Absolutely nothing is sacred

Global warming is a result of a potentially suicidal belief that we’re above and apart from nature. In tackling this challenge we must look at everything we do. Our civilisation depends on us getting this right. [25 September 2007 | Peter Boyer]

Civilisation is truly wonderful. Within its sanctuary we’ve created glorious art, wondrous cities, buildings, machines. It’s given us the power to choose who governs us. It’s shaped what we are today.

But it’s also created the illusion that we’re somehow apart from the rest of the planet. Withdrawn into our sealed capsules, or diverted by gadgetry, it’s as if we’ve replaced the real world with a virtual one.

I’m as immersed as anyone in modern life. Right now, I’m sitting in an enclosed space, using a tool called a computer that relies on a phenomenon called electricity, creating abstract forms called words that to our civilised minds represent reality.

Even now, thinking about our dependence on nature, I’m finding it hard to break out of this artificial world. The devices, the closed spaces and the processed, packaged, air-freighted produce that support my life seem somehow “natural”.

It’s no great extension of this to assume that we have a natural right to use electricity, run a car and fly in a plane for any purpose, as and when we please and limited only by what we can afford.

But there’s a catch. This fossil-fuelled mindset turns out to be toxic – to us humans and all the other life forms we depend on. Like everyone, I’m having to shift my thinking, big-time.

We’ve long known about alternative, renewable energy sources, but have avoided them because they’ve seemed too expensive and impracticable.

But not all is what it seems. The former chief economist of the World Bank, Nicholas Stern, says that the price we’ve put on fossil fuels is artificially low, ignoring the damage caused by burning them. The real cost of their use is way above that of renewables. It’s not renewable energy, but coal and oil that we should see as expensive and impracticable.

We’re being forced back to basics. In looking afresh at time-honoured practices, we’ve found many of them to be serious threats to our future on the planet.

Our planet is precious. So is our civilised way of life. Allowing this wonderful human creation to drift into oblivion, a victim of its own excesses, would be to turn a crisis into a catastrophe.

In curbing those excesses, in saving our civilisation from itself, we have to have everything out on the table for re-examination – the things we make, the things we do, the ways we think. Absolutely nothing is sacred.

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