Tuesday, May 03, 2005

On the Environment

It is appropriate to fault the present administration regarding its abominable environmental policies. The examples of the short-sightedness of its approach to environmental protection are too numerous too mention. They are all part of the public record.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that this is not a partisan issue. The steady deterioration of the natural environment is not a political party-specific problem. The root cause of this alarming trend is inherent to the economic system and the cultural bias of the society at large.

When the Native American populations were the exclusive stewards of this land, the environment remained essentially pristine. The interval of time that passed during their dominance was probably some ten thousand years. Compare this to the time required for the white colonial powers to bring the environment to its current state of crisis: two hundred and fifty years.

How can one account for so rapid a decline. I would like to posit a number of factors. The first important factor is the economic system: industrial capitalism. In order for this brand of capitalism to thrive (to constantly produce greater and greater profits), it is necessary to have ever-expanding markets for new and existing products. In order for new products to have mass appeal, the need for them must be created. The role of advertising is to create mass appeal for new and existing products.

This kind of capitalism can not work without a widely accepted belief in supremacy of the individual. The constant search for individual happiness through acquisition of material goods is the engine that drives the economic system. The unavoidable reality is that this relentless pursuit of material happiness has the unfortunate consequence of laying waste to the natural environment. The fact that the vast majority of the population is oblivious to this relationship is the most worrisome part of the economic equation.

The personal self-deception that is required in order to continue on this crazed path was brought home to me when a group of save-the-whale activists attempted to intervene when a Northwest Indian tribe, the Makah, was allowed to hunt one whale a year to fulfill their needs as a people. This, to me, represents a pathological disconnect from reality. Focusing on a Native American population as culprits in the destruction of the environment is ludicrous beyond belief.

If we really want to prevent the ineluctable destruction of the natural ecology, we need to acknowledge our daily contribution to this process and change the way we view life in a very essential way.

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