We are the lucky ones. Mostly those of us who grew up in certain areas of Europe and North America from the 70’s and onwards. We are the ones lucky enough to have experienced this era of prosperity that we are still enjoying today. This period introduced a new way of life which was not based on ensuring survival but comfort. This is not reprehensible on its own, since if there is any truth about our otherwise ephemeral and insignificant existence, in a cosmic (but perhaps also planetary) context, it can be found in being happy with our choices and in experiencing pleasure during our existence.
This normal tendency of humans to avoid pain, in any form, is inextricably linked to our mortality and each one of us expresses it in diverse ways. Concurrently, a large portion of the human race lives in societies that were created for this very purpose: to provide a secure framework. In these societies we are constantly searching for ways to feel better, often projecting what pleases us, or at least what we think will please us. This in a way (having solved our basic survival needs -nutrition, accommodation & protective clothing-) is how consumerism was born and especially in its’ most excessive forms.
Today we are surrounded by a myriad of things that are either not necessary or that do not have any special emotional or symbolic value to us. In other words, things that do not actually contribute to the promotion of our individual happiness but in a strange way express nonetheless our lifestyle, that is, the way we live. We realize at the same time, perhaps now more than ever, how important interpersonal relationships can be. But before man became a political being, as Aristotle put it, man was and remains just another simple being. In other words, we have forgotten that we are part of this natural world that we call planet Earth. We are one of the many species that inhabit this infinitesimally small rock that hovers in space inextricably linked to the fiery sphere that gives it life.
A small planet that is however full of life on multiple levels, most of which we ignore. A planet that has had already a long existence (about 4.6 billion years) that we can’t even begin to grasp, since the human species (and I am referring here to Homo Sapiens, considered to be the direct ancestor of contemporary man) appeared only 300,000 years ago. Nevertheless, we were fortunate enough to have our brain developed in such a way that it allowed us not just to survive against all odds, but also to be able to transfer the acquired knowledge from each generation to the next. Furthermore, we have developed the faculty of imagination which allows us to transcend our own limits but not those of nature.
As a result of all the above, we have gathered a huge amount of information and knowledge that has allowed us to facilitate our lives unimaginably by transforming the natural resources of this planet in a variety of ways. We have explored almost every corner of the planet while having transformed a large percentage of its’ surface, always aiming to improve our living conditions. This continuous activity though, has caused a climate change and mass extinctions of species that without the ‘contribution’ of humans would have taken place in hundreds of thousands of years instead of a few decades, as is now the case. Planet Earth does not need us. The changes in its surface, as well as the change in the diversity of life that lives on it, are normal events in the context of its planetary existence.
For beings like us though, such drastic changes are directly related to our future survival and evermore with our present lives. In other words, our excessive lifestyle, our current lifestyle, threatens to bring its own demise. But what can we do to avoid the loss of our present ‘comfortable’ way of life? The answer to this question is not a single one. It is though directly related to the realization of our position on this planet which is certainly not that of the dominant species but that of a mere part in a larger whole.
We need a concentrated global effort that will revise our relationship with the rest of the natural world around us. As utopian as it may sound, it is something that could be achieved to a large extent if humanity implemented the teachings of past cultures, that were in tune with nature, while utilizing the existing scientific knowledge. Such an endeavor can only start from each one of us, especially us, the lucky ones, who don’t need to worry about our everyday survival. We need to create a new lifestyle that is not based on the logic of single use but chooses instead objects and services that respect the environment and the other species on the planet. A lifestyle that is not based on ephemeral entertainment but on meaningful recreation that renders us more aware as much as happier. A lifestyle that brings us closer to nature instead of isolating us from her, teaching us to respect and maintain the natural world through our personal, social and commercial choices. A lifestyle finally, that makes us content not through the amount of our acquisitions but through the awareness of the value of the things that give meaning to our own existence.