Eco-Awareness: Holistic decision making

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

Outside of the two World Wars it is difficult to think of a time when so many in this country have been facing such a direct threat to the way they live.

– Presenter of World at One, BBC Radio 4, 25th August 2022

The presenter quoted above is referring to the steady rise in the rate of inflation in the UK and in particular the unprecedented rise in the price of oil, gas and food as a consequence of the war in Ukraine.

A rise in energy prices leads to a rise in the cost of goods and services across the economy and the scale of the present and predicted rises will make it next to impossible for millions of people to keep themselves warm this winter without forgoing meals and accumulating unmanageable debt. The public media has not failed to communicate the seriousness of the situation with the regular use of such words and terms as awful, catastrophic, devastating, exceptional, extremely serious, grave, terrible, misery, fearful, out of control, eye-watering prices and lives will be lost.

If these forecasts turn out to be true for people living in high-income countries what will the impact of the steep rise in the cost of energy and food be for the billions of people whose everyday experience has long been one one of toil, stress and fret in their effort to provide for themselves and their family?

The global community is not only experiencing hyper-inflation but an out-of-kilter climate which this year, as in previous ones, has caused devastating forest fires in Europe, the United States, Asia, Africa and South America as well as drought and floods across many parts of the world. Most recently floods in Pakistani left 60% of the country under water, affected 33 million people, made one million homeless and since June caused the death of over a 1,000 people. China is in the midst of a record-breaking drought which has caused some of its major rivers, including the Yangtze to dry up. In Europe the Loire, the Rhine and the Po dried up, which, as in China, affected farming, hydropower and shipping. The impact of the climate on these countries alone will add to the economic woes caused by President Putin’s war including an increase in the shortage of food leading in turn to a rise in its price.

The effects of climate breakdown and Putin’s war serve to remind us just how interconnected our world is. We are not, as the growing number of libertarians like to think, neutral agents with an almost absolute right to behave however we like. As with individuals, national sovereignty has its limits. Britain is an island nation but its regular outpouring of sewage into the seas around its coast concerns people in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Ireland who fear the sewage will affect their fishing and coastlines.

Hyper-inflation, climate breakdown as well as the catastrophic loss of biodiversity can in large part be attributed to the ultra-nationalism of world leaders who fail to work from the premise that the world is ecologically and economically interconnected and ignore the counsel of Indigenous People not to borrow the future from our children.

More than the need for ecologically sustainable technologies, which are widely seen as a miracle cure to climate breakdown allowing us to continue to live our materially extravagant lifestyle, is the need for a collectivist’s mindset. In the same way as it is necessary for the various departments of a business to work towards a single goal, the success of the business, it is likewise necessary for world leaders to work in unison towards resolving our global ecological and economic problems.

Besides this we voters need to waken up and closely question candidates running for public office about the impact their policies will have on the biosphere, the poor in their own constituency as well as in the wider world. What will the legacy of their policies be for future generations?

Although the following suggestion might well come from Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels (1726) it is worth putting it forward. In the manner that new employees are given an induction by their employer into the culture, policies and practices of the body they are newly working for, as well as put on probation, it should by mandated that public officials and representatives of every rank should undertake likewise. In this case the body is the biosphere inclusive of humankind. The culture is comprised of a sense of compassion, connectedness and fairness and the policies and practices based on the Hippocratic oath of the medical profession which is “do no harm”.

A course for new public decision makers on the wisdom of basing decisions on a holistic, eco-centric, non-tribal and non-nationalist basis would not be suffice to ensure long-term compliance. The courses would need to be supported by regular forums, such as Citizen’s Assemblies, in which experts in the field and concerned members of the public, share their knowledge and experience in regard to the pros and cons of various options which are considered from the perspective of the local and the global, the short and the long term. During the assemblies, face to face interaction would take place between the parties most directly affected by decisions enabling humanism to dilute stone-faced tribal, class and national interests, and compassion for the welfare of nonhuman species to melt the idea of economic gain for the few.

Such an on-going educational program for our elected and appointed decision makers should result in a significant reduction in decisions made on the basis of Donald Trump’s sentiment “America First” or the pre-Brexit wish “to take back control”. In the long term there are no firsts in our interconnected world, and as the present cost of living crisis shows, when it comes to the price of fuel and food national sovereignty can do little to change things.