Economy vs. ecology

Garrison Ebie

Whenever discussing ecological matters and the problems facing humanity in the future – if we decide to still live on this planet – global warming is usually at the top of the list of issues addressed. But with all the controversy surrounding climate change, I think it’s even more important to indicate the most imminent danger already underway: mass extinction caused by our current policies in global economics.

Humans have been leisurely chomping away at natural resources since we first walked upright a few million years ago. And until a revolution in technology and industry gave us god-like abilities to control entire ecosystems, we generally coincided within the grips of nature.

The human population is 6 billion and for every year that passes, each one of us demands more of these resources at an unnatural rate. The last 100 or so years of progress have brought this epidemic directly to our doorstep and have made humanity’s scar on Earth difficult to ignore.

Our current market influences the public to consume blindly without considering the impact the production and resources has on the environment. People are just too wrapped up in a constant struggle for survival to weigh out the consequences of their actions. For the more fortunate, a distinction between necessity and luxury is often determined based on the needs of business rather than a consumer’s needs.

Current trends of capitalistic globalization are designed to maximize profits, often without a consideration of social good. Even though corporate greed and ignorance may not always be the case, especially with corporations concerned about public image, the ever-growing volume of modern industry is in a direct conflict with the basic principles of nature. Earth has had several billions of years to evolve into what it is now, and the economy as a man-made entity is in contrast with it.

As a first-world western society in the past several decades, we have moved into bigger houses with smaller families and bought bigger cars, more clothes and more food while simply throwing things away without considering limits.

Out of what humanity takes from the earth in one year, it takes the earth one year and four additional months to regenerate. At our current pace, we are liquidating our planet of its goods faster than it can give them back to us. With developing nations anxious to successfully catch up, a human balance with ecosystems needs to be found before the earth has hit the point of no return.

The artificial necessity for goods created a hole in several ecosystems and disrupted a fragile balance of life that was doing fine until humans with dollar signs in their eyes entered the picture.

The earth’s biodiversity is currently facing the sixth largest extinction in geological history. Not since the extermination of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago has there been such a numerable impact on wildlife. This evens out to extinction rates of more than 100 times the natural rate. In Jared Diamond’s book “The Third Chimpanzee,” he writes that even if humans disappeared overnight, our impact on the world would still be noticeable for perhaps centuries to come. In fact, several species of life are currently at numbers so few, they cannot naturally regenerate or recover on their own in the wild.

Initially, one would think that overpopulation is to blame for this daunting predicament facing Earth. Maybe a violent war eliminating half of humanity would solve our problems. However, while human population has increased about 4 to 5 billion in number since the dawn of the industrial revolution, the global economy’s distribution of resources can play a major role in both the existence of poverty and the first world’s devastating impact on the world.

According to the World Bank Development Coordinators in 2008, the richest 20 percent of people in the world consumed 76.6 percent of all resources while the poorest 20 percent consumed only 1.5 percent. In America, we set a terrible example for how we should coincide with nature. Material gain has failed to make us happy, even with the Western world living the most luxuriously. Levels of depression and suicide are higher in America than anywhere else in the world.

The effort to escape the recent recession has completely ignored the call for a necessary new system of economics that should lessen humanity’s impact on the globe. As stated by Robert Muller, former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, “The single most important contribution any of us can make to the planet is a return to frugality.”

I’m not saying that we should or could enter a state of quasi-Amish living. But the constant struggle to continue our system of rampant consumerism will inevitably be our demise. Some of us have just short of a heart attack if our fast food isn’t fast enough or iPod isn’t new enough. It will take a matter of time to shift the consciousness of humans away from instant gratification and waste without consequence, but if we want this planet to last much longer, it’s about time to suck it up and try.

Garrison Ebie is a senior electronic media production major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].