The Legacy

David Suzuki is one of the elder statesmen of the environment movement. I’ve not really read much of his work, but whenever i’ve seen him comment on things he has seemed straightforward and level headed.

His latest book, The Legacy, is a short (it’s less than a hundred pages) summation of his thinking. It’s the kind of poignant, well written, carefully considered book that you’d expect of someone who has spent their life in science and thinking about ecology and environment.

The problem with it is that it’s fighting the last war. Or maybe not even that, maybe it’s fighting the wrong war? It seems to me that the environmental movement has basically bet the farm that people can be persuaded to see their position in the interconnected web of systems that make the earth function.

Meanwhile, the predominant ideologies of the world have been busy making sure that the people are distracted, self-centred, and focused on nothing but their immediate family unit. Nature is something that is mastered, resources are something to be consumed, progress is about doing the same things faster.

This is really bought home by the follow Victor Lebow quote:

Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives today expressed in consumptive terms. The greater the pressures upon the individual to conform to safe and accepted social standards, the more does he tend to express his aspirations and his individuality in terms of what he wears, drives, eats- his home, his car, his pattern of food serving, his hobbies.

These commodities and services must be offered to the consumer with a special urgency. We require not only “forced draft” consumption, but “expensive” consumption as well. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace. We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live, with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption. The home power tools and the whole “do-it-yourself” movement are excellent examples of “expensive” consumption.

What becomes clear is that from the larger viewpoint of our economy, the total effect of all the advertising and promotion and selling is to create and maintain the multiplicity and intensity of wants that are the spur to the standard of living in the United States.

This is really what the last 50 or 60 years have been about–creating enough demand to keep up with our capacity to turn the resources of the earth into consumable goods. Perhaps it seems relatively harmless in the ’50s but as things stand now, with population approaching 7 billion it’s bordering on suicidal.

Democratic capitalism aka consumerism isn’t interested in having people understand that they are part of a complex web of system that are interrelated in more ways than we can possibly imagine. It’s only interest is turning whatever stored sunlight it can lay it’s hands on in to short term profit.

In short, it’s pointless attempting to convince people that nature is beautiful and that we can only survive for the long-term by living in harmony with it, if the entire system of our existence is about maximal exploitation.

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4 thoughts on “The Legacy

  1. I’ve been thinking about whether every life form will try to obtain the maximum energy it possibly can with absolutely no regard to its own survival. No other animal just ever got enough tech together to go beyond the limitations of predator/prey relationships or plant growth or sunlight.

    • Yep, it’s a reasonable question. Perhaps the answer is simply yes, and that means that we are by definition doomed… don’t know about you, but that doesn’t make me feel much better.

        • suspect the conservatives are working on that neovictorianism for england. it’s going to be grand! we’ll have urchins begging on the streets, rich lords and ladies, maybe even a few workhouses. can hardly wait…

Wise words...

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