The end is nigh

A colleague asked me yesterday: Is pollution an ethical issue?

My gut response; my intellectual, spiritual and emotional responses are yes, yes, a thousand times: YES!

Our Earth is sacred, an expression of The Divine Something that some call God.  Human beings are natural organisms that evolved on this Earth – we are part of this sacred biosphere. We are reliant on her for our sustenance.

And we are desecrating our own house. We are desecrating this Earth by our actions. It is estimated that 30 – 50% of all different species will be extinct by mid century.

One of the primary causes is pollution. One example is ocean acidification caused by CO2 pollution in the atmosphere. The CO2 dissolves in water to make weak carbonic acid. This threatens all shellfish, corals and other organisms that use calcium carbonate as part of their exoskeleton. Even weak acids will dissolve calcium carbonate.

Is it ethical to let all these organisms die? This is starting to happen now, and will continue unless we reduce CO2 pollution into our air. Or to draw on a Maori perspective – reduce the pollution of the realm of Tawhiri Matea.

I could continue to write for another six months, and still not compile a full list of the ways we are polluting Gaia, and and causing extreme distress to many; human and other.

How can this not be an ethical issue? Surely the sixth mass extinction is an apocalyptic and still partly preventable event? An event worse that the extinction of the dinosaurs! The events we have set in motion are unstoppable. Much damage has already been done: Forests cleared, water fouled, air polluted and soil contaminated. But there is much that can be done to help, to heal, Earth.

How can inaction be an ethical response? All over Earth there are thousands, millions, responding to this great ethical issue of our time. I could write for another six months and still not list properly all of the wonderful work being done.

Permaculturists, inspired and guided by the ethics of Care for Earth, Care for People and Fair Share for All, are a good example.

The end of society as we know it is nigh. And this is not only because of present and looming environmental disaster.

Technology! Buckminster Fuller presents a strong argument that the only thing that actually truly changes human society is technological change. In the broad sweep of history, religions and civilisations come and go. But once a technology has been developed its effects continue.

“We live in a time where the old gods are dying and new gods are being born. A time where Kali dances destruction and gives birth to the new. It is a time of grief. Of rending clothes and wailing. The old is going and we don’t know what will replace it.”

Caitlin and John Matthews – The Western Way

Technological change is happening exponentially. For approximately the last hundred years the computational power of our society has doubled about every two years. There is more computing power in one of our smartphones than President Clinton had available to him as President of the United States.

3D printers are now making prosthetic limbs at a cost that is about one thirtieth of the usual cost. With this technology the marginal cost of manufacturing new items approaches zero. This could destroy economies, such as China, that are reliant on manufacturing. Literally, hundreds of millions could be out of work. By the same token, life changing and enhancing technologies are becoming affordable for all. Maybe we need to redefine employment?

Solar power is another example. It is estimated, using the current, observed, exponential growth rate of solar panel usage, that there will be enough electricity produced in 25 years to supply all human energy needs. This will mean that the marginal cost of units of energy, produced using printed solar panels, will approach zero. This means that OPEC will no longer have much economic influence and oil is a sunset industry. What will this mean for the Middle East?

This will be a transition from a capitalist society based on scarcity value, to a society where energy abundance is the norm. This was the vision Buckminster Fuller wrote about in “Critical Path”.

What will be the ethics that guide us on this transition? Can we make this transition – or have we damaged our environment so much that social breakdown is inevitable? Is this not an impending apocalypse? A lifting of the veil on something new?

The end IS nigh, and we don’t know what will be next! And I find this profoundly uncomfortable, but also incredibly exciting!

– Richard


In addition to the work of permaculturists, I also want to acknowledge Dark Mountain Project and Salim Ismail as primary influences on this piece of writing.

Suggested links

The Dark Mountain Project

Video: Salam Ismail on exponential growth

Salim Ismail – Website Climate Change means one world’s death is another’s birth

The Western Way: A Practical Guide to the Western Mystery Tradition – The Native Tradition by John and Caitlin Matthews

3D printed limbs

Enabling the future – 3D printed prosthetics

Buckminster Fuller

Buckminster Fuller – Website

The Critical Path, by Buckminster Fuller

Biodiversity and Endangered Species

Endangered Species International: The five worst mass extinctions

Center for Biological Diversity: The extinction crisis (the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals)