This week’s speaker is Dr Mark Everard.
For all the ‘apartness’ from nature promulgated by various religious and philosophical doctrines that have had a profound effect on the shaping of the modern world – God’s alleged command to Noah to ‘subdue’ the Earth, the creed of capitalism, and Descartes infamous ‘I think therefore I am’ – all of us, regardless of status, race or interests are indivisible from the natural world.
Furthermore, all of us, regardless of class, income or belief, are profoundly interconnected with each other. If a rich person pollutes the river, all in society suffer. If a poor person burns plastic waste as the only accessible fuel to cook with or to warm their family, all in society also suffer. You, me, birds, plants and fish share an unbreakable kinship, the depth of which is rarely appreciated. Yet the way we govern the world barely recognises this at all. Resources come to us through taps and wires, supermarkets and the post, and we breathe in and out 17,000-23,000 times each day without considering where that good air comes from or our wastes go.
As politicians and other leaders gather at the World Economic Forum in Davos to reconsider capitalism, many seem blind to the wider impacts of economic competition and the globalised nature of the economy which are there, at least in part, to make cheaper ‘stuff’ for those of us in the richer fifth of the world. At a time of recessions and hardship, at least relative to the economic ‘bubble’ of the past twenty or so years, it may be hard to think of ourselves as enjoying huge buying power. Yet, on a global economic stage, that is exactly the privilege we have enjoyed since our days of empire.
And yet the world is changing in deep and irreversible ways. The global human population, seven billion strong and rising, is banging up against a ‘ceiling’ of dwindling natural resources. At the same time the BRIC nations are rising in economic power as we, inevitably in a bounded system, decline. Perhaps recent wars are little more than ways to annex resources by political means that we can no longer compete for favourably in economic terms? So whether through crisis or vision, this is a good time to reimagine the world, to discover our intense relationships with nature and with each other, and to adjust our politics and economics to this new reality. Some political signals are indeed there, notwithstanding frustrating retrenchment into old-school economics. Let’s see if we can think beyond the short-term electoral cycle and imagine living as if we meant to continue to do so.