Climate Change, Species Extinction And Wellbeing


MINDFULNESS

Writer: Martin Stepek
May 2019

intro Climate change species extinction JONAA©John Cunningham-2.jpg

We have been warned. But never before in such a profound way as in the two reports published in recent weeks; the UN’s Global Environment Outlook and the IPBES’s Global Biodiversity Assessment Report. Both documents warn humanity that our activities are pushing the planet closer and closer towards extremely destructive weather patterns on the one hand, and the wipeout of a million species of life on Earth.

As has been the case in previous reports the media have tended to give this a human angle, namely that the changes in climate and the extinction of species is not so bad in itself; it’s the harm it will do to humanity and our ways of living that are being emphasized.

 
It is our lifestyle that is wrecking climate change and killing animals and other life forms. Photographed in Arctic Greenland where effects of climate change are starkly felt JONAA©Kristjan Fridriksson

It is our lifestyle that is wrecking climate change and killing animals and other life forms. Photographed in Arctic Greenland where effects of climate change are starkly felt JONAA©Kristjan Fridriksson

 

Let’s look at us right now

Let’s look at us right now. Roughly seven billion people. The vast majority of those living in the rich world have lifestyle far beyond even monarch and rulers from past generations. Technology and economic development have enabled most of us in these privileged countries to access everything on a mobile phone, speak on video to people half a world away, and fly to scores of countries in an affordable way. We have almost everything humanity has ever dreamed of.

It's this lifestyle that is wrecking climate change and killing animals and other life forms. The solution proffered so far is to find ways to cut fossil fuels, which cause the emissions that are changing the patterns of weather, and replace them with renewable energy, which has much lower levels of dangerous emissions.

Little has been spoken of any sacrifice or change we need to make to our extravagant lifestyles. In the past year or two however, one matter has been raised quite forcefully and has been met with very mixed responses. The United Nations reported that moving towards an animal-free, or plant-based diet was an urgent and very significant matter to help make the change to lower emissions.

Unlike changing from fossil fuels to renewables, which affect only certain industries and their employees, and perhaps the tax-payer generally, suggesting changing our diet directly affects everyone’s lifestyle.

Stewards rather than destroyers of our planet

Now more suggestions like this are emerging on the back of the latest report about life-form extinctions. The study states that it will take “transformative change” in every way we engage with nature if we are to become stewards rather than destroyers of our planet. “Transformative change”. That’s not the sort of phrase most of us want to hear about the wonderful, free-wheeling, hedonistic life we lead. It sounds so gloomy, like a wake, or the hangover the day after a wild party. Surely we can continue to party?

It is gloomy in that respect. It says we should move away from the perspective of economic growth. No economic growth. Less stuff perhaps? We should move away from GDP as a measure of progress or decline and instead go for airy-fairy things like happiness, fulfilment, satisfaction, and long-term aims and visions for the whole planet.

They say directly that equating greater consumption with the good life has to stop.

For many of course, all this will be familiar. Philosophically the Buddhists, early Christians, even the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and his fellow Stoics, argued that real happiness and fulfilment in life did not depend on having stuff and fun but on quieter, more non-material activities. A couple of thousand years later, in the nineteenth century, the American writer and early ecologist Henry David Thoreau went further and said that luxuries are a hindrance rather than a help in the desire to be happy in life. Less is more. It’s been said throughout history.

Only two ways to change the situation

Now, these views are not a cosy philosophical meditation or bedtime read the night before flying off to your third city break in successive months. Now it’s being pushed as a recommendation for the entire human population. Live more frugally or we’ll make millions of species extinct. Meat is murder it seems, in a much bigger way than when first stated. And not just meat. Loads of stuff that we buy which requires mining, logging, transportation, agriculture. Basic everything really.

There are only two ways of changing the situation. The current population has to buy a lot less stuff so that a lot less stuff is made so that the raw materials that are required to make all that stuff doesn’t have to be dug out or chopped down or made toxic.

The alternative, which is too late for now, but may be sensible to look at after this current crisis is handled – if it is – is to incentivise all humans to have fewer children for a generation or two, to bring us back down to around two billion people. If the population was that low then just possibly we could get back to a buy-and-don’t-care mindset without wiping out species.

My own view for what it’s worth is that we should go down the simpler living, more minimalist route. Less can be more. Enjoying a simple life can be much more satisfying, enjoyable, and uplifting than the shallow “fun fun fun” approach that is the mantra for our current way of living.

Will we manage to resolve these two terrible fates, climate change and species extinction? I have no idea. I wouldn’t even hazard a guess. What I will say though is that there will be almighty forces already actively at work trying to discredit these reports, placing vast resources to bribe politicians and scientists to confuse people’s perceptions, and always seeking to preserve their wealth, status, privileged positions, and power. So it might be doable but not without a real struggle.

Learning to truly share, equally and fully

I believe that all things that live on this planet, including plants and microbes, are as deserving of life and a chance at a full life, as we are. Whilst I know that we would always save our own child ahead of another’s, and in this regard care for humanity as a species ahead of others, this doesn’t work at the planetary level. Everything is so intertwined. All species’ chances of living affect our chances of living, so we need to learn to truly share, equally and fully, the many treasures of this planet with all these species, giving them all enough space to survive and flourish as best possible.

That moral pillar, and that philosophical paradigm, together, will be sufficient to see us through these crises and to lead us finally into a decent world for all. But frankly, we should have been moving in this direction for the past thirty years at least. That we haven’t is itself the greatest piece of evidence that we are not governing ourselves as a species in a sane, mature, wise way. Let’s hope we can do it now. ▢

 

The alternative, which is too late for now, but may be sensible to look at after this current crisis is handled – if it is – is to incentivise all humans to have fewer children for a generation or two, to bring us back down to around two billion people. If the population was that low then just possibly we could get back to a buy-and-don’t-care mindset without wiping out species.

 
 
All things that live on this planet, are as deserving of life and a chance at a full life, as we are. A gannet photographed at Bass Rock off the coast of Scotland. JONAA©John Cunningham

All things that live on this planet, are as deserving of life and a chance at a full life, as we are. A gannet photographed at Bass Rock off the coast of Scotland. JONAA©John Cunningham

 

 
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Martin Stepek is a member of the JONAA team in Scotland, a founding member of JONAA and sits on JONAA’s board. A Scot with Polish heritage, a Mindfulness teacher, poet, published author, columnist on Mindfulness (Ten for Zen and the Sunday Herald) and the Chief Executive of the Scottish Family Business Association.