Why are We not Acting?
We’re heading straight into the biggest disaster of human history - which in relation to the planet’s history isn’t all that long.
And in contrast to world war I and II, where many now will argue that this has been the biggest crisis so far, this one has the potential to kill us all, entirely.
Last month, I saw a great documentary related to the topic. In German, it was called ‘die Erdzerstörer’ - which directly translated means ‘the destroyers of earth’.
With that title, it meant us, yes.
And it stated, that if we imagined the history of our planet as a 24 hour day, mankind would only appear in the last 5 seconds. 5 seconds - probably as long as it takes you to decide which cookies to buy this time...
Moreover, the age of the Anthropocene, also called the industrial age, would only represent the last two thousandths of a second (as a reference, the blink of an eye takes around a third of a second).
Yet, in this inconceivably short period of time, we’ve managed to exploit ground and natural resources, turn around ecosystems, kill entire species - and bring our planet close to collapse. And the collapse of societies is not happening on top of it but a result of this.
But we don’t stop. We buy and buy, we blindly consume, regardless of the consequences for others - and even for ourselves.
But why is that, why are we not acting?
The following is an attempt to explore some answers to this question, as it keeps haunting me. I also want to make clear that in ‘we’, I include myself. I do not want to point fingers. With we I mean myself, my friends, our society and our nation. We all could do more, but some indeed more than others.
Is it because everything’s at risk?
In a way, our whole economic system is built on consumption. Sometimes it seems that even our well-being depends on consuming more for less.
What if we would start to reconsider our buying decisions and consume more conscious?
Yes exactly. Many big organisations who haven’t managed to adapt yet, would be in trouble.
Big trouble to be precise, which they obviously like to avoid. This is the reason why vocabulary like corruption, lobby and corporate social responsibility exist. And this is also the reason why we keep wondering if government is regulating businesses or if it’s actually the other way round.
But also for us as individuals this is scary. Because what we really don’t like is sacrifice.
What if I can’t buy meat because I can’t or don’t want to afford it anymore? How do I get my daughter to daycare without my car? How do I manage to go to my favourite holiday spot if I don’t want to fly? Why should I all of a sudden start to sacrifice, when I was working so hard to get here?
These are troublesome questions indeed.
We are too comfortable and we need do start doing what we like the least - do without.
Because humans are trained to want more, better, faster.
And somehow, we got used to the very same overconsumption that is slowly eating up our planet and the biggest issue is that nobody told us until it got really bad.
Or did somebody actually tell us but we didn’t want to listen? Although environmental scientists have started to put out first warnings already 40 to 50 years ago, the problem seems very new. It is only recent, that a really large group of people is aware of the problem (and no, this is not a “challenge” but a big fat problem!) And as with all new problems, we don’t quite know what to do with it yet.
Luckily there should be a lot of hope then. Because if we would invest as much energy in taking action, as we did in wasting resources, I'd bet a lot of things would've changed radically by now.
So who is responsible?
First of all, we are dealing with a disaster that is made by us humans. We can’t blame anybody else for it. It’ not just politics’, our parents’ or China’s fault - we all are responsible. So we all need to start taking responsibility. Responsibility for what we consume and how we behave, in all areas of life. And responsibility on how we do business.
It is too big to grasp?
We don’t really know what to do, how to go about it. The times to keep the consequences manageable, are long gone. We have passed the moment, where we could have taken the time needed to properly adapt.
In the meantime, the to do list seems endless and we don’t know where to start.
We are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of issues - and crisis hits in all areas at the same time. Sometimes, it almost seems like the crisis of our planet goes hand in hand with the crisis of our identity and our sanity.
Also, we cannot just stop certain things because we cannot understand the impact. We deal with a systematic problem which requires systematic interventions. These type of problems are so complex that we have to face them collectively and on global levels - which is not easy if we look at our current governmental institutions where nationalism has creeped in and where it’s mainly individual people aiming for individual power (replace people by business or country, stays as is).
This sounds tough. But maybe it’s not too bad after all, is it?
Or at least it’s not directly visible for us in the first world - yet. We are still doing good. And it’s always easy to close our eyes to something that has not yet directly affected us. Also there are other things to worry about in our complex and challenging lives, for example job, family, or our relationship.
And anyway it can’t be too bad if products continuously get cheaper while we get more of the same at shelf every day.
The system is sick and it's trying desperately to save itself from demise. Which is why without closer attention it still seems fine. We’re way better in fighting symptoms than tackling the root cause. Take fertilizer as an example. Decades of overfertilization have destroyed most farmlands so much, that nothing will grow there anymore. To compensate, farmers need to invest a lot more each year, not even to increase their yield, but only to keep it somehow steady. But they are caught in the system, which has grown so far that it’s very difficult to get out. As it is the case with many diseases, the longer you wait, the worse they get. And in this case, the only one who wins are the investors of large chemical companies. Even though you would think that they are human beings, too, living on this very same planet.
So it’s just ignorance?
Although this is very hard for me to understand, there’s still a large amount of people who simply refuse to acknowledge climate change and everything related. And this is not because they don’t know, or they are stupid. This is because they don’t want to know. They’re ignorant because it’s easy to deny. If there’s no problem, there’s no reason to change behavior. It’s as simple as that. And again, a lot of very powerful people have very high stakes in today’s world - which therefore needs to stay as is.
So could the solution be an imposed limit?
This time, it might be worth to consider a top down approach. I do believe that we need better regulations, guidelines, rules & laws, coming from the top and on a global level.
We live in a world with certain hierarchies and therefore in a world where there will always be winners and losers. I say this because this means that we are all not very likely to start with ourselves to sacrifice. Or better, it takes a lot of courage. And I mean an awful lot.
Because if we start to live conscious, somebody else will be right there to mess it up. If we give up our piece of cake, somebody else will have it instead. If in a corrupt system, one individual will care to act in the morally right way, he will only suffer disadvantages. To make a connection and take a farmer as a reference again: If one farmer tries to grow more sustainable individually, he will only have disadvantages in the short term because it takes him more money and more time. But in return he has to compete in a price range, where consumers are trained to pay way to little for. Unless he can operate in an own system with different legislations.
So how do we end this?
Good question, this was also not an easy bit to write, and as usual I like to end optimistic.
And it's not all black. Things start to move as we seem to get closer to a tipping point. What we should never lose is hope, because this hope is needed to drive change. Without hope, we are doomed for sure.
What can we do then?
First of all - take it serious. Don’t deny, don’t sugarcoat and don’t wait.
Start with little things today. And enjoy the feeling of acting responsibly and being part of something larger than yourself. Because there is a movement forming, slowly but surely.
Taking responsibility for our actions means that we finally grew up. And it feels great.
Look into the mirror and be proud, be proud for not looking away and facing reality.
And see all the positive things happening to gain optimism, strength and more hope with it.
Find people alike and convince the ones who are not believing in it.
I promise you, it’ll be worth it.