What on Earth happened (Editor’s wish for 2019)

Over the festive period I found the time to read an excellent book which retails at £25 but which I found in the Lions shop for 50p. ‘What on Earth Happened’ is ‘The Complete Story of the Planet, Life and People from the Big Bang to the Present Day’ by Christopher Lloyd.
Fast forwarding 13.5 billion years from the Big Bang to around 2.5 million years ago, we can trace the first signs of Prehistoric human life on our planet. For the next 2.49 million years it seems that we existed as hunter gatherers, very much a part of nature, which we revered and worshipped in the knowledge that we are totally dependent upon it for our survival. All the evidence suggests that by and large we were peace loving animals, stronger and fitter than today and, who knows, maybe even much happier?
Then, only around 10,000 years ago, a major development occurred, probably influenced by climate change, which was to radically alter our path- we began to farm. This had many ramifications in terms of our lifestyles, of course, but perhaps the most fundamental shift, which I believe can help to explain much of our predicament today, concerns our relationship to the Earth. Whereas previously everything in our surroundings was sacred, imbued with spirit and, therefore, respected, a new attitude gradually emerged in which nature became something to be manipulated and dominated to suit our wishes. Hierarchies grew more prevalent and we placed mankind at the top of the pile. Our previous spirits and Goddesses of nature were eventually replaced with one omnipotent God who placed mankind at the centre of his universe. The theme was developed by sending his own son, made in his own image, to encourage us to go forth, multiply, subdue and attain dominion over the Earth.
This new outlook came to permeate not only our relationship with the natural world but every other aspect of our lives, including our relationships with each other. Consequently, the last 3,000 years in particular have been characterised by an endless stream of brutal wars, barbarism, genocide, slavery, cruelty and endless suffering, as various ‘civilizations’ or Empires, based on the conquering and exploitation of other lands and peoples, have risen and fallen. This situation has continued pretty much to the present day except that the last century saw another development which was to radically alter our path once more- the discovery of oil.
The ability to harness the energy from oil has vastly improved our capacity to conquer and dominate the Earth. In the space of just 50 years our numbers have rocketed from around 2 billion to approaching 7 billion. Although wars and famines still rage strongly in some areas, many of us have lived through a ‘Golden Age’ with an abundance of food and free from war. Some have even been able to amass mind-boggling levels of wealth so great that, if shared out it would allow us to provide for everyone.
All of this, however, has come at a price. Many other species have not been able to cope with our colossal expansion and have become extinct. The Earth’s natural systems are all at breaking point as we reach the limits to growth which is manifesting itself in political events around the world. The global financial system which has established itself during the ‘Oil Age’ is now struggling to grow further and is being kept afloat by huge levels of debt. As a result, austerity measures have been introduced, causing wide discontent among the working masses. Extreme right wing ‘populists’ are harnessing this discontent to emerge as the new champions of the people, blaming ‘foreigners’ for our woes and promising to make our nations great again by being ruthless competitors. In other words, they are proposing more of the same medicine that we have been taking for the past 3000 years. The consequences are division, hate, conflict and ultimately, if we allow the trend to continue, a return to the barbarities of previous centuries.
My wish for 2019 is for us to finally recognise that the methods of the past can only hasten our demise and to embark on a radically new path. This entails all of us accepting that business as usual is no longer acceptable and taking steps to live within our means, in this country this means reducing our ecological footprint by two thirds. It entails a new ethos which sees respect for and co-operation with all races, cultures and creeds as well as nature as the way for everyone to thrive. A new politics in which the whole of humanity becomes one nation but in which power is devolved to the local level with decisions taken after constructive debate and consensus. A new financial system which prioritises steady degrowth. The evolution of a new humanity which believes in placing the common good before personal interest and consigns conflict and war to the dustbin of history.
A tall order perhaps, but not impossible. There have been flickers of light in our past that show a better world is possible. Around 2,250 years ago, for example, the Emperor Ashocka in India embraced the Buddha’s message of non-violence and merged it with the Hindu reverence for nature to create a State in which all cultures and creeds were respected and people thrived by living within their means and without having to conquer other lands. This example created a huge impact across the whole of Asia and even as far west as Greece, although it has since been destroyed by foreign invaders (of which Britain was the latest of course). But one ray of light remains, high up in the Himalayas in the kingdom of Bhutan, where concerns of social welfare, environmental preservation and cultural protection are given priority over economic growth. We must learn from their example and quickly. Let’s get started!

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