Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 12, 2007
Arrogant humans outsmart ourselves
By cocooning ourselves in comfort, we disconnect from our sustaining ecosystem
By SUZANNE ELSTON
Last month, four seemingly unrelated events wound together to weave an important warning.
The first event was the devastating fires in southern California. Multi-million dollar homes located on some of the most expensive and desirable real estate on the planet were consumed by fire as quickly as matchsticks. What made the fires even more frightening was the randomness of their path. While some homes remained unscathed, others were burned to the ground.
The second event (if it can be called that) was the airing of a new television commercial. The entire commercial was shot from the inside of a family van.
As the passengers cruise along the interior is described as an entertainment room (children watching videos on two overhead screens), a family room (second row of seats is swiveled backward and family plays a game on a central table) a dining room (family is chowing down on a fast food meal), and finally, a bedroom (contented child is sleeping).
What's so fascinating about the ad is that there is no mention about why we buy vehicles in the first place, which essentially is to get from A to B. More to the point, it doesn't seem to matter.
The third event was a tragic accident that occurred last week. A woman was busy talking on her cell phone while driving her car. As she approached an intersection, the light went amber.
Rather than slowing down, she accelerated her vehicle, hoping to sneak past the tail of the vehicle that was turning left in front of her. Distracted by her conversation she misjudged the gap and collided with the other vehicle. The woman's life ended instantly.
What connects these stories together is that each one, in its own way, is a tale of separation and denial. We create barriers between ourselves and the world around us, arrogantly assuming that in doing so we are protected from the forces of nature that control the destiny of all living things.
This ability to rise above our environment is both a blessing and a curse. 200,000 years ago when we first started walking upright across the plains of Africa, we would probably have been voted "most unlikely to survive." We were small, had no body armour, no claws or killer canines, and we weren't particularly fast runners or climbers.
What we did have was a brain, and that was our saving grace. This remarkable brain enabled us to do what no other species could - imagine the future of possibilities.
"Foresight was our greatest strength," said David Suzuki at a business conference. "Our ability to see what was coming and avoid it is at the very heart of what it means to be human."
Suzuki was speaking to delegates at The Sustainable Operations Summit at Niagara-on-the-Lake. The summit was organized to help business and government leaders network and find solutions to our looming ecological crisis.
The problem, as Suzuki presented it, is that we have outsmarted ourselves. We have used our science and technology to protect us from the environment around us, and in doing so, we are destroying the ecosystem that sustains all life. We are so isolated, so comfortable, so arrogant, we literally can't see that we are in serious danger until our homes burn to the ground around us, or we drive headlong into disaster.
"There is no environment out there," said Suzuki. "We literally are the environment." Despite our air-conditioned vans, our million dollar, climate controlled homes, our air bags and our cell phones; we still are as vulnerable as our ancestors were in ancient Ethiopia.
What's needed, according to Suzuki, is to reconnect with the science that brought us here in the first place. For more than half a century, scientists have been warning that the burning of fossil fuels to heat and air condition our homes and drive our vehicles was literally changing the climate. But because the change wasn't imminent, we have ignored their warnings until it is almost too late.
"We are turning our backs on the very survival of the species," said Suzuki. Despite his truly sobering message, Suzuki believes that there is still hope.
"There are answers out there," said Dr. Suzuki. "Let's get started."
"Solutions are in our nature," says the David Suzuki Foundation. Take the Nature challenge and find out how you can protect the environment. Visit www.davidsuzuki.org.
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