Like the Indo-Aryan God Shiva, Destroyer of Worlds, marine ecologist Jeremy Jackson is here to turn your comfortable, complacent Mental World upside-down. He's able to do that because we humans are destroying our Earthly habitat—in this case, the oceans.
Before I continue, I want you to watch How We Wrecked The Oceans (18:19). Will you watch it? Too busy, maybe later? Maybe never? If you have any interest, however small, in the future of life on this planet, including human life, I suggest you watch it now.
Finished? That was tough, I know. Are you feeling a bit less confident about the future? I hope you didn't conclude that wrecking the oceans is inconsequential, that we can easily fix it—denial is not just a river in Egypt. Let's talk about that much ignored, much maligned subject called Reality.
It is in this final section [of the book], called “Lightly, Carefully, Gracefully,” that the real problems begin. If you are, like McKibben, a grudging optimist who believes that human society can willfully transform into a better version of itself, you might be persuaded by his arguments, some of them new, others a little old hat.
Arguments that a smaller, diversified agriculture could add stability to our compromised industrial food-production system. That “growth” as an economic model is inherently flawed and will no longer be viable. That an “uptick of neighboring” will spread the sharing and implementation of practical, Eaarth-friendly how-to-ism. That the Internet could alleviate the rural boredom so many of us dread when we contemplate chucking it all and going back to the land, as he argues we must
But many of these proposed solutions inadvertently resemble the list of things Christian Lander lampooned in his 2008 best seller Stuff White People Like: “farmer’s markets,” “awareness,” “making you feel bad about not going outside,” “vegan/vegetarianism.” It’s not that these things aren’t important.
But in the absence of some overarching authority, a kind of ecologically minded Lenin, they will remain hipster lifestyle choices rather than global game changers...
Let's have Jeremy Jackson respond to McKibben's solutions. Here's what he says near the end of the talk—
What will the oceans be like in 20 or 50 years? Well, there won't be any fish, except for minnows, and the water will be pretty dirty, and all those kinds of things, full of mercury, etc, etc ... and we can imagine something like the dead-zonification of the global coastal ocean, and you sure won't want to eat fish that were raised in it because...
The question is how are we all going to respond to this? And we can do all sorts of things to fix it, but in the final analysis, the thing we really need to fix is ourselves. It's not about the fish, it's not about the pollution, it's not about the climate change, it's about us and our greed and our need for growth, and our inability to imagine a world which is different from the Selfish World We Live In Today.
So the question is will we respond to this? Or not? I would say that the Future of Life and the Dignity of Human Beings depends on our [response]. Thank you.
There are two levels of change with very widely separated degrees of difficulty described in the two quotes, although both are right about the need to stop striving for endless economic growth.
At a deeper level, the question turns on whether human behavior is almost malleable without limit. McKibben believes human society can (in the words of the reviewer) willfully transform into a better version of itself. This quote is from another review of McKibben's Eaarth.
But McKibben doesn’t advocate obsessing on our collapse – which he says gives us only two choices: “Either you’ve got your fingers stuck firmly in your ears or you’re down in the basement oiling your guns” – rather he calls on us "to choose, instead, to manage our descent," to aim for a "relatively graceful decline" [emphasis is McKibben’s].
McKibben calls on us to choose to manage our descent. But can we humans "choose" to do that? That's the question on the table.
Jeremy Jackson doesn't offer Obligatory Hope or beg the all-important question. He doesn't pretend that forming local, self-sufficient communities is going to ameliorate the terrible effects of biologically impoverished, stratified oceans, or prevent a mass extinction in the oceans. In Jackson's view, Homo sapiens must somehow be Born Again. We have to fix ourselves because we are the problem. And no procrastinating allowed, because we're out of time—we have to do it now. This is our wake-up call.
I'll leave it up to you to decide whether humans can radically change their collective behavior. Here at DOTE, I make it a point to avoid the usual Obligatory Hope. If it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it's a duck. I believe Human Nature is fixed, despite enormous but ultimately superficial cultural and individual diversity. We're a species, so what you see is what you get.
Tomorrow I will update my past writings on Earth's biodiversity crisis.