In my work as a journalist, I spent more than a quarter century on the front lines of the crisis in nature, witnessing firsthand the destructiveness of the modern human enterprise. I’ve served as a chronicler of loss and a messenger of warnings over the time that this crisis has escalated from the early concerns about dirty air and dirty water of that first Earth Day to the current global jeopardy of deteriorating and unstable planetary systems. As the situation worsened, those trying to remedy the multiplying symptoms of stress have hurtled from one emergency to another, running faster and faster on an accelerating treadmill of crisis. Treating symptoms has been akin to chasing brushfires. Finally there is no choice but to take on the pyromaniac.
Our dilemma is more than an “environmental crisis.” The modern era has been a radical cultural experiment. Without question, it has been spectacularly successful in the short run at producing wealth and comfort for more people than ever before. But this success entails a dangerous gamble. The global civilization that now dominates the world has departed fundamentally from practices that have helped ensure human survival in the longer run.
If we are to come to grips with this planetary emergency, we need to understand the process that drives it. Most of all, we need to see how our current modes of thinking fuel this emergency and at the same time increase our vulnerability to the consequences. The inherited assumptions we bring to the situation impair our assessment of the dangers. In this new historical landscape, we not only continue to intensify the physical crisis through exponential growth. Perhaps more important, we also struggle to understand and resolve our dilemma using ideas about the world that are now obsolete and dangerous.
Dianne Dumanoski is an author and environmental journalist whose credentials in the field date back to the first Earth Day in 1970. Once an environmental reporter for the Boston Globe, she was among the pioneers reporting on new global environmental issues, including ozone depletion and global warming. She is the coauthor of Our Stolen Future, a seminal environmental work.
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