Saturday, April 21, 2007

The real enemy

Several years ago a tsunami inundated parts of South East Asia, killing more than a hundred thousand and destroying the homes and businesses of many others. Afterwards, people just up and forgot their religious and ethnic differences and pitched in together to help with aid and reconstruction. In the Indonesian province of Banda Aceh the two sides in a civil war demobilized and many people ascribe this to the tsunami. But in Sri Lanka the effect of the tsunami was only temporary as the two sides in their civil war are at it again.

Isn't it easy to blame others for our problems? It's easy and more satisfying to focus our fear and hatred on one group, especially if we already dislike that group for whatever reason. But are we aware of what the results of inciting hatred are? All too often it has led to mountains of corpses and the moral breakdown of societies. It's never worth it to go down that road.

It's easy to pick the wrong enemy. President George W. Bush did it when he picked Sadaam Hussein and forgot about Osama Bin Laden. By invading Iraq, Bush divided the rest of the world against America and divided America against itself. When you choose the wrong enemy you weaken and divide your own forces.

Who is the real enemy? Other nations can threaten us but nations and people are not our greatest threat. Granted, the middle East looks as if it is about to go up in flames. And terrorism has become a world-wide problem. But we have even bigger problems on the horizon. Each year bigger and more powerful hurricanes are battering the U.S. coasts. Each day the number of poor people grows faster than the number of well-off people. Each day more automobiles use more gasoline, putting more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

We know that as the global economy grows it will use up more and more of the Earth's resources, and create more toxic waste and so put more and more pressure on Earth's life support systems. At some point ecological decline will accelerate and cause the collapse of ecosystems. When this happens our ability to breathe fresh air and to get enough to eat and drink, and to protect ourselves from disease will all be compromised. Because of the accelerating rate of global consumption and the steady rise in global temperature caused by our industrial activities, it is likely that this decline will be well on its way in twenty-five years.

Nothing else, not other nations, certainly not other people, threatens our very existence as does ecological decline. The Earth maintains us, but if we overload its systems and cause sufficient ecological damage we could find ourselves one of the casualties of the decline in biodiversity. If we do not defeat ecological decline it will defeat us - we will go extinct.

When the people of Banda Aceh recognized that their real enemy was nature's destruction, in the form of the tsunami - they forgot about their differences and worked together to save their country. If enough people recognized that ecological decline is our real enemy we could do the same for the entire world.

As far as I can see Roy Woodbridge, in his book, The Next World War, is the first person to understand that framing our relationship to ecological decline as the next World War can unify humanity. It turns the potential for catastrophe into an opportunity.

One hundred years ago the American philosopher William James spoke of, "the moral equivalent of war." At the time, he was hoping that humanity could replace wars amongst its own members with a war against nature. We now know that we can only lose if we frame the issue in this way. Roy Woodbridge suggests instead that we mobilize society as if we are preparing for war, not against nature, not against other nations, but against ecological decline.

In the Second World War, Canadian society mobilized to defeat the Germans and the Japanese. We mobilized the economy, we mobilized technology, and we mobilized human creativity to defeat the enemy. And the majority of Canadians were willing participants because they realized that if they wanted to survive and prosper they had to defeat the enemy.

When we all have the same enemy in common we have the potential for sharing the same goal - to defeat the enemy and survive. Having an enemy in common binds and unites us. It gives us strength.

Like the people of Banda Aceh, we have the potential to avoid fighting each other when we can learn that people are not our real enemy. How many people are there who don't care whether their children have a future? Surely it's a very small minority.

Of course we have the option of ignoring this knowledge and letting everything slide into anarchy and war as ecological decline wreaks its havoc and more countries fight over a rapidly diminishing amount of resources.

But let's think of the possibilities here. We can unite the entire human race to fight against a common enemy. We don't have to forsake any group of people, or abandon technology, or even abandon economic growth. If we see this as a war against ecological decline we can turn the awesome power of human creativity and focus it on defeating this single enemy.

Big government, big corporations, international organizations are not the enemy -- they are all tools that could be used to defeat the enemy. Criticizing people is not the way to get them to change. People will change their lifestyles and habits of living if it becomes a positive experience to do so. And experience becomes more consistently positive when it is based on unity rather than division.

War has an overwhelmingly negative image for a good reason. The destruction of human life can be devastating. Whole societies can break apart and disappear. Paradoxically, if we mobilize for a war against an enemy common to all humanity we can create an overwhelmingly positive experience. Instead of divisiveness we can all join together for a common purpose. Instead of destroying institutions we can reinforce them and they can support and sustain us in our fight against ecological decline. Instead of spreading hate and nihilism we can find meaning and purpose in saving the human race from extinction. The more we mobilize, the more people are involved and working together the more positive the experience for everyone.

If we declared war on ecological decline we could stop producing weapons and focus on producing ecologically sound human habitats. We could convert to recycling everything. We could find ways to provision society without degrading the environment.

If we all declare war on ecological decline we can harness the entire might of human creativity to defeat it. We can focus all of our knowledge and wisdom on this great cause.

Or, we can keep fighting each other over diminishing resources, over oil, fresh water, and arable land - until there is nothing left to fight over... the choice is up to us.

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