Today, the questions that beg answers are simple: Has grievous harm to the environment done in pursuit of economic gain and human comfort come to an end? Has it decreased? Are the planet and its inhabitants better off, worse, or the same?
Take a look at a snapshot. Elephants are still slaughtered for ivory. Rhinos still die for their horns. Whales are hunted. Rain Forests continue to be cleared for farmland. Farmland, in turn, is replaced by housing development. Coastlines, where sea turtles nest, are developed into luxury resorts. Oceans are overfished and used as dumps for the world’s garbage. Wildlife habitat is lost and entire species are threatened with extinction. Pollution poisons the air and rivers. Dogs and cats roam city streets and are put to death simply because they were born or are homeless and hungry. Children suffer disease, starvation, and poverty. Corporations overharvest every resource. Governments wring their hands, create new bureaucracies, and pass new laws that achieve little or nothing. NGO and industry monitors issue “best practice” standards that strive to rein in the most egregious behavior, yet achieve little more than putting a socially acceptable stamp of approval on the very activities responsible for resource depletion. The list of eco-insults goes on and on.
One truly must strain the bonds of credibility not to see that the pursuit of greed-driven profit is and has been the force behind resource abuse. Or that today, 25 years after the Rio Summit, it’s also the reason no practical solutions exist to halt the resource rape afflicting the planet.
Government economies are built upon revenues derived from multi-national corporate profits. NGO economies are based on fund-raising from those same resource exploiting issues whether the subject is elephants, exotic timber, strip-mining, energy, or abandoned dogs and cats. A solution to any of those issues reduces the latter’s funding potential.
Campaigns by NGOs and industry alike attempt to tie third party “best practices” certification to the idea that a fishery or farm animal processor or brand of lumber is “environmentally sustainable.” Those certification schemes are little more than an attempt to use the observation of 18th Century Philosopher Bishop George Berkeley that “perception is reality” to deceive the public into believing that the “perception” that progress is being made toward healing the Earth is “reality,” when, in fact, it’s not. To the contrary, the opposite is true. They represent no such progress toward healing and do little more than to put a stamp of approval on the same egregious activities responsible for resource abuse.
A one or two percent lowering of the take of a marine species or making the commercial harvest shorter by a week is an ineffective and quite bogus ruse designed to impart the misleading impression of diminishing overfishing.
One current alternative being sold as a curative to overfishing is farming hundreds of thousands of fish in a series of deep water-anchored net pens. But, it too is no practical solution. It only adds to the oceans’ stress by introducing huge concentrations of feces, uneaten feed, antibiotics, anti-parasite medications, disease, and more to the ocean floor.
Government “culling” of elephants in the name of conserving rangeland carry capacity is another huge international fraud. The real motive is to fill government stockpiles of ivory in anticipation of periodically permitted international sales.
John Elkington asks the most poignant question regarding how we treat the Earth. Does the introduction of improved technology – the fork – into a horrific activity make that activity acceptable? Does it represent social progress towards eliminating cannibalism? Of course not! That’s why Elkington’s metaphor is perfect to describe the fallacy that 25 plus years debating environmental issues and improving technology used to exploit Nature’s resources somehow are helping to end the practices that abuse the planet.