With more frequent and more devastating events (e.g. increasingly hotter climate, more variable seasonal weather, stronger and deadlier storms, longer droughts, zoonotic disease, etc.) affecting an increasing proportion of people world-wide, (quite logically) it is appropriate to ask, why are these things happening and when will they stop?
In a recently released UN report Secretary Antonio Guterres said, “it’s time to reevaluate and reset our relationship with nature…humanity is waging war with nature” and the need for “making peace with nature, securing its health and building on the critical and undervalued benefits that it provides are key to a prosperous and sustainable future for all.”
The report brings to light that this war against Nature is causing the climate crisis, wildlife and habitat destruction and deadly pollution. To date, “Society is not on course to fulfil the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to further limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. At the current rate, warming will reach 1.5°C by around 2040 and possibly earlier” and thus there is a need for “a fundamental change in the technological, economic and social organization of society, including world views, norms, values and governance.”
Freedom (and Responsibility) Mis-Understood
Now wait! This can’t be! As free individuals, we are each individually striving to become what we want to be. Hey, I am just living my life as I desire to live it, exercising my freedom as an independent individual! So it can’t be me, it must be them (those not like me) over there! They need to be stopped, because those others are impinging upon my freedom!
Freedom! What freedom? At least in the countries considered developed or economically industrialized (a.k.a. advanced), freedom for the vast majority—particularly among the American business-minded—is freedom from constraints in pursuit of material gain to maximally accumulate wealth (as measured corporately by profit and nationally by GDP).
That is to say, we each are guided by the precepts of capitalism to structure our life—as we see fit—in pursuit of things of outer value.
In this system, we seek education to develop a career, to become more saleable in the labor market, not to develop our personhood/humanness. Focused largely on our career, we spend our time striving for a position worthy of the respect of others; one that would afford us accumulating as much wealth as possible and acquiring more things. In capitalist society, we are employees/consumers in service to another’s profit: It is a life consumed by getting and spending.
Of course we all need to earn a living to meet the basic (living) needs for food, shelter, security and esteem—Maslow categorized these as deficiency needs—but these do not fulfill us and address our growth/development as persons. Moreover, we need to be freed from fear that these basic needs won’t be satisfied. Sadly however, in order to get us to do what they want us to do, those in management leverage this fear by establishing policies and procedures so that the satisfaction of these needs is made conditional and thus always in question.
These fear-based procedures keep us focused on basic/deficiency needs satisfaction. As a result, we haven’t the freedom to realize our uniquely human potential. That is to say, fear is leveraged to guide (if not control) behavior. Paradoxically, simultaneously people are led to believe they are acting as free independent individuals even as they are all doing and seeking the very same thing, as required by capitalism. Talk about being flimflammed out of our (real) freedom!
The capitalistic system wouldn’t have it any other way. It is a self-serving objectifying, exploitive and extractive system. Having people believe that material self-interest is a primary defining human characteristic of humankind is absolutely necessary. Moreover, believing that we each (especially Americans) are rugged self-reliant individuals in pursuit of material self-interest serves the system of capitalism as well—think Hunger Games. We are led to believe it is all about ‘me’ and to hell with ‘we’—in fact there is no ‘we’. This being the destructive original big lie that is feeding inadequate action today!
Though we are born as human beings we aren’t born (fully) developed in our personhood/humanness. This development toward self-actualization should be the focus and attention in life, not material self-interest. Being consumed by the latter actually inhibits focused attention to the former. Quite nonsensically, we’ve been led to believe that freedom means freedom from the constraint of living in a deeply interconnected world. It is not a great stretch from this to seeing responsible climate change action as an affront to freedom.
Recalling Similar Inaction by Those in Authority
The UN report, while comprehensive and very informative, does not go deep enough into the system of causes. I’ll explain by relating my experience with corporate managers when consulting on W. Edwards Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge for quality.
First a little background. Deming called for (first) adopting a new philosophy, which meant having an entirely different business intent. Deming spoke of this required change as a drastic change, not a tweaking or revision of current business practice. It required putting aside one’s system of orientation in order to understand (unfiltered) the new system.
The management of the companies I consulted with were not interested in adopting a new philosophy, just in symptomatic relief of problems arising due to their lack of quality throughout the organization. Their interest was in merely creating the appearance of caring about quality—they knew the steps and wanted to continue dancing to the same tune. Thus, corporate managers chose to remain (willfully) ignorant of what was needed. Hence instead of committing to learning and understanding Deming’s philosophy at a very personal level, they co-opted pieces or methods to fit what they were currently doing. For example, instead of understanding the theory of variation in relation to the organization and its management, they only wanted to use tactics (more accurately mis-use tactics) associated with the theory so that they could better surveil and control workers by ranking and yanking (a.k.a. firing) those workers in the lower 10% of the performance distribution.
Had corporate executives committed to learning and understanding—stopped playing the tune in their mind to which they were dancing in order to listen—this different way-of-business some 40-plus years ago, it is very likely income inequality would have been reduced, the financialization of the economy would not have emerged, the externalities of business would have been dealt with and mitigated and correspondingly the events we’re experiencing today would be significantly less disastrous. Industry and government leaders would have been all-in for understanding the system of causes and thus taking appropriate action.
Humankind, Nature & Capitalism
Additionally In the report, Guterres states, “By transforming how we view nature, we can recognize its true value. By reflecting this value in policies, plans and economic systems, we can channel investments into activities that restore nature and are rewarded for it. By recognizing nature as an indispensable ally, we can unleash human ingenuity in the service of sustainability and secure our own health and well-being alongside that of the planet.” Nature surely is indispensable not because it can be used by humankind for economic purposes, but because we are in Nature and Nature is in us. The relationship is a deeply nested holarchical interconnectedness. Further, stating that Nature is an ally, implies it is just (something) out there separate from humankind—like another business entity—with which we cooperate. Yes being in cooperation with Nature and not in competition (war being the ultimate competition) is needed but this doesn’t quite capture our holarchic interconnectedness.
Missing is the acknowledged need for the transformation of our very way-of being-in-the-world. Yes, we have to change how we view Nature, but it must also be explicitly acknowledged that we have to change the way we view ourselves and our relationships in and with the world. That is, we each need to better understand our very nature, understand our shared humanity and our deep interconnectedness with Nature. In so doing, we will understand that what we do to each other we do to ourselves and, similarly, what we do to Nature we do to ourselves—this is inescapable. We must understand, continuing as we are, we are committing suicide; that capitalism has put us on a path of self-destruction; that capitalism is incompatible with life itself.
The UN report is extremely informative for what it reveals and for what is not explicitly stated. It is worth noting, capitalism is not at all mentioned. Though Inger Anderson (UNEP) identified “decades of relentless and unsustainable consumption and production” as driving the crisis, capitalism was not specifically named. How can this be when the system of capitalism requires humankind’s domination/mastery over Nature in pursuit of unlimited material growth? The war humanity is waging against Nature is a capitalist necessity—Capitalism vs Nature. Given our deep connectedness with Nature, in effect, this war is a war against ourselves. If only we’d learn anew and gain the understanding to realize this!
This understanding will lay at our feet and make crystal clear the fact that capitalism—with its intent of unlimited material growth and objectification/commodification of everything—is incompatible with each developing their personhood/humanness, with understanding the deep interconnectedness with Nature and correspondingly with our viability of as a species. Inserting notes/lyrics from a different tune into the current tune— such as, “include natural capital in decision-making”—will lead to something people won’t/can’t dance to. Mere economic policy change won’t cut it! What is needed is a change of the system not changes in the system!
Thus, the structuring our life and correspondingly our behavior commensurate with capitalism is at the root of the more frequent and more devastating events we are experiencing. The longer we continue to adhere to capitalism as our economic/societal system of orientation informing decisions/behavior—continuing to dance to the capitalist tune—our viability will be increasingly (and likely forever) diminished.
Ending this suicidal behavior—changing our worldview, our system of orientation—is where very few, especially those in authority, are willing to go. Why? They’ve either internalized capitalism’s intent—believing that is just our nature to pursue material gain, so it’s against our nature to stop doing so—or they’ve become addicted to capitalism’s material gain dictate, so they can’t stop.
In either case, what is keeping us from understanding is not a deficiency in intellect but rather willful ignorance—an unwillingness to think critically, systemically and deeply to address the root cause. Simply, seemingly those in authority are not willing to learn to dance to a different tune and to lead us in a different dance in life.
We can’t dissolve the climate crisis—or any of the other devastating and related events—using the same level of thinking and system of orientation that created it!