceans may be acidifying faster today than they did in the last 300 million years, primarily due to human activities.
Eliminating materials like concrete or plastic or replacing them with alternatives is not going to address the fundamental problem with human attitudes and our unparalleled appetite for more.
In the absence of a fully secure evolutionary shield, we could depend on our intelligence to survive. Nevertheless, as who is searching for dead cosmic civilisations puts it, “the mark of intelligence is the ability to promote a better future”.
But humans may not be lucky enough to escape the consequences of their own actions. “If we continue to behave this way, we might not survive very long,” says Abraham Loeb, professor of science at Harvard University and an astronomer.
While it sounds like something from an episode of Star Trek, it is clear that unless we create a different future which is fundamentally based on a reduction of consumption, it may very well be our own materialism which threatens our continued existence and that of our planet.
We need to do more to reduce our consumption of ‘things’ before it’s too late.