“Industrial civilization is obsolete.” She said softly.
If silence could be loud, the room was filled with the loudest silence you could hear. Gradually the silence gave way to the fidgeting caused by discomfort. Like that felt by a child when told there is no Santa Claus. Or that tooth fairies do not exist. Or that the Emperor’s new robes do not exist.
She had said something everyone knew but refused to acknowledge.
Acknowledging it would place the burden of what Nobel Laurette Daniel Kahneman called slow thinking. Conscious, effortful, and one that places the burden of responsibility.
While even the remarkable H.G.Wells had not been able to see the symptoms of the failure of the industrial civilization in his Shape of Things to Come, they were everywhere.
The symptoms showed up as environmental damage and destruction that were no longer possible to miss. Pollution was omnipresent. Not only was waste part of daily experience, so was smog, as was water from rivers being unpotable. The life around – both plants and animals – that were part of the joy of everyday had dwindled, even vanished in urban settings.
The symptoms were as glaring as the gap between the rich and the poor that widened as never before. Only a handful of individuals held as much wealth as more than two thirds of humanity. The access to livelihood and life was increasingly becoming conditional to the requirements of the rich and powerful.
The symptoms were felt as the authoritarian rule and the decline of peace, and non-violence. Not just in governments, but in businesses, educational institutions, non-governmental organizations.
The most common symptoms, however, were experienced as disrespect and lack of care for other humans and even less for other life – plants or animals.
Yet denial of the failure of the Industrial civilization was near universal.
“Industrial civilization has the goal of increasing production and consumption every quarter. This goal was sustainable on a planet with a lot fewer people consuming the resources of the planet in an unsustainable manner and as if the planet and nature did not matter. The earth can’t accommodate us all living in an unsustainable manner, independent of nature” She could not have expressed the cause of these symptoms more succinctly.
She was correct. After all scholars like Professor Song Tian, Director at the Center for Science and Civilization, at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences of the Southern University of Science and Technology, had highlighted that as long as industrial production is the dominant goal of society, we cannot escape these symptoms.
“But we are addressing the problems with the Sustainability Development Goals. We are also working to decarbonizing the economy, moving to renewable energy sources, and recycling material will make us sustainable. You also must’ve heard of the green new deals.” countered someone in defense of the industrial civilization.
“You are wanting to sustain the structure of the industrial civilization. What you are forgetting is that our climate crisis, biological diversity crisis, health crisis is the result of industrial civilization. This cannot be fixed by sustaining the civilization that caused it.” She remembered that Jinfeng Zhou Secretary-General of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation had also highlighted that the climate emergency, biodiversity emergency, health emergency can only be handled by starting a new civilization. “Greenwashing is only using technology, markets, or politics to hide the symptoms, not eliminate the structure that will keep the problem from going away.”
“Industrial civilization believes that while nature works on interconnectedness, we do not. It is anthropocentric.
It believes that humans can be independent of nature.” Yes, she thought, this is exactly what Klauss Bosselmann, Professor of Environmental Law and Founding Director at the New Zealand Centre for Environmental Law at the University of Auckland had emphasized. He had even stressed that our civilization has evolved oblivious of ecological wisdom. And that we need a clear ethical setup that is non-anthropocentric.
“Industrial civilization is addicted to technology, markets, and politics. It uses these as instruments to hide the ecological limits. It hides the feedback of nature. This helps the problems to keep coming back and get worse each time around.” She asserted.
“What we need is an ecological civilization. A civilization that is based on respect and care for the community of life. Not because the community of life are useful to us but because of the intrinsic value of nature. A civilization that recognizes us as a member, not independent or an owner of nature.” She was gentle yet strong and firm.
She knew that new civilizations do not happen automatically. They happen when we change the purpose of society. They happen when what we change what we value in life.
“The purpose of an ecological civilization would be to live in harmony with the community of life. For ecological civilization to happen we will need to find joy in seeing the joy of other members of the community of life. For ecological civilization to happen we will need to recognize ourselves as a member of the community of life, not as one independent of it.”
She was thinking far beyond the Short Now – a hundred yeas or the lifetime of a child born today. She was focused on a Long Now – or ten thousand years.
If there was an idea worth sharing, it was one about transforming the industrial civilization to an ecological civilization.
#All views expressed in this column are those of the author and/or individuals and institutions that may be quoted and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to the same.
He can be reached @AnupamSaraph