October 23, 2017

World War III – what shall the meek inherit?

From The World Paper, November 1989

The Third World War has already been declared. It is being waged against nature, and nature is in retreat. The natural world is dying. It is dying fast—so fast that if current trends continue it will soon cease to be capable of supporting complex forms of life such as human beings.

The runaway destruction of the world’s remaining tropical forests is only one of the threats to human survival on this planet. Temperate forests are also dying over a wide area from acid rain-caused by uncontrolled industrial pollution. Our agricultural lands are being eroded, salinized, desertified and paved over at the rate of some 20 million hectares per year.

Our oceans, seas, rivers and groundwater resources are being used as a dumping ground for prodigious amounts of sewage, heavy metals and toxic chemicals—absorbing, among other things, much of the more than 10 billion tons of toxic chemicals disposed of every year by US industry alone.

We must immediately organize ourselves to face this emergency. But this means recognizing—however loath we may be to do so—that it is of our own creation, that industrial society by its very nature must necessarily destroy the natural world on which it ultimately depends for its sustenance. For, to survive, industry must continually expand, and economic expansion entails the contraction and degradation of the natural world from which it derives its resources and to which it must inevitably consign its increasingly voluminous and ever more toxic wastes.

We must reconsider the most basic assumptions underlying our modern worldview. The most fundamental is that science, technology and industry can create a paradise on Earth. This assumption implies that the world is a lousy place, unfit for human habitation, and that, to make it habitable, modern man must systematically transform it to make it conform to his own vastly superior design. Modern man has, in effect, deified himself. But he is a false God. It is not a paradise that he is creating on earth but a nightmare—a nightmare world to which man is becoming less adapted, and that is becoming incapable of satisfying his social, psychological, spiritual and aesthetic, let alone his ecological, needs. Ours is becoming a world designed for unfeeling robots, not for living people. If we question this fundamental assumption, we must question economic development itself, to whose achievement all other considerations are ruthlessly subordinated.

Admittedly, this economic development provides us with material and technological benefits: automobiles, airplanes, washing machines, plastic buckets, tinned pet foods and the like. But it does so at the cost of depriving us of real benefits—those derived from the natural world, from our family and community, from fertile soil, abundant and unpolluted water, and a favourable and stable climate. These are the real resources.

Clearly, if we are to handle this terrible emergency, economic considerations must be ruthlessly subordinated to social, ecological and other imperatives. Our overriding priority must be to protect what remains and indeed recreate social and ecological wealth, thereby increasing the capacity of the natural world to sustain us.


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