The mind-boggling development of Western civilisation during the past few centuries and its globalisation, combined with an exponential increase in human numbers, have led to an ever-increasing, non-sustainable drain and strain on our planet's limited natural resources and finite carrying capacity.
Although struggling to face up to it, we are still largely in denial of the fact that we are quite literally plundering our planet. What started out on a small, relatively harmless scale, has developed exponentially over the past century or so and taken on gigantic proportions.
Having grown up with it, it seems perfectly normal to us, which is why we fail to recognise it for the threat and the monstrous crime that it has now become; a crime against our own children and future generations; a crime in which we are all participating, and on which we all depend: oil and gas - two main examples of the booty - are the life blood of our economy.
Because of the vast differences in scale, what took just seconds to become apparent when Apollo 13's life-support systems were damaged on its way to the Moon in 1970, is taking years (decades) aboard Spaceship Earth. For those with eyes to see, the signs are clear enough (global warming, environmental degradation, loss of species and biotopes, depletion of natural resources, etc.), but most people do not want to see. Instead, we are generally behaving as addicts often do when confronted with their addiction, or some patients when confronted with the symptoms of a life-threatening disease: either by denying it completely or by playing down its significance - in which we receive massive support and encouragement from our growth-dependent economy, particularly the media, along with the financial and advertising industries.
What to do?
First of all we need to see what is really happening, and face up to it. And not panic! (which will only drive us back into denial).
It also helps to understand how we got into this situation and why we find it so difficult to recognise and face up to.
Despite general acceptance of Darwin's theory of evolution and of man's animal origins, the implications, even amongst scientists, have barely sunk in. We still look at ourselves, society, the economy and history as if our animal origins and nature had little to do with them. In fact, we are Earth's "Greatest Ape ", and still a very long way from being the rational human beings we like to see ourselves as (Homo sapiens, indeed!). We use much of our undeniable intelligence in rationalising our irrational behaviour in the "struggle for survival and advantage in the artificial socio-economic environment " (which for us has effectively replaced the natural environment), deluding ourselves into believing that we see and understand far more than we actually do, and generally keeping ourselves in a state of denial about the true, nonsustainable situation.
The scientific and technological achievements of western civilisation are literally mind-boggling, so that apart from serving us, as they undeniably do, they also blind us to our terrible failings - and I'm not thinking of Africa, but primarily of Europe and North America, where we have created more wealth and a higher material standard of living than earlier generations would even have dreamed of, but in a way that is utterly and fundamentally unsustainable. It's just that we are not facing up to it.
The reason is that we are still very largely bound and governed by our "more animal than human " nature, not just as individuals, but also through social and economic structures which, naturally enough, are likewise rooted in it.
Like all animals, we are programmed to struggle for survival and advantage in the natural environment. With the advent of civilisation, however, this struggle was increasingly transferred, for most intents and purposes, to an artificial "socio-economic environment". Nowadays this generally boils down to individuals and groups (families, companies, etc., even nations) striving and competing to make money in the local, national or global economy.
Scientists are no exception, each struggling for "success" in their own particular field. They rationalise their behaviour, convincing themselves that they are working for a higher purpose (and to varying degrees, I am sure, many of them are - at least in part), but underlying much of what they do is nevertheless a good measure of their "more animal than human " nature, struggling (competing) for (academic) survival and advantage in the socio-economic environment (scientific community).
The more we struggle and compete for survival and advantage (wealth and status) in the socio-economic environment, the greater the drain and strain we are placing on Earth's limited resources and finite carrying capacity. Over the past 30 odd years our more enlightened human nature has become increasingly aware and concerned about the consequences, but our "more animal than human " nature has responded - very successfully, unfortunately - by rationalising the conflict away and burying our heads in the sand.
The fact is that our growth-dependent economy and materialistic lifestyles, along with the "more animal than human" values, attitudes and aspirations on which they are both based and dependent, are fundamentally non-sustainable and are taking us towards global catastrophe.
Economists and politicians (even environmentalists!) have been assuring us that there is no conflict between our growth-dependent economy and materialistic lifestyles and achieving sustainability. This is complete nonsense! A classic example of how our "more animal than human" nature has succeeded in rationalising our irrational behaviour and deluding us.
That, I hope, is sufficient explanation of our situation, of what is happening, and why.
For those who come out of denial and face up to the situation, it is clear that we have to make some radical changes to our economy and lifestyles if we wish (our children and coming generations) to survive and prosper.
In fact, we have to initiate a revolution, creating a society and economy, based not on our "more animal than human" nature, as at present, but on our more enlightened human nature.
Past revolutions should have taught us how NOT to go about it.
It is a waste of time and effort trying to change (reform) the existing socio-economic order (resistance from the system itself and the vested interests, which we ALL have, are insurmountable). Instead, we have to create an alternative socio-economic order - within but distinct from what we are all dependent on at the moment. As the alternative grows it will be possible to transfer more and more of our activity and dependency to it - everyone when they are ready and at their own pace. We have enough to do changing ourselves, without trying to change others who are not yet ready. It is up to those of us who are ready (who have come out of denial, at least to some extent, and realise what is at stake) to get together, organise ourselves and make a start.
Not that we have to start from scratch. The beginnings of the alternative I have in mind already exist: organic agriculture, fair trade, moral investment funds, recycling, renewable energy, cooperatives, fair and proportionate income differentials etc. What is lacking is the framework of a clear and cohesive moral, social and economic philosophy.
Needless to say, a society and economy based on our more enlightened, far-sighted, far less materialistic, human (rather than animal) self-interests will be very different to what we know now. At first, giving up what we are so familiar with and dependent on is a frightening prospect, but our children's and grandchildren's' survival and prosperity depend on it. Their future is in our hands. And actually, the joy and satisfaction of creating the alternative socio-economic order I have in mind will be far greater than anything the existing socio-economic order can offer - even if it were sustainable.
This is about my vision of a humane, just, democratic and above all sustainable society and economy - and how to get there. It is still very much "under construction", and will remain so. The reason for me publishing it in the very rough and unready state it is in is the urgency of the matter. Time is rapidly running out. Hopefully it won't backfire on me by putting you off taking what I am saying seriously.