We have been doing the best we can. Havent we?
We all know that mercury fillings in our teeth are toxic, as is asbestos in our buildings, and sugar in our tea. But we also know that there was a time when we didnt know. By 'we' I mean a consensus of society. I am not sure I can use the term 'we' when speaking about the toxic nature of cigarettes, or even less so when referring to the environmental impact of burning fossil fuels. Even now there are many who dispute the latter fact, but in addition to those who dispute these things, there are those who simply ignore them. Smokers in the western world cannot avoid the public information about the risks to their health of smoking, and gradually that information is pervading the whole of the smoking world. For many, the cost, in terms of radically altering their world view, is too great a price to pay, to accept the facts, and they resist the inevitable onslaught of scientifically verifiable information.
But let us not blame either those in our world now, who resist change, or those in the past who lived their lives in the context of the information that was available at the time. Major industries developed on the back of sugar, tobacco, fossil fuels, and the list could go on...and on.
In the past, people cut down whole forests to make ships, houses, furniture, and even just to burn in their fires. They had no awareness that they were destroying a finite resource, as their experience was of a limitless resource. Until they got to the edge of the forest, and met the people who had been cutting it down from the other direction.
For a long time, people could shit and leave. Then cities got so big and crowded that they had to develop sewage systems that took the shit out into the oceans, that were so huge that they could absorb and process it without us having to think about it. And then the numbers of humans got so vast that even the oceans couldnt dispose of our waste products, and pollution became a problem not just for the oceans and the environment, but for the humans too.
And then we became so extraordinarily effective at getting fossil fuels out of the ground, and out of the shallow oceans, and then out of the deep oceans, that, in a few decades, we are returning into the atmosphere hundreds of millions of years worth of captured carbon.
Never before has humanity had to think about the impact of its activity so extensively and in such detail. Which is why we have to think about not just the insulation value of the walls and windows in our houses, but the 'minute' amounts of dangerous chemicals in our building products, and the method of processing or recycling the materials at the end of their useful life. It really is time now, for not a cradle to grave approach to our society, but a cradle to cradle, an ever rotating cycle, that takes the output from one part and makes it the input to the next, indefinitely.
This is not some philosophical point. And it is not in conflict with our clear awareness that nature is not purposeful or deliberate. We know that species thrive and decline. Sometimes those species die out because they happen to become so effective that they eat all their food source. It is easy to get too Californian, and pronounce that we have a responsibility, as stewards of this planet, to take care of it. The reality is that we are a species on this planet, and we have got to the point of such enormous power and control that we have to decide things that we were never designed to decide on. Of course we could make the planet uninhabitable, and therefore destroy ourselves, and it is very likely that even the youngest of us alive now will be dead well before that happens. But is that what we want?
If we choose to continue as we are going, and destroy the planet, the universe will no more cry over our demise than it does over the thousands of already extinct species.
Its a choice. Are we doing the best we can, or are we ignoring the evidence?
And you thought this blog was just about renovating a town house!