Thankfully we are awakening after having slept through decades of greedy environmental destruction. Our species' supreme intellect and consciousness hit its straps in terms of pioneering new horizons and inventing new labour-saving, efficiency-boosting, output-escalating concepts in the industrial revolution, it's safe to say we have not looked back since. The greater efficiencies meant an exponentially increasing ability to produce for our species and as a by-product do damage to our fragile environment – least of all save the world! It was a turning point in history; we took the reins from our natural environment and have ruled ruthlessly since.
Our slow awakening realisation to the damage done and just how finite our natural resources are is in the nick of time at best. Had we foreseen all this damage in 1750 as the industrial revolution kicked off would we have changed a thing? It was a part of our psychological journey to explore the potential of our consciousness and intellect; some say it was a responsibility of that unique feature of homo sapiens that we had to explore it to its limits. Perhaps we have achieved that, we have phones that talk to fridges and people living in space, robots once an abstract being of futuristic movies are working amongst us every day.
Perhaps we have not fully finished that journey, there are medical advances still to be made to ease suffering of certain ailments, technology continues to progress but some may say in more micro ventures. It feels as though we could certainly afford to take the foot off the accelerator and count the costs. The author Richard Neville acknowledged this conflict between exploration and sacrifice when he said 'we humans are locked in a race between self discovery and self destruction'.
Unfortunately for the environment, its agony at the forefront of our consciousness is not enough. It does not necessarily convert to action. We all know about and understand the logic of recycling, using water more sparingly, using public transport, planting appropriate plants for our climate, installing sustainable and renewable energy technology, so why don't we all do it? If we had the knowledge that we could recycle and become very successful or famous or beautiful or popular would this change the equation? A good snap shot of the situation is in Australia. "Five percent of Australians believe that their individual actions do not make a difference - higher than in any other country surveyed. So while Australians might rate themselves highly as being environmentally aware, that doesn't necessarily translate to actions." (OECD, 2011)
Until we are able to save the environment and world by being more conscious of and guided by our conscience we will need a lot of help. A document by the OECD has found governments have a large role to play with policy changes and targeted strategies such as financial incentives for environmentally friendly change. However surely the question as alluded above is why can't or don't humans stop, curb or amend our destructive behaviours? Why do we need incentives not to destroy? How valid is our research, discovery, construction, invention and creation – how much does our conscious mind need to know?
I have been reading about this issue at length and the best explanation and better yet solution I have found is at the World Transformation Movement. Here this problem is described as the 'human condition' - our capacity for both good and evil. I'll paraphrase a part of it here for you to decide if understanding ourselves may be the fundamental solution to all the environmental problems we have. I'm sorry it is so long but I'm trying to fit a lot into a short quote!:
"The great dilemma and paradox of the human condition is humans" capacity for what has been called "good" and "evil"... While it's undeniable that humans are capable of great love, we also have an unspeakable history of brutality, rape, torture, murder and war. Despite all our marvelous accomplishments, we humans have been the most ferocious and destructive force the world has ever known - and the eternal question has been "why?"... In fact, why are we so ruthlessly competitive, brutal and even murderous [that] we have nearly destroyed our own planet?!... The truth is that while much attention has been given to the need to love each other and the environment...the real need if we are to actually "save the world" has been to find the means to love the dark side of ourselves - to find the reconciling understanding of our "good-and-evil" - afflicted human condition... Yes, true compassion was ultimately the only means by which peace and love could come to our planet and it could only be achieved through understanding...importantly, understanding of the human condition doesn't condone 'bad' behavior rather it heals and by so doing ends it... From being competitive, selfish and aggressive, humans return to being cooperative, selfless and loving. Our round of departure has ended. The poet T.S. Eliot wonderfully articulated our species journey from an original innocent, yet ignorant, state, to a psychologically upset "fallen", corrupted state, and back to an uncorrupted, but this time enlightened, state when he wrote, "We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time" (Four Quartets, 1942)."