A cry for an alternative paradigm

I would hazard to opine that every right-thinking person would subscribe to the evident truth that the environment is undergoing a major change.

It is a change for the worst, and fast becoming a present and imminent danger to all living things. The naysayers or rather the deniers, are however in the majority. I will explain.

But first, let’s examine the evidence of the crisis, or in poetic language, the so-called writings on the wall? One clear example is that plants and animals are becoming extinct in unprecedented numbers, and at an unprecedented pace.

The oceans’ fisheries are in decline, and in some waters, the fish stocks have virtually collapsed. The water that we drink, and which is so fundamental to our very survival, is increasingly polluted.

Making it potable requires a lot of effort and money. Finally, even the air we breathe, the so called ‘free and fresh air’ is frequently turning into a choking smog and is contaminated by industrial and agricultural pollutants. As witnessed by the haze episodes that we have had to go through not too long ago.

So, one can confidently say that there is no doubt that environmental crisis is the biggest problem of our times. Or so it seems. Or is the crisis just a manifestation or symptom of a bigger and deeper problem or crisis?

Understanding the root cause is the key to solving a problem, and we have a massive one on our hands. Otherwise, it will be a case of treating the symptoms and not the root cause of the disease or malady.

So, what is the root cause of the environmental crisis? Some people point to the fact of the overpopulation of the world — that there are simply just too many people for the planet to accommodate and sustain. As a result, the depleting resources of the world are being exploited to the point of shortage and crisis.

Just pick any minerals, organic resources such as forests and fisheries, and even the so-called free air that we breathe, none is left unmolested, untouched and unpolluted. Many plant and animal species have been harvested to the point of extinction.

At the same time, especially since the onset of the industrial revolution, mankind has been releasing toxins and pollutants upon the Earth in such volume and intensity that had severely altered the environment we are living in, and causing all sorts of problems, including, it has now been established, interference in the reproductive capabilities of animals (including the human).

This is directly undermining the very survival of many species, including ours, that share the living environment. The deterioration of the environment is definitely and clearly anthropogenic.

These events that I have enumerated, and more, are signs and messages to us, in very clear and unambiguous terms. The message is that the ability or power of renewal of the Earth, or its natural ability to regenerate, has been severely impacted.

The social structures of man, plants and animals are dependent upon this characteristic of the Earth to renew and regenerate itself, but this has been severely interrupted, and as a consequence, has put all forms of life on the Earth in mortal danger.

Put differently, the environmental crisis is Earth’s way of reacting to human behaviour, to a defective value system, to the misguided embrace of the so-called concept of “modernity” or “idea of progress” which is embedded in the belief of the need to subjugate and conquer nature through exploitative human enterprise.

The majority of mankind seems to have embraced this false belief. They cannot see the link between their own values, beliefs and actions do the adverse impacts on the environment. Hence, my earlier assertion that the majority are in denial.

Therefore, the environmental crisis is, put simply, just a reminder and a warning to us — to take notice, to re-examine our beliefs and philosophy and, to respond accordingly. Mankind needs to get back to a “right path” or proper relationship with nature and to change our ways.

I believe the same message in contained in all the major religions and traditional belief systems. In fact, it is a message that’s inherent within us, but which we have somehow chosen to ignore.

The rest of creation understands the message, fully accepts it and exists in total submission to it.

Perhaps, we need to get back to the basics and to truly understand the fundamentals of our own religious and belief systems. And then to translate the same into our daily lives — how we treat our environment, how we conduct our economic activities, transact of commercial affairs, structure our relationships with nature and between our fellow men, and the rest of creation.

And finally, how we conduct our relationship with our Creator and the Creator of everything. In other words, we have to realise that indeed we have strayed from the right path and that we need to return to it to realise our true state of nature.

That is the paradigm shift required. We need to re-examine our condition and find the alternative to business as usual. Business as usual is fraught with risks and dreadful consequences.

As the Bible says, the ‘wages of sin is death’, which in this present discourse refers to the slow death of our living environment, and, by extension, our very own extinction. All due to our own doing or our sins, in religious terminology.

Until we return to the right path, we will remain in our dire straits, which will spiral and become increasingly worst as we go forward.

The assertion is this essay is that the environmental crisis has to be seen as a crisis of humanity and our so-called modern civilisation. We have to realise that the “bedrock assumptions of our civilisation are increasingly at odds with the world we now inhabit” (as put by Dumanoski, 2001). We need to re-examine those assumptions and premises.

We have to come to the realisation that the environmental crisis is a manifestation of our own “spiritual crisis”, “bankrupt spiritual condition” and a “disconnect with our true nature”.

The crisis is a loud wakeup call which challenges us to explore, reflect upon, and re-examine what is it that we should hold to be of ultimate importance and value.

The essence of this spiritual crisis lies in the greed for more and more. The malady has so occupied the majority of mankind that the pursuit for more and more has made them heedless of every higher thing in life or the true meaning of existence.

This obsession with all kinds of gains and benefits, pleasures and comforts, the passion for acquiring more and more means of power and authority, vying with others in pursuit of these and bragging and boasting of their abundance has gotten under the skin of almost everyone. In religious terms, these are all false idols that we have created for worship.

The passion for piling up more and more of the things of this world has made people heedless of everything more important than all of these things.

The religious will say the people have become heedless of God, of the Hereafter, of the moral bounds and moral responsibilities, of the rights of others and of their own obligations to render those rights.

A gaping moral and spiritual bankruptcy in the face of untold worldly riches. Colourful language.

But I like the provocative words of wisdom or prophecy of the Cree Indians best: “When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten and the last stream poisoned, you will realise that you cannot eat money.”

Maybe, there is still hope in all these gloomy scenarios playing before our eyes due to the environmental crisis that has come upon us. To be able to see through the raging storm by acknowledging the real or root cause of our human condition is the alternative paradigm shift that is so badly needed.

As some enlightened soul has succinctly put it, “Life is ironic. It takes sadness to know happiness, noise to appreciate silence, and absence to value presence.” Hopefully, the shift will happen before it is too late.

In conclusion, saying that the environmental crisis is the biggest challenge of our time is only partially correct. The real and biggest challenge is rooted in our spiritual condition which causes us to be blind to the higher things in life.

I believe all religions are consistent on this point and some explicitly say that we are only fit for the bonfire if we are blinded to the higher things in life. That bonfire could be a metaphor. 

A poem to remind is perhaps apt here:

The Game That People Play

By Maya Green

Protect your eyes

Tie up your hands

Put weights on your feet

And shut off your hearing

Lock up yourself in your abode

So, you won’t be sucked into the eye of the storm

For everyone is playing a silly game

A tornado dance called “more and more”

Where the passion is not for love

But of piling up more and more

Of things, of things of this world

An obsession with all kinds of gains, and fleeting benefits

Of pleasures, and comforts

Of power, and authority

Of the right to brag, and to boast

Of branded goods and materials

Protect yourself

From becoming heedless of the higher things

Or the true meaning of life

Protect yourself

From becoming heedless of God

And the Hereafter

Don’t play the same game that people play

Tg Batu, Bintulu

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