Thursday, October 25, 2012

Modernity Might Be More Expensive Than You Think

Our scientific, technological and modern world is built on a strong belief in the autonomy of the natural system and the unbounded resourcefulness of science and technology as tools to understand the universe. This belief has brought us the nuclear threat, pollution, defoliation and a ravaged wilderness, all symptoms of an environmental crisis that puts the very existence of the human race and life on earth in jeopardy. It is time for a new relationship with nature, one motivated by equity, liberation and harmony.

The golden age of science that ushered in the industrial revolution began with Copernicus who set in motion a series of inquiries that culminated over 300 years ago with the publication of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica. Methods of scientific explanation spread widely, permeating the social fabric of Western Society and the globe. Science would free us from the burdens of scarcity and help us conquer nature. Our productivity and consumption would increase. It certainly did, and we are now in an age of bondage to materialism and estrangement from each other, where middle class sensibilities motivated by self interest have  brought us to the environmental precipice.

We are working harder and craving more in an effort to fulfill an internal emptiness which no level of material consumption can satisfy. The priority assigned to production must be de emphasized if we are to deal successfully with the ruin that our technical society has bestowed on us.

Our technology, dominated as it is by a Newtonian mechanistic paradigm that emphasizes quantity over quality, fails to recognize the elementary law of matter based on the second law of thermodynamics which says that any productive process is simply an irrevocable and irreversible transformation of low entropy into high entropy: in other words, the greater the level of activity, the less the availability of resources for the future.

It is regrettable that the field of Economics has not fully realized its entropic nature and underpinnings. It might have warned that bigger is not always better. The world, intoxicated with the idea of consumption, measures progress in quantifiable terms. A larger gross domestic product must go hand in hand with a “better” standard of living. Our strong identification with material consumption has led to misguided, false and even sacrilegious principles for economic development that are based on the central role that capital is expected to play in the transformation of a traditional society to an industrial one. The phrase “Economic Development” is itself culturally imperialistic because it denotes a specific pattern of consumption, production and behavior that is to be aspired to by all regardless of whether qualitatively the new level of aspiration is desirable. Growth-mania is a concept that is predicated on an anthropocentric view where everything is sacrificed for the attainment of growth even though the process may be built on greed and hedonistic acquisitiveness, a lack of meaning and purpose and with no distinction made between good and bad. This spirit of greed was best captured by J.S. Mill when he said: “Men do not desire to be rich, but to be richer than other men”. Neither the welfare of generations to come nor the irreparable deterioration of our delicate ecosystem are issues in our economic growth models. That threatens us all with a horrific future.

Nonetheless, an economic system is shaped by the mores and values of society, and there lies our hope for the future. We must change our values and adopt a new paradigm that respects Earth, looks to the future and concerns itself with equity and sharing. We must go outside the realm of science and examine what kind of economic and political order should prevail.

A society cognizant of the law of entropy would reallocate finite resources towards socially and environmentally responsible uses. The more we use our resources the less we will have for the future. Anthropocentric visions need to be modified and developed to teach an eschatology that liberates and makes progress meaningful. No level of activity, economic or otherwise, is justifiable unless it is simultaneously sustainable. We must learn to respect and protect nature since we are part of it and not apart from it. It is only then that we will be imbued with the high sense of ethics that is a prerequisite for correcting our environmental transgressions.

The environmental crisis has given us a future of uncertainty. Let that challenge us to introduce hope into our models by adopting:

(1) Consumption habits that can promote sustainability by putting to rest the infatuation with economic growth.

(2) Eliminate dependence on fossil fuels in an effort to contain the damage done through global warming.

(3) Preserve ecological diversity by protecting the intrinsic rights of all specie.

(4) Adopt measures that will prevent the human population from any further growth.

Unless the above are to be incorporated into our global policies and models then humanity will be looking towards a future with no hope. And that will be tragic.

And finally, dear reader, ask yourself the question whether the current political, social economic , demographic and environmental policies of any country in the world are sustainable?

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