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Losing Our Humanity

Humankind now lives in a time of profound change, social and economic turmoil, and unprecedented environmental challenges.

Some say the future is not what it used to be. That the past is dead. And the present is an illusion. It’s safe to say that the future holds potential vastly different to our “business as usual”, far removed from the economic model to which society’s power-brokers so desperately cling.

Change is inevitable. This is not least because the challenges we face are simultaneously environmental, technological, economic, social and cultural. Human self-interest as we know it is destined to evolve.

Increasingly, people are becoming aware of the environmental impacts of modern economic development.

Climate change reflects the unprecedented rate at which the planet’s atmosphere is heating up. Extinction rates are the greatest they’ve been in more than 65 million years, greater even than when the dinosaurs were wiped from the face of the Earth. And still the human population continues to explode while people all over the world strive to acquire yet more of their “fair share” of the Earth’s material outputs.

Technology bursts forth with new developments almost daily. Every new “improvement” contributes to changes (big and small) in the economic and social hierarchy, the implications of which we seem to know or care little about.

And what of our diverse human cultures evolved over millennia?

In one fell swoop, with the rise of the global economy, we now witness the homogenisation of culture into the Western mould. From one side of the planet to the other, people are torn from traditional ways of life and thrust into a market economy and consumer society hell-bent on taking over the world (Paul Ekins, Wealth Beyond Measure, 1992).

We are setting ourselves up for environmental, social and economic calamities of unprecedented proportions. The world we have created through blatant self-interest is even more blatantly unsustainable. From all the projections of doom and gloom, it could be argued that the human species has a singular responsibility – to ourselves, each other, and the natural world that gives life to us all. That responsibility is to seek – and achieve – a new equilibrium with our environment, one that ensures the well-being, health and prosperity of both the human and nonhuman worlds.

Our default problem-solving methods will be of limited use. We cannot solve the problems we face today using the same tools of thinking and behaviour that created those problems in the first place. Albert Einstein said something to this effect, and he was bang on.

Conventional scientific and economic thinking will not do the trick, not least because these are best applied to the inorganic realms of human existence. We need other ways of seeing and understanding the world – an increasingly holistic and participatory approach – that integrates the ethical, social, ecological, and economic dimensions of human experience (Ekins, 1992).

Such integration is necessary if we are to expose – and respond to – the fact that current economic practice destroys more wealth than it creates.

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