Pittsburgh 1874, Otto Krebs
Ewan Mealyou writes...
The Cost of Prosperity
We are a very successful species. In the last 10,000 years we have developed highly effective technologies, social and religious structures to exploit the opportunities, and deal with the challenges, that are an inherent part of living on Planet Earth. Shelter, food and energy, bring security, while culture & spirituality bring meaning to our lives.
However, as we proceed into the 21st century it is apparent that the opportunities afforded by these advances are not available to all. Despite man’s astonishing progress the largest portion of the planets population live in poverty and subsist on meagre incomes which deny them security and curtail cultural and spiritual development. Our industrial systems, which bring short term benefits to (largely) Westernised economies, are highly destructive to the environments and natural systems that humans, and all other species, depend on to survive and thrive. Current economic systems, dependent on growth and expansion, are unsustainable in a world of finite resource. Animal, vegetable and mineral resources are exploited, depleted – lost, and poor people in poor nations look at this ‘prosperity’ and rightly ask why they can’t have it too.
Many look at the Industrial Revolution and see it as the source of this trouble. It was the time when the division of mass labour to produce goods efficiently became possible, drawing families from the countryside to work in the industrial centres. There was a massive exploitation of other peoples’ labour to accumulate capital into the hands of a few. (It’s still happening today.) The price paid for this was a loss of agrarian communities and a fundamental dislocation from the seasons, the weather, the Earth. Then, as now, the true cost is not reflected in the retail price of the product. However, much of the life we now know would not be possible without the advancement it brought. Like it or not, as children of the industrial age, we have to live with a paradox.
Downsize, Move Out, Drop Out?
It is this paradox that is at the centre of the environmental debate today. We are living beyond our means but unable to change because our political and industrial structures won’t allow it. By and large, because we humans tend to be short term thinkers, we ignore these bigger problems, and do our recycling. It can seem a hopeless and dispiriting task to think of changing much else. I admire the activists who have the energy and vision to keep going. Most of us don’t get started.
So how do you and I grapple with it? Downsize, move out and drop out? Possibly, but this is probably self serving, and it won’t necessarily change us deeply or have an impact on our society. Maybe we start to ask. What happened (is happening) to our souls? What are the voices of our grandfathers and ancestors saying, or warning us about?
I want my activism to grow out of finding my soul again, and this is a journey inward. If we travel this way we might come back with a gift to our community, which impacts other souls, and helps us all to connect to deeper truths. The fruit of this? Fulfilled lives, simply lived I hope - which may be the antidote to conspicuous consumption. I think going on this journey is to take part in what Jesus called the Kingdom.