When the Titanic was launched to wide acclaim as an “unsinkable ship” it can at least be said that they tried. In regards to the maiden voyage of human planetary civilisation, it seems doubtful that anyone could be said to have constructed any kind of waterproof plan for continuity and sustainability. We now find ourselves in what is perhaps an inevitable situation in which the aggregate cost in unrecoverable energy (as entropy and waste) generated by our Global civilisation is beginning to sink us.
Much could be said of the psychological constraints and ideological inhibitions placed on the development of sustainable environmental practice. Much more should probably be said of the aptitude of leadership where a possibility of long-term sustainability and the continuing tenure of human civilisation on this planet is traded for short-term political gain. Although responsibility and causal attribution should always be acknowledged, what matters more than blame in this rising tide of environmental chaos is the application of intelligence and insight to disentangling the core issues.
The burning Amazon is as much a symptom of a world divided against itself as it is a consequence of the limited conceptual horizons of much of contemporary political debate. A world of ever-increasing complexity and rising economic and existential insecurity that leads disenfranchised populations to vote for simplistic, populist caricatures and solutions is creating a perfect storm of complex feedback loops and disaster. Where simple solutions are offered in response to complex issues, the complexity does not disappear – it becomes amplified such that no amount of misdirection or displacement can obscure it for long.
Bolsonaro ascended to power on a wave of populist simplicities and jingoistic caricature. The interpretation of the Amazon as being a short-term economic asset for accelerated development and capital exploitation is environmentally bankrupt. The rich natural resource of rainforest as viewed from within a limited logic of short-term self-interest and political gain makes perfect sense to be an asset ripe for exploitation. The fallacy of this position has become clear now that the accelerated clearing of rainforest has developed its own momentum and has become a bona fide out-of-control disaster.
Observing this unfolding environmental catastrophe we can probably make some salient observations. Natural resources are of more long-term value than are the short-term self-interests of political parties (of any ideological persuasion). The rich and stored complexity of living systems as integrated networks that in gestalt regulate planetary homeostasis is orders of magnitude more important and valuable than any short-term political benefit derived from investment in unsustainable industries and economic practices. Insufficient immediate action on climate change and the complex web of associated and interdependent environmental issues is a displacement of short-term pain, economic hardship and lifestyle changes into a long-term future of extreme complexity and unmanageable social and economic costs.
The burning Amazon is a catastrophe. It is also a metaphor for a planet whose ascendant inhabitants have absolutely no control over their own belligerent, exploitative, egocentric and selfish civilisation. In the face of the unfolding disasters of this Global civilisation’s own unsustainable self-disassembly, are we destined to double-down on the pathological political and ideological worldviews which have led us here? This is however no longer a time for hyperbole, finger-pointing and blame-shifting, we have long-since passed the threshold of no return. It is now the time that we should coordinate Globally to fight the fires of the Amazon, of the endless sabre-rattling of war and conflict and the adversarial imperative of egoistic politics and greedy economic self-interests.
Quite simply – we must act now, together, or we may just end up extinguishing ourselves and everything, EVERYTHING we value from existence. It was a quiet Universe before we all arrived. It will be deathly silent without us.