Guest essay by Eric Worrall
According to Guardian author Peter Sutoris, we need to rediscover the environmental connectedness of indigenous peoples, though we might get to keep some of our tech toys.
The climate crisis requires a new culture and politics, not just new tech
Mon 24 May 2021 21.00 AEST
This moment calls for humility – we cannot innovate ourselves out of this mess
We are living through what scientists call the Anthropocene, a new geological age during which humans have become the dominant force shaping the natural environment. Many scientists date this new period to the post-second world war economic boom, the “great acceleration”. This rapid increase in our control over the Earth has brought us to the precipice of catastrophic climate change, triggered a mass extinction, disrupted our planet’s nitrogen cycles and acidified its oceans, among other things.
Our society has come to believe that technology is the solution. Electricity from renewable sources, energy-efficient buildings, electric vehicles and hydrogen fuels are among the many innovations that we hope will play a decisive role in reducing emissions. Most of the mainstream climate-change models now assume some degree of “negative emissions” in the future, relying on large-scale carbon capture technology, despite the fact that it is far from ready to be implemented. And if all else fails, the story goes, we can geoengineer the Earth.
Our civilisation is underpinned by extractivism, a belief that the Earth is ours to exploit, and the nonsensical idea of infinite growth within a finite territory. Material possessions as markers of achievement, a drive to consume for the sake of consumption, and blindness to the long-term consequences of our actions, have all become part of the culture of global capitalism. But there is nothing self-evident about these things, as indigenous peoples teach us.
Many indigenous groups got to know their natural environments intimately and sustained themselves over millennia, often despite harsh conditions. They came to understand the limits of what these environments could support, and they grasped that caring for the environment was simultaneously an act of self-care. Pacific islanders would designate no-go areas of the ocean to avoid overfishing, while high-altitude farmers in the Andes would rely on terraces that reduced erosion to grow their crops. It is not a coincidence that as much as 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversityis located within territories inhabited by indigenous peoples.
Talk of society re-embracing indigenous lifestyles in my opinion is nonsense. People who choose to live this way, I have no problem with that. But most of us enjoy our comforts.
Most people in advanced countries, even people whose ancestors lived indigenous lifestyles, live modern lifestyles of their own free will.
Authors like Peter Sutoris talk the talk, but my guess is he is typing on a computer which contains lots of plastic and refined metal, lives in a warm, waterproof and comfortable house, has a nice place to sleep, and has a freezer stuffed full of food, at least some of which he didn’t have to hunt or grow.
The idea of ending “speciesism”, ending prioritisation of human welfare, might sound nice and fluffy, but a serious attempt to downgrade human welfare as a priority would almost certainly have severe consequences. You don’t have to look far back in history to find periods of horrible suffering, like Mao’s Great Leap Forward, or the periods of severe famine in early Soviet times, all caused by governments which focussed on priorities other than taking care of their people.