Industrial v. Ecological Thinking

Industrial Age Thinking in Sum
Modern civilization created a capitalist economy based around the idea that humans are separate, and above, the rest of nature. Nature is out there and something to be conquered and used for our benefit. We derive value from it through it’s exploitation. Nature, like labor, is a commodity, and subservient to those who control it. We mine, cut, pump, burn, make, use & waste it to satisfy our daily needs and wants. Through supply and demand, with specialization and the financial system, the market delivers higher standards of living. Deforestation, depleted soils, toxic waste dumps, cancer and dioxins in breast milk are minor prices to pay for progress attained.* Never before have so many of us humans been so comfortable.

Yet, despite a century-plus of nearly unconstrained growth, 3.6B of us (half of humanity) still lack regular access to basic needs, i.e clean water, calories & nutrients. Industrial Age Thinking says we must increase market economic activity. When resources are constrained, we increase efficiency or find alternatives.

We’re in the last days of the Industrial Age.

*Note: Today, every living system on earth is in decline and that decline is accelerating. 200 species went extinct yesterday. 200 species go extinct today. 200 more tomorrow. We’ve lost 98% of old growth forests, 99% of wetlands, 90% of large fish in the ocean. Topsoil is degraded and eroding, aquifers depleted. Without natural capital, our ‘land base,’ the human species can’t exist, i.e. see past failed civilizations. A changing climate makes providing for our needs more difficult.

Ecological Age Thinking in Sum
We eat nature. We breathe it. Nature is in us and everywhere around us. We understand our health is linked to the health of the forests, the soil, the streams and the fish. There are no parts, only participants, for life is a web of relationships and the action or wellbeing of one impacts the wellbeing of the rest.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” -John Muir

Looking through ecological eyes, we see that satisfying our needs and wants (all 7.2B of us) in the existing global economic system has consequences—even if thousands of miles separate us from the sources of our food, clothes, fuel or electronic gadgets. It reveals how seemingly unrelated issues, like climate change and poverty-level wages, are linked. It also means we understand the blame for the erosion of the life support systems ought not lie on consumers who choose poorly. Rather, we see the cause of the degradation and destruction as the result of a poorly designed system. At present, it rewards those who do the most damage and it begs the question: Can we flip it? Can we design an economy that, as it grows, restores habitats, reduces pollution, sequesters carbon and whose benefits accrue more equitably to all 7.2B of us?

What would that economy look like?
Rather than seeing nature as a part of the economy, we look to nature itself as a model and mentor. Over 4B years it’s figured out how to do what naysayers say we can’t, e.g. cycle everything, run on current sunshine, compete in the context of cooperation, self-limit, reach full employment, etc.

With that in mind we challenge the existing paradigm. We get to the roots of the issues we face (the causes of the causes), and create an economy based on what nature does so well. It’s not about sacrifice, but, rather, thriving while restoring life on earth. It’s not the end of growth (but it is the end of chasing GDP), for there is much we still need to grow, e.g. systems thinking and innovation as well as attributes like justice and peace.

If we know where to look, we see the start of it all around us. It’s grass roots, from the bottom up- participatory, decentralized, networked, resilient and broad-based. It encourages collaboration and creativity and demands rules and incentives to change so that rewards go to innovators. It understands the force of the market, but also acknowledges that not everything ought to be sold and that markets requires rules.

What’s your role? How will you use your precious life? Where to begin? Will we be able to fit in as a species in the community of life? This is the most exciting time in the history of the world to be alive. Never before has there been such opportunity. How it ends up, partly is determined by what you do. Remain curious. Listen to nature. Follow that curiosity. And dance along every part of the journey.

Look deep, deep into nature, and you will understand everything better. —Albert Einstein (That’s not a metaphor. Nature holds the playbook for how we fit in).

We have the capacity to create a remarkably different economy: one that can restore ecosystems and protect the environment while bringing forth innovation, prosperity, meaningful work, and true security.
— Paul Hawken

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