Visions and Directions for a Sustainable Future
By Dr. Michael W. Fox
Against this background of my own development and convictions, I offer the following subjects and issues for review and reflection. I am pessimistic, in the short term, about the fate of the Earth, of humankind, and of animal kind under our inhumane dominion. But in the long term, I am an optimist, because I see these difficult and tragic times as a critical point of transition in the evolution of life on this planet, the continuance of which will depend primarily upon our vision and direction, be it toward suicide or adoration: toward ecocide (and deicide) or toward respect and reverence for all Creation.
I do not believe that this contention is an overstatement, since we now have power over the creative process via genetic engineering biotechnology. We therefore have the ability to remake the world into our own image of perfection or utility. Be it an image of an Eden restored, or a bio-industrialized wasteland, only time will tell. And now is the time to choose, as Teilhard de Chardin observed over fifty years ago, between suicide or adoration. This is neither an optimistic or pessimistic perspective: It is a realistic one based on sound science, ethics and reflection on human history
I am involved in four related movements: animal protection, Nature conservation, alternative sustainable agriculture, and holistic health. These are movements that are motivated primarily by compassion and reverence for Creation, yet the industrial establishment that opposes them sees these social movements as placing the rights and interests of animals and Nature (or the environment) over the rights and interests of people. And public opposition is increasing through media-hyped misinformation, and by the public relations campaigns of those agencies and corporations that have a vested interest in maintaining a status quo in the service of mammon that is responsible for the holocaust of the animal kingdom, the death of Nature, and much human sickness and suffering.
More and more people, however, are now questioning the means and ends of industrialism and consumerism that cause much animal suffering, extinction, human injustice, and is so destructively exploiting the life and beauty of this planet. The significance of these contemporary social movements that millions of people now support is linked in time, as historians will some day note, with the global environmental crisis that we face today, as evidenced by the accelerating rate of extinction of planetary life forms, of indigenous peoples, and in the suffering of billions of animals that are exploited for questionable reasons of custom, consumption, scientific knowledge and medical progress. My own ethical sensibility arises from a spirituality that is fundamentally antithetical to the worldview and morality of the times that sanctions such forms of animal exploitation.
In some public and political circles, opposition to these movements is increasing. These people feel that eating less meat, finding alternatives to using animals to find cures for human diseases, and protecting an old forest for the spotted owl and timber wolf are threats to the economy, to progress, and to the rights and interests of the populace. This attitude, I believe, is ultimately suicidal, for if we harm the planet, we harm the person; and if we harm other sentient beings, we harm ourselves. But to be pro-animal rights and environmental protection, in the eyes of many, is to put animals and nature before people. Such is the ignorance and cupidity of the times.
It is quite wrong to conclude that animal rights and deep ecology are anti-progress, anti-science, anti-business and anti-industry, and contrary to the best interests of society. But there is a curious twist to this. I recall a luncheon meeting with the CEO of one of the world’s fastest growing agribusiness corporations, and he said he felt that “The humane treatment of animals – farm animal welfare – isn’t a moral or ethical issue.” From his perspective, and for many executives in the business world, animal welfare, rights and environmental/ecological issues are primarily of economic concern. It is to be hoped that such a narrow vision of economic concern will be broadened by the concept of sustainability, i.e., steady-state economics rather than illimitable economic “growth” and “development.”
Implementing Sustainability: Values and Principles
That which sustains us in body and soul sustains the Earth and every living thing. Whatever we do to secure our own sustenance almost invariably causes harm to others. The ethical person endeavors to minimize that harm, and works with others to change those human activities that are harmful.
The less we want, the less we need and so the less we compete with others. Ethically unfettered capitalism and consumerism depend on an extractive rather than an organic, biodynamic economy. This self-terminating economy monopolizes and directs the resources, energies and processes of the Earth to serve commerce and industry. These were originally created and evolved to sustain every living thing. Such “ecological democracy” has been usurped by the ecological imperialism of the industrial age that the Earth cannot continue to sustain at present rates of extraction, destruction, consumption and pollution.
In the absence of any sustainability ethic there can be no effective international cooperation to effectively put an end to human poverty, overpopulation, pollution, conspicuous consumption and political corruption. These problems will only continue to intensify synergistically and exponentially. To see the Earth convulsively disintegrating before our very eyes is not difficult if we simply speed up the time frame for the rates of human population growth, consumptive industrialization, biodegradation, and loss of biodiversity over the past 200 years.
Too many people refuse to look and to acknowledge the tragedy of the human condition and ask what they can do to help. Others feel hopeless knowing that human poverty, hunger, violence and suffering have become more widespread with each new generation and are now reaching epidemic proportions. Denial and hopelessness are no better than continuing to enjoy a life of conspicuous consumption, or promoting the popular view that the panacea for these problems lies in economic development and industrialization.
Those in government who support this ideology (that in reality benefits transnational corporations at the expense of what little is left on the Earth that could be saved and restored – like sustainable communities, biodiversity, and environmental quality) must be immediately challenged and held accountable.
Likewise, religious and other political organizations that oppose such relevant issues as birth control, animal rights, and environmental protection, must be opposed with the same force as industries that have no regard for human rights, consumer safety, public health, animal welfare and environmental health. A global economic collapse to avert further transnational corporate hegemony and harm would be preferable to the pending global ecological collapse that most transnational corporations are facilitating. As of 2008, the major industrialized nations, facing a global economic meltdown, have imprudently marginalized environmental and human rights concerns from the agenda of economic recovery.
One of the worst plagues afflicting the world today is consumerism. It controls the minds and devours the souls of our children, harming their bodies and the environment in the process. The antidote to this plague is the adoption of the ethics and principles of sustainability, which essentially entails establishing those conditions and covenants whereby natural systems and social systems survive and thrive in a mutually enhancing symbiosis: And healing those systems upon which all life depends.
Time and life are running out for planet Earth. This has not yet become a wholly irreversible process in most human communities. But for the majority of the human species it very soon will be if we fail to collectively begin to cooperate for the good of the planet, for wildlife and natural ecosystems, for ourselves and for our descendants. If we do not, then we will be naturally constrained by the consequences of our own violence, greed, ignorance and indifference. We should then not wonder why half the world’s population is at or on the verge of war while the other half suffers and dies from malnutrition and disease.