We have all asked questions like: Who am I? How did I get here? What is my purpose in life? How did this body come together with this mind, perception and awareness?
Most of us allow these heavy, seemingly unanswerable questions to glide by while we stay busy living our lives. But for some seekers, the pursuit of greater knowledge becomes a lifelong quest.
It has been a decade since The Way of the Explorer was first published, and the rush of civilization toward a tipping point has not abated. A major problematic event that will occur due to our unsustainable growth is peak oil. Peak oil is the point in time at which the discoveries of new petroleum reserves will be less than world consumption. Running out of oil is projected to be imminent by many petroleum geologists.
In 1972, during a speech at an International Rotary Convention in Lausanne, Switzerland, shortly after my epiphany in space, I raised concern about the finite supply of fossil fuels and its role in sustainability. We are overwhelming our planet’s renewable resources with our numbers and consumption patterns. It is my hope that reaching peak oil will cause citizens of the world to awaken to the larger issues.
As the 21st century begins to unfold, we find significant increases in violence and lawlessness in the world, which detracts from the critical need to protect the environment and the larger issue of the sustainability of our civilization. We humans are not as civilized as we would like to think. The world population more than doubled since 1975 to more than six billion people. We are consuming Earth’s natural resources at an alarming rate. Our global natural resource base cannot support a population of more than two billion persons consuming at the level of Western cultures. Clearly, major changes in thinking and lifestyles are required as developing nations naturally aspire to the consumption of the West. Yet, our political system is now punishing dissent, freedom of inquiry and efforts at preservation, tactics certain to worsen the drive toward sustainability.
The issue of sustainability, simply put, is illustrated by charting measures of human activity. Beginning noticeably in the 20th century, all measures display exponential growth. It is obvious that exponential growth cannot continue indefinitely. Many things must be changed. Obviously population growth is the engine driving the system, and addiction to the Western consumption model is not far behind as the major issue.
In Plan B 2.0 (W.W. Norton & Co. 2003), Lester Brown discusses the fundamental areas of consumption and behavior that we as a species must address and modify to assure our descendants a reasonably satisfactory lifestyle. The days when we can ignore what our individual decisions and lifestyles are doing to the planet have now passed. Personal responsibility for the greater good must become the mark of an informed and conscious people, then instilled rapidly into those yet unaware.
"Raising consciousness" has been a motto of the new age through several decades of civil rights, feminine rights and minority rights activism. Though that phrase sounds trite, even passe, to many ears, the concept of setting aside prejudice and bias to support a greater good, and a larger view, is vital to our collective well-being in the near future.
These issues of "sustainability" are too critical and pressing to be ignored. The problem is not simple; it includes many of the deeply embedded concepts of modern lifestyles, traditions and thinking. Untrammeled consumption and growth in all areas of life must be re-examined and subjected to critical thought. Material goods are certainly necessary for sustaining life, but just where does success turn into excess? Those are the fundamental ideas we humans must now address.
The scientific and technological genius exhibited beginning in the 20th century has cracked open the lid of the proverbial Pandora’s Box, and released upon the world the very seeds of our destruction. We must act rapidly to bring our viewing of material abundance as a panacea for happiness under control.
The greatest philosophic and religious teachings have been ignored and perverted with regards to this issue. May our descendants forgive us these errors as we struggle to bring our fragile planet Earth back into balance.
Next month: An Edge Life interview with Dr. Edgar Mitchell