We are in a collective denial about the state of the planet. Things are bad but we rarely muster the courage to acknowledge how much so. To be fair, those of us in the global urban north live sheltered lives. So how can we truly understand the breadth and scope of the environmental crisis?
To be clear, the environment, whatever that is, is not at centre of the environmental crisis. Humanities future and our conception of nature itself are at the eye of the storm.
When we speak about an environmental crisis, we need to be clear, it is not just climate change, we are facing an across the board ecological shift. From the crass perspective of resource management we are facing dwindling supplies of food from the oceans and from arable land, clean potable water, agricultural, mineral and timber production.
Beyond resources we are losing biodiversity at a rate unseen in the modern history of civilization. Exploding populations and exploding expectations to consume will continue to put pressure to produce more resources and more food. Land will become over exhausted and new lands will have to be cleared for food and resource production.
The simple math of the formula is already becoming evident: 90% of large fish stocks are depleted. The world is losing soil 10 to 20 times faster than it is replenishing it. While the world’s population tripled in the 20th century, the use of renewable water resources has grown six-fold. In short the demand for resources is expanding faster than resources can be made available.
This is without even factoring in climate change, which will only magnify existing resource tensions and create a feedback system that will multiply our ecological crisis. How will the estimated 9 billion people feed, clothe, and house themselves in the next 40 years?
To avoid this vulgar materialistic view many in the environmental movement have turned towards idealizing nature. The holistic approach has been to view mother earth as a perfect balance which humanity has disturbed. This religious retreat has clouded are ability to see that it is our false conception of nature which is at the heart of the problem.
The natural world is neither a harmonious circle interrupted by humanity nor is it a web of life that simply contains us. We must first recognize that the natural world is harsh and most of us in the planet are in some fashion completely divorced from it. Our second recognition must be that our activity has profoundly impacted our world and is causing dramatic changes. Our third recognition must be that our fate is intimately intertwined with the “natural world”, which is divorced from us, and vice versa.
Climate change and the general environmental crisis is a tension, which must be dealt with. This tension for capital is profound but not insurmountable. The green economy, green marketing, carbon pricing, geo-engineering, cap and trade etc., are just some of the ways that capital can transform the tension into opportunities and transfer the crisis to another arena.
The spiritualization of the environmental crisis is the perverse flip side of this operation. To conceptualize humanity as just one being in the web of nature is to reinforce the animality of humanity. We desire only animal needs, which the new green economy is happy enough to provide. We are stewards of the land of mystery. Is this not what the new boreal forest deal in British Columbia highlighted?
Justice and sovereignty were shoved aside to make way for the preservation of Mother Earth. The ENGO’s and the corporations justified the deal by stating they were “going to take a full lifecycle approach,” to the preservation of the land. No talk of native land rights, no talk of what the Bantustanization of nature means. The deal was couched in the spiritual preservation of nature, as if nature is a jam that can be bottled up.
If however, instead of trying to appropriate indigenous culture and spirituality we respect it. We need to link elementary notions of justice and equality to the environmental crisis in order for the crisis to cause a profound shift in ourselves. We must not resort to cheap spiritual answers which can be too easily appropriated for nefarious means. We must look at this crisis with a renewed sense of urgency. We need to profoundly change our conception not only of production and consumption but of nature as well if we are to overcome a market “solution” to the “environmental problem.”