(American) Lifestyle as a Threat to Life Itself

Just a few weeks ago, Dr. James Lovelock, founder of the Gaia hypothesis of earth as an interdependent living organism, stated that his view is that earth is running a low-grade fever (called global warming). The fever, said Dr. Lovelock, may be irreversible, and may cause the extinction of life on this planet, including the extinction of the human species.

The Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, the President of the U.S., George Bush, and many other world leaders are having a very difficult time in taking decisive, meaningful action to prevent or reverse, or even significantly mitigate this threat to life itself. Why? Because lifestyles are at stake. Lifestyles are considered more sacrosanct than life itself.

A personal friend of mine recently stated to me his own view of life’s meaning and how one determined success in life. His philosophy is that life is a sort of game in which the person(s) who accumulate the most possessions "win" the game. By winning the game of consumption, thus resulting in a "higher" lifestyle, the prospects of life for other species, as well as for the planet are potentially compromised.

What happens when the lifestyles of people in our society are threatened? They run to government for relief. They demand protections, tax relief, subsidies, loans, whatever it takes to maintain corporate profits, personal incomes, portfolios, and lifestyles. People have been known to kill themselves when the economies collapse or when their wealth dissipates. Labor unions go on strike to obtain better conditions for a better lifestyle.

Have you ever heard of a union going on strike because the industry it supports is driving a species to extinction?

Have you ever heard of a corporation pleading with the government to allow it to protect habitats and species under its purview at the cost of profits?

Have you ever heard of a corporation begging its investors to allow it to reduce profits in order to attain sustainability and thus protect bio-diversity at the cost of the lifestyles of the stockholders?

When the timber industry and its government regulators began to learn that the northern spotted owl was facing peril of its very existence due to timber harvest practices, lifestyle immediately was determined more important than life itself. Both labor and management emphasized through their communications that jobs and profits were far more important than the owl and its existence. Threats to lifestyle of participants in industry resulted to threats against the very lives of activists desiring to protect bio-diversity.

The paradox between paradox between protecting lifestyle versus life itself is profound, but often experienced at the individual level within our society. Many, many of us know intellectually that our eating habits, or cigarette smoking addiction, or exercise habits are leading us towards a personal health disaster. We know this, but find it difficult, if not impossible to alter that lifestyle — until pending catastrophe stares us in the face. A heart attack or pains in the chest or a visit to the emergency room have caused many, many persons to finally commit to a change in diet, giving up smoking, or a sensible exercise program.

Ultimately, many are willing and able to change that lifestyle when faced with personal catastrophe. And many of those persons ultimately find and admit afterwards that the new lifestyle actually is an improvement than the prior one that was so difficult to give up.

It is increasingly obvious here in the second half of the first decade of the new millenium that the lifestyles of many planetary occupants will have to change significantly. We are unsustainable and headed towards disaster. The Chinese will find it impossible to attain a per capita lifestyle equal to that of Americans today, because the carrying capacity of the planet simply cannot support it. But the carrying capacity of the planet will not continue to support the American lifestyle for Americans much longer. We are going to have to change or we will face catastrophe. What is happening to fisheries and forests and climate and ecosystems cannot be ignored and cannot be resolved within the current lifestyle aspirations of so many people.

We need to ultimately reduce earth’s human population, but the reality is that many forms of bio-diversity are threatened right now in physical areas of relatively low human density. We need to change lifestyles.

In the American West, many cattle ranchers say they don’t make money from ranching, but they continue the practice because they love the lifestyle. Since ranching is a major cause of risk to bio-diversity, perhaps it is time for society to ban the destructive practice of arid-lands cattle ranching or at least to regulate it according to its real costs.

There are many examples of relatively painless changes that society could enact that would alter destructive lifestyles in order to promote life and preserve bio-diversity.

The sooner we act decisively, the sooner we adjust to the new lifestyles. The sooner we encounter the "pain" of the disruptions to our habits, the sooner we get over those adjustments. Life itself is far more precious than any luxurious lifestyle. Life is more important than comfort. Life is irreplaceable and extinction is forever.

I enjoy the slogan of the Center for Biological Diversity. "…Because life is good". Yes it is. Let us work to preserve it. We can always adjust to a new lifestyle.