Unless the wisdom of limitations becomes the mainstream thought, it is unlikely that the human enterprise will reduce its multiples stresses on the biosphere.It would be hard to reconcile that the species that has all but proven its supremacy with no less than 7.8 billion humans currently dispersed across the globe and growing, has also stockpiled some 15,000 nuclear weapons enough for self-annihilation many times over its present and future numbers. Even if there are deterrents to pressing the nuclear button, the growing number of humans and their insatiable consumptive desire is sure to suck life out from all other living creatures on this planet. Shockingly, this is the new normal towards which the world is fast hurtling.
And it doesn’t concern many that at this pace future generations are bound to inherit a different planet, perhaps inhospitable. Expanding human mobility, spreading modern conveniences, multiplying commodities glut, and enabling food choices have given unrestricted boost to the idea of human expansionism even as nature is screaming for freedom from such an onslaught. That there is a global ecological crisis of unprecedented magnitude knocking at our doors hardly registers. Instead, what often gets argued is that techno-managerial leap of progress will sail humanity through such adversities. With man-made disasters mounting by the day, how far can market-driven technologies be able to contain the collapse of its own making?
Virginia Tech professor Eileen Crist takes on this overwhelming question from all pervasive and disturbing ideas that not only human impact on nature is natural but maintaining wilderness is a defunct idea that doesn’t augur well for human freedom and economic welfare. It is a constructed reality that harbors multitudes of challenges for human survival on this planet. Even though it is not widely acknowledged, a belief in human supremacy is anything but self-destructive. While being optimist that an ecological civilization is not an altogether utopian idea, she questions why significant steps have not been taken by humans to live in loving fellowship with our earthly wild without whom the exuberant dance of seasons, diversity, complexity and abundance will remain mere screen savers in our virtual world. Abundant Earth is a beautifully crafted book that not only touches upon the ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘what’ of the impending ecological crises but provides ‘what next’ of an integral way of life to halt the inevitable
Enlisting direct causes and unraveling underlying drivers leading to the eco-crises at hand, Abundant Earth challenges the false sense of human supremacy while calling for a challenging task of scaling it down and pulling back. Despite it being politically controversial, the book strongly advocates the need for reframing the population question because ‘overconsumption’ and ‘overpopulation’ are two faces of the same coin. Given an all pervasive mainstream trend to bring the entire population at a universal consumer standard, the projected ballooning of global middle class to 5 billion by 2030, from the present 3.2 billion, will turn the earth into an unimaginable waste bin. The world can ill-afford such a transformation, which will cause an irreversible blow to the biosphere if it hasn’t done that already!
Crist is clear in her assessment that an immediate turn in the direction of a global ecological civilization is the only option. For such a change to happen, the current trends of economic growth and techno-managerialism would need to take a break. Unless the wisdom of limitations becomes the mainstream thought, it is unlikely that the human enterprise will reduce its multiples stresses on the biosphere. While making a fact-filled assessment of the current dystopia, Abundant Earth draws a realistic blueprint to halt the decline. Crist deserves appreciation for writing a book that will appeal to a wider audience interested in the affairs of the Earth.
by Eileen Crist
The University of Chicago Press, London
Extent: 307, Price: US$35.
(Sudhirendar Sharma is a writer on development issues based in New Delhi, India)