Our world is quickly becoming a desolate island, a screen that we hold six inches in front of our noses, and it’s a hard pill to swallow.
Because of this, we lose touch with nature, we lose touch with reality, we lose touch with each other. We seem to have forgotten the basic tenets of empathy.
We have become such a technology-based society, that we have forgotten how to feel. We have forgotten how to relate. We have forgotten how to connect among other humans, let alone with other sentient animals.
We seem to have forgotten what it feels like to be in someone else’s, or some other animal’s, proverbial shoes.
Here in lies one of the major problems.
Some time ago, (some) humans stopped showing empathy, and started killing indiscriminately — people, and other animals. We kill each other over political differences, racial differences, religious differences, and resources. We kill animals for “research,” or for competition and sport, or for a token.
In a world where there is so much doom and gloom about the state of our environment it’s no surprising that the world has lost 10% of its wilderness areas in the past 20 years. The growth of our modern civilisation, spurred on by technological innovations, has been underpinned by the exploitation of the natural environment. Today, a large fraction of the Earth, once swathed in wilderness, is now monopolised by humans. Although the direct causes of wildlife loss are clear enough, what’s less obvious is why many people seemingly don’t care. Society’s ongoing destruction of the environment can be put down to the fact that not enough people value nature and wilderness any more.
Expanding human demands on land, sea and fresh water, along with the impacts of climate change, have made the conservation and management of wild areas and wild animals a top priority.
For some species, our time to see them is rapidly running out.
The richer we are and the more we consume, the more self-centred and careless of the lives of others we appear to become
Human attitudes towards wild nature and wildlife have, historically, been ambivalent.
It seems to me that there are currently two main approaches to wildlife management.
One: The wise use approach aims to accommodate humanity’s continuous use of wild nature as a resource for food, timber, and other raw materials, as well as for recreation.
Two: The preservationists, whose goal is to protect pristine nature, not to use it, carefully or otherwise. Wild places should be allowed to develop on their own with as little interference from humans as possible.
For years we’ve been told that people cannot afford to care about the natural world until they become rich; that only economic growth can save the biosphere, that civilisation marches towards enlightenment about our impacts on the living planet. The results suggest the opposite.
There is only one way to protect what is left.
Protected areas, like national parks and wildlife refuges, are the cornerstones of global conservation efforts.
We must pay for it. Either by buying the land or paying the locals to maintain it.
Why is it so difficult to persuade people to care about our wonderful planet, the world that gave rise to us and upon which we wholly depend?
Because we lack empathy. Empathy is defined as: the capacity to understand or feel what another being (a human or non-human animal) is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.
Without it we all have different values that give rise to conflicts or dilemmas.
The way in which these different values are prioritized will determine policy of conservation in the future.
For instance, there may be a conflict between sustaining certain human livelihoods and preserving a particular species, or there may be a dilemma between the protection of wild nature and animal welfare.
The question, then, is how we should address such dilemmas and disagreements. The first thing to note, in trying to answer this question, is that the rich anglophone countries are anomalous. The more we consume, the less we feel.
Our erroneous belief that we are more concerned about man-made climate change than the people of other nations informs the sentiment, often voiced by the press and politicians, that there’s no point in acting if the rest of the world won’t play its part.
Our refusal to stop pumping so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is pure selfishness. The more harm we do, the less concerned about it we become. And the more hyper consumerism destroys relationships, communities and the physical fabric of the Earth, the more we try to fill the void in our lives by buying more stuff.
In modern debates about wildlife, however, other values have become increasingly important. We don’t know exactly how ecosystems will respond to climate change but you may rest assured that with rising sea levels nature will be the last to be rescued.
Sustaining interest in this great but slow-burning crisis is a challenge no one seems to have mastered. Only when the crisis causes or exacerbates an acute disaster – such as the floods – is there a flicker of anxiety, but that quickly dies away.
So the perennially low-level of concern, which flickers upwards momentarily when disaster strikes, then slumps back into the customary stupor, is an almost inevitable result of a society that has become restructured around shopping, fashion, celebrity and an obsession with money.
It’s hard to understand how anyone could imagine that economic growth is a formula for protecting the planet.
How we break the circle and wake people out of this dream world is the question that all those who love the living planet should address.
Just look at the United Nations:
For the first time in UN history, candidates seeking to replace the organisation’s secretary-general have held a live debate, presenting the case for their candidacy and taking questions from UN member states on key global issues.
All previous secretary-generals were chosen behind closed doors by the UN’s permanent five members: the US, China, Russia, France and Britain.
This remains so: The permanent five UN Security Council members still fix “who is going to be selected behind closed doors. Don’t think for a moment that the permanent members are going give up powers they won after World War II readily. Hand-picking the UN secretary-general is still one of their trump cards.
The possibility of the United Nations getting an energetic idealist to shake up the world body by streamline archaic UN systems, to stand up to the big powers and do more to end wars, and fight poverty is as remote as ever. It will remain both bloated and overstretched with its staff more interested in winning promotions than fighting malaria, climate change and regulating poverty or stopping wars, not to mention protecting what’s left of nature.
So long as it has to beg for funds it will remain a worthless gossip shop. ( See previous posts)
There will be no easy answers.
As Leonard Da Vinci said,
” Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.”
Empathy is about being we-focused rather than I-focused and understanding that, collectively, we are better off when we step outside of our silos. As a leader, you must emphasize value, not just transactions; people, not just processes.
Empathy brings the big picture into focus.