A guest post by Déaghán Ó Céitinn examining sustainability and the challenges posed by a deteriorating global environment. Currently resident in Perth, Australia, where he is active with Cairde Sinn Féin, Déaghán is interested in Irish history, language and culture.
A dystopian society is one that is undesirable or frightening; by definition, the opposite of utopian. Many people argue that our present era is better than the Victorian age which proceeded it, which in turn was an improvement on the Georgian period, and so on back into the mists of time. The common belief is that we must be inevitably improving with each new generation or sets of generations. I’m sorry to say that this logic is incorrect. This ‘wait it out’ strategy is simply not effective in dealing with the many problems facing our modern world. Every day 5,500 African children die. Every day 2.47 million trees are cut down. Every day the gap between the rich and poor gets greater. The last 50 years have seen more animals go extinct than at any other time in human history, with experts now predicting that by 2048 there will be little life left in the oceans. 90% of all organisms that have ever lived on this planet are now extinct. This is not sustainable.
The European Union’s failure to integrate communities of a Middle-Eastern extraction into mainstream European society has created a surge in home-grown Islamic extremists. How does Europe react to this issue? By alienating those who adhere to the Muslim faith within Europe itself. This can be witnessed in nations like France which has passed laws banning Muslim women wearing the hijab in certain circumstances and arresting people under an ‘Apology to Terrorism’ act. What is more sinister? The threat of being blown up by a radicalised extremist or the European reaction towards those fleeing war and the growth of authoritarianism across the globe?
Despite the ‘civilised’ mask, countries like England, the United States and Australia fight in wars that are of no relevance to them beyond seeking access to valuable natural resources prized by many Western powers. Despite surface allegiances between these nations, they still feel the need to spy on each other and in some cases still develop nuclear weapons targeting each other. Statistics show that since 2010 state-run eavesdropping and surveillance by the US has tripled while €2.3 billion has been spent on maintaining nuclear arsenals. Contrast this with the extreme poverty and child slavery still prevalent in some countries around the world. Do we care more about killing other human beings than we do about helping them? As of 2015, obesity has become a bigger problem than hunger with the world producing 17% more food per person now than we did 30 years ago. But close to a billion people, all around the world are malnourished. This is not sustainable.
The earth is 4.6 billion years old but if we scale that down to 46 years, humans appeared on the earth 4 hours ago and our industrial revolution occurred one minute ago. In that one minute we have managed to destroy 50% of the world’s forests. Experts are unanimous in telling us that ‘this is not sustainable’ so why have we not stopped? The water crisis, as a measure of the devastation, is the number one global risk based on the huge impact it is having on societies and communities around the globe. This was announced in January 2015 and since then little has been done to preserve earth’s most valuable resource – water. This is not sustainable.
Humans are extracting and stealing the little pockets of sunlight from the earth. Every day we rip, tear and bore, further and further into the earth trying to extract as many resources as we can find. This is not sustainable.
Even man-made systems are failing us, notably the global capitalist economy. As of December 2015 over a thousand adults with children are living in the streets of our capital city of Dublin because of an ongoing world-wide recession. This is not sustainable.
Global warming and climate change are perhaps the biggest problems that humanity has ever faced – the depleting of gases in the ozone layer, the extreme heating of the earth’s surface, and the already melting polar ice caps. These occurrences are seemingly irreversible, like potentially fatal wounds in a complex global eco-system. Scientists tell us we need to stop now, yet every day more gases are pumped into the atmosphere at record-breaking levels. This is not sustainable.
We, in the modern world, have become more materialistic with each passing day. No truer words have been spoken than ‘empathy rarely extends beyond our line of vision’. We idealise people such as the Kardashians who inspire an increase in the superficial nature of our contemporary society. Information has never been more accessible yet interest in the outside world has dropped dramatically. We think ourselves liberal. But look at Europe with its failings on the refugee crisis, America with the election of Trump, Israel with the worsening occupation of Palestine, Australia with the ‘boat people’ and the Middle-East with its related conflicts. This liberal image we have of ourselves, this look how far we’ve progressed attitude, is simply a façade with no real substance. A mantra to make us feel more comfortable and accomplished.
I don’t find radical Islam scary but I do find islamophobia scary. I don’t find Donald Trump scary but I do find the American electorate supporting a clearly fascist leader scary. I don’t find homosexuality scary but I do find homophobia scary. I do not find climate change scary but I do find our lack of response to it scary. I don’t find terrorism scary but I do find our response to it scary. We are becoming parasites on the earth, exploiting and denuding the world and its flora and fauna. Our cities are like rashes on the earth’s surface. We take too much from it yet we return so little. This is not sustainable.
I don’t know why there is not more action towards solving these problems. Some suspect it is a uniformed populace, others argue it is government incompetence and some even argue that these problems don’t exist. However I am inclined to believe insufficient action has taken place because it requires people do something now, it requires effort. Without that the future well-being of the human race will not be sustainable.