How then do we live as humans in a way that honours rather than endangers the life of our planet? Or, to put it slightly differently, ‘How do we live in a way that shows an understanding that we genuinely live in a shared world, not one that simply belongs to us?’ This would be a good question even if we were not faced with the threats associated with global warming, with the reduction of biodiversity, with desertification and deforestation, with fuel and food shortages. We should be asking the question whether or not it happens to be urgent, just because it is a question about how we live humanly, how we live in such a way as to show that we understand and respect that we are only one species within creation. The nature of our crisis is such that we can easily fall back on a position that says it isn’t worth trying to change our patterns of behaviour, notably our patterns of consumption, because it’s already too late to arrest the pace of global warming. But the question of exactly how late it is isn’t the only one, and concentrating only on this can blind us to a more basic point. If we are locked into a way of life that does not honour who and what we are because it does not honour life itself and our calling to nourish it, we are not even going to know where to start in addressing the environmental challenge.
Alastair McIntosh in his splendid book, Hell and High Water. Climate Change, Hope and the Human Condition, speaks of what he calls our current ‘ecocidal’ patterns of consumption as addictive and self-destructive. Living like this is living at a less than properly human level: McIntosh suggests we may need therapy, what he describes as a ‘cultural psychotherapy’ (chapter 9) to liberate us. That liberation may or may not be enough to avert disaster. We simply don’t know, though it would be a very foolish person who took that to mean that it might be all right after all. What we do know ”“ or should know ”“ is that we are living inhumanly.
Start from here and the significance of small changes is obvious. If I ask what’s the point of my undertaking a modest amount of recycling my rubbish or scaling down my air travel, the answer is not that this will unquestionably save the world within six months, but in the first place that it’s a step towards liberation from a cycle of behaviour that is keeping me, indeed most of us, in a dangerous state ”“ dangerous, that is, to our human dignity and self-respect.
Read it all.