Underlying Causes

How is it possible that a species of our intelligence – a species capable of designing a method of transportation to the moon – continues, daily, year after year, to cause great harm to the biosphere of the planet we wholly depend upon for our survival?  How is it that a species of our intelligence, could have such little awareness or concern, about the extent of the damage we are wreaking?  Over the years, I have jotted down lots of thoughts, theories and ideas relating to this.  I have also sought to pinpoint a single unifying theory that offers the best insight into demystifying these gnawing paradoxes.  I will now share some of these thoughts, theories and ideas, and conclude with what I consider to be the single best explanation, or what I consider to be, at bottom, the root cause, of all our environmental woes.  (By the way, I don’t necessarily believe we can narrow this down to one central cause, but even so, I believe this is a good and useful exercise – to throw this question out there, and attempt to come up with the single best answer.)

[1.]  Leadership deficit.  Where is the leadership we so desperately need, to lead us over that bridge, towards a new paradigm.

[2.]  The prevalence of irrationalism and magical thinking (belief in the supernatural).  One of my gravest concerns is mankind’s ignorance as to how the world works.  There is such an overwhelming amount of belief in things like psychics, communicating with the dead, ghosts, past lives, astrology, horoscopes, telekinesis, alien abductions, dowsing, and so forth.  I remember once reading somewhere that according to a poll, “over half of all Americans with post-graduate degrees believe in the devil, hell, miracles, the afterlife, the virgin birth, and the resurrection.”  I greatly fear for our future, whenever I read stuff like that.

[3.]  Ignorance.  Perhaps, Socrates – considered by many to be the greatest philosopher who ever lived – summed it up best:  “There is only one good, knowledge, and only one evil, ignorance.”

[4.]  Intellectual minimalism.  Tremendous emphasis is placed on entertainment, convenience and comfort.  People, by and large, are intellectually superficial.  This might also help to explain why politicians so often gravitate towards implementing simplistic, unsophisticated solutions, even when faced with very complex and challenging problems that require long-range solutions with far more depth.  The mere fact that so many people think there can exist simple solutions to such complex, multi-dimensional problems, is in itself part of the problem.

Part of the problem of lack of eco-consciousness could be that people haven’t stretched their thoughts in that direction, long enough, and often enough, to have built up sufficient perspicacity.

[5.]  Pragmatism supersedes idealism.  In the words of Susan Sontag:  “The single most amazing phenomenon is the discrediting of idealism.”  This also brings to mind the words of Napoleon Hill:  “One of the main weaknesses of mankind is the average man’s familiarity with the word ‘impossible.’”  And there is a phenomenon whereby as people age, they tend to lose their idealism.  Perhaps the realities that come with having to earn a living, struggling and juggling to pay bills – and a mortgage – losing loved ones, and growing older, hardens them.  Additionally, there is the shadowing caveat that goes along with idealism, which can perhaps best be summed up as “Whose idealism?”

[6.]  Anthropocentrism.  Defined on Vocabulary.com as “an inclination to evaluate reality exclusively in terms of human values.”  Or to quote something I once read on the internet, quite a few years back:  “If you believe that human beings should dominate and control the earth and that plants, animals, and minerals are resources for human use, you have an anthropocentric world view.  If you believe that humans are but one component of an incredibly complex earth and that humans must learn to live within a stable, sustainable, self-renewing ecosphere, you have an ecocentric world view.”  — C. Anthony (Tony) Federer, USDA Forest Service scientist (retired) www.ecoshift.net

[7.]  Subjectivity supersedes objectivity.  (Our strong predilection to believe what we want to believe, rather than seeing things objectively, as they really are.)  Perhaps the human mind is more deeply hardwired to perceive what we want to perceive, and to think in ways that support, or do not contradict, our own personal biases and beliefs (regardless of whether those beliefs might be illogical or unethical).

[8.]  Saeculumcentrism.  (The term “saeculum” refers to the length of time roughly equal to the lifetime of a person.)  Perhaps the greatest danger we face will result from our predilection for living our lives without regard for future generations.  We are so completely absorbed in the present day and the present age.  We care far more about ourselves, than about future generations;  and we care far more about our children, than about our great, great grandchildren.  Maybe this is just the way we are hardwired.  If you think about it, there wasn’t really any biological necessity for our ancient ancestors to be hardwired for caring about the distant future.  Survival depended more upon an instant-gratification-like rapid response to danger (“fight or flight”).  Survival was day-to-day – and year-to-year – not thousands of years into the future.  This situation might even be getting worse.  I heard a man being interviewed on a radio program, years ago, state that one thing he has observed about the current generation, is something he terms “visual-motor ecstasy”:  they can’t think long-range, they want things immediately.

Realizing saeculumcentrism isn’t the most wieldy of words, I have also considered alternatively calling this epochcentrism, periodcentrism, or even coevalcentrism.  I once saw the phrase “our here-and-now-but-ignore-the-future approach,”  which somewhat fits, but the phrasing is a bit lengthy.

By the way, doesn’t it speak volumes, the fact that there isn’t even a word for a definition as central and important as this one is?

[9.]  The big three.  Primarily, we are most concerned about:  (a) ourselves, (b) others – most particularly, to those closest to us (so think of this in a hierarchical sense:  e.g. family, friends, extended family, compatriots, mankind), and (c) the here-and-now.  That is overwhelmingly where our allegiance lies.  In contrast, we generally don’t pay much attention to other cultures, other species, the future, posterity, or the biosphere.

[10.]  Nature has no voice.  There are billions of people on the planet, who talk about their wants and their needs, but nature has no voice – nor the ability – to articulate its wants and its needs.  It is a bit like that saying “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”  Man is squeaky, but nature isn’t.  Nature has neither the ability to speak, nor the ability to cast a ballot.

[11.]  The language void.  This one is a bit difficult to put into words.  It came to me as I was looking over some notes I made while watching Frank Luntz being interviewed on television.  At one point, he stated “Language is like fire:  it can either heat your home, or it can burn it down.”  Here is what I wrote next:  “extemporaneous thought:  What if the issues of ecocentrism – environmental preservationism – are such that they cannot compete one-on-one, head-to-head, with the self-centered anthropocentric language of human-ism.  Is that one of the things we’re unwittingly up against?  Are the odds stacked against us, in that regard?”

Think about it.  Many politicians’ chests swell with nationalistic pride, whenever they publicly pronounce the word “America”;  but I never hear that same reverence intoned in their voice when they utter the word “earth” (and notice how “America” is always capitalized, whereas “earth” often isn’t).  In fact, many of the same politicians who have been very impassioned about getting an anti-[American]flag-burning amendment passed, could not be any less concerned about global warming.  The word “America,” embodies our hopes and dreams – even many non-Americans know well the meaning of the phrase “the American dream.”  However, there is no equivalent phrase to convey the hopes and dreams of impassioned environmentalists.

Someone (it is unclear who this is attributable to) once stated “Talking about music, is like dancing about architecture.”  Maybe this might help to explain the lack of eco-consciousness prevalent in society.  That is not necessarily to say that talking about nature, is like dancing about architecture, but perhaps, on some level, language is inadequate (for the most part) – at least in its present-day form – to adequately communicate, and put into words, what impassioned environmentalists are trying to convey.  It is so much easier to express our feelings on issues about which we, as humans, can immediately relate;  and we do so, in countless ways:  in conversations, plays, films, TV sitcoms, novels, short stories, poems, songs, articles, letters, anecdotes, jokes, and even by such nonverbal means as just silently holding hands.  People are people – that is what we are.  We cannot relate to being an endangered wildflower, or being a tree, a frog, coral, or the ozone layer;  and maybe that is partly why we lack “empathy” (for lack of a better word), for nonhuman things.

[12.]  “To be a friend of the earth, you have to be an enemy of the people.”  I heard this sentence spoken in a radio interview, years back, on a show whose Internet address is TheConnection.Org T. C. Boyle was being interviewed, and the line was being quoted from his novel A Friend of the Earth. This was an excellent interview;  and one which you can easily access by googling the underlined information above.

Ultimately, perhaps that is the dilemma we must grapple with.  With over seven and a half billion people sharing this planet (and that number will have grown, literally, as you finish reading this paragraph), virtually everything that we do, is going to adversely affect it.  Taking a daily shower, for instance, depletes a resource we cannot live without – and can cause other problems as well (e.g. saltwater intrusion), depending upon where you live;  and isn’t that hot water always at the ready, whenever you do take a shower?  (That is so much wasted energy.)  Agriculture harms the environment in a multitude of ways.  Dependence upon a meat-based diet, harms the earth’s ecosystems to a much greater extent than if we were all vegetarians.  Our modes of transportation pollute and contribute to global warming.  The clothes we wear, require resources and energy to produce (and to clean), and pollution is a byproduct of those processes.  I can go on and on and on …

But back to the original statement.  Is the statement true or false?  Or is it a little of both?  And if “to be a friend of the earth, you must be an enemy of the people,” then to be a friend of the people, must you be an enemy of the earth?  Obviously, however which way you answer these questions, it doesn’t appear to be an “underlying cause,” per se (directly).  However, indirectly, on some level, if people intuitively or subconsciously perceive it (that original statement) to be true, then that would help to explain why we viscerally avoid the whole topic altogether.  In other words, that would help to explain why we don’t talk about things like global warming, deforestation, acid rain, ozone depletion, overpopulation, loss of biodiversity, and so forth, in a substantive way.  We only touch upon these topics superficially, at best;  but maybe that is because, on some level, we simply accept it as,  unavoidably, the price we have to pay (no matter what, inevitably, the real cost, or consequences, will be, in aggregate, down the line).

[13.]  Invisibility.  Perhaps, a big reason why we largely ignore environmental issues, is because a lot of what is going on, is happening out of our range of sight (and as the saying goes:  “out of sight, out of mind”):  microscopic, invisible to the naked eye;  way up in the upper atmosphere, or among the clouds;  deep underground, in an aquifer;  at the bottom of an ocean, or waterway;  buried, or covered up, as with a waste dump.  Even with something “visible” like deforestation, taking place in the Amazon rainforest, for example:  (a) people outside Brazil cannot see it;  (b) not everyone inside Brazil, can necessarily see it;  and (c) even someone standing in the middle of the rainforest itself, isn’t seeing the forest, per se, but rather is seeing only an infinitesimally small portion thereof.  (They would not be witnessing deforestation, per se, so much as they would be witnessing the loss of a very small quantity – relatively speaking – of trees.)  Therefore, even something that is not hidden, might not necessarily be seeable.

Because we can’t actually see many of the environmental problems, as they are occurring, they don’t enter into our consciousness.  Because they don’t enter into our consciousness, they don’t appear to have any direct or major impact on our daily life.  Because they don’t appear to have any direct or major impact on our daily life, we ignore them.  Meanwhile, these problems continue to get worse;  and this makes issues that are already very difficult to resolve, even more difficult to resolve.

This topic reminds me of something I read, concerning the waste issue.  Writing in the Science section (page D8) of the August 25, 2009 edition of The New York Times, Andrew Revkin pointed out in his “Dot Earth” column, that “There is no Mt.Everest of waste that we can make a pilgrimage to and behold the sobering aggregate of our discarded stuff.”  What he is referring to here is certainly very real, and yet downright impossible to actually see (particularly in the context in which he is framing it).  The only way to see this is to perceive it through the lens of our imagination.

[14.]  We always want more than what we have.  This one is not so simple to put into words;  and there is more than one direction of thought, acting in concert, synergistically, here:

(1) We have a tendency to take nature for granted, because it already exists.  It is already there, we have it – we don’t need to go out and acquire it, or create it, or imagine it.  To use an analogy, imagine the extent to which we would not be taking the Earth for granted, if, for example, we were a space-faring species, unsuccessfully searching throughout the galaxy, for a similarly hospitable planet.

(2) We are never quite satisfied with what we have;  we always want more.  I don’t mean that solely the way it sounds.  I also mean it in a much deeper sense;  and in a way that is difficult to put into words.  If we are ever completely satisfied with what we have, then – it could be argued – what would even be the sense in being alive?  Sustenance would be superfluous.  We always “want” something:  a paycheck, a meal, sleep, a form of entertainment that will keep us occupied for a period of time.  Even when we are doing something we don’t want to be doing, maybe it’s simply because we “want” to please someone else, or because we “want” that paycheck.  Even if we are not doing anything, maybe it is because, at that particular moment, we “want” to be not doing anything (like relaxing or meditating).  Clearly, on some level, insatiability is inherently natural, and even necessary.  But perhaps, in some way, it also contributes to the ubiquitous lack of substantive appreciation for what we do “have,” in terms of Earth’s natural environment.

(3) We all coexist, simultaneously, in the spheres of both “the physical world,” and “the non-physical world” – represented by that which we have, and that which we desire;  that which exists, and that which exists only in our mind;  the tangible, and the intangible.  On the one hand, we have the physical world, the “real” world – that which has physical form, and that which we can see, hear, taste, touch or smell.  That is what we “have.”  But on the other hand, and in direct contrast to this, we also have what we could term “the non-physical world” – these are all the intangible things we don’t have, or don’t “yet” have.  Think of all the people, for example, who desire physical beauty, even though real happiness can only be found within (and even though such beauty is even more ephemeral than life itself [assuming we live a long life]).  Maybe, when people tell themselves that they are not beautiful enough, or attractive enough, they are just giving themselves another excuse not to be satisfied with what they have, and thus further fueling that feeling of always wanting more.  This seems to be something innately human, this compulsion to live “outside” the physical world, and this also contributes to our view of ourselves as being disconnected from nature.

[15.]  A “multiple intelligences” theory, component.  According to Harvard professor Howard Gardner’s “multiple intelligences” theory, there are at least eight different types of human intelligence:
(1) ability to write poetry;
(2) linguistic and logical;
(3) musical;
(4) spatial;
(5) bodily kinetics;
(6) and (7) intrapersonal and interpersonal; and eventually he added
(8) naturalistic (which includes the ability to perceive patterns and relationships within the natural world).

But I would posit that there is another distinct dimension to human intelligence:  eco-consciousness.  This would encompass, among other things, a person’s ability to comprehend the magnitude of the damage we are wreaking upon this planet.  And, perhaps, for whatever reason, having a high aptitude in this particular area of human intelligence, happens to be very rare.  This could help to explain why so many people – including many otherwise very intelligent and highly educated people – can’t perceive the harm we are perpetrating upon the earth, whereas, someone like myself, can’t not see it.  This would also help to explain why we have so many of the ecological problems that we have, and why so very little ever gets accomplished, in terms of trying to resolve these serious issues.

To put it another way:  just as we say that a person can have a sweet tooth, or not have a sweet tooth, or have a green thumb, or not have a green thumb, so too, perhaps, we can also say that a person can have a “green brain,” or not have a “green brain.”  And perhaps we can show that not having a green brain, is by far the dominant trait (like having dark hair), whereas having a green brain, is a very rare recessive trait (like having red hair).  Naturally, if that is the case, if eco-consciousness is, genetically speaking, very uncommon, and lack of eco-consciousness is, genetically, a ubiquitous trait, then this does not portend well for humankind.

[16.]  The pain/pleasure principle.  There exists a theory which states that all human behavior is driven by just two forces:  desire to avoid pain, or desire to gain pleasure.  Could this help to explain why we are losing the battle to save the earth?  People don’t want to give up (or even have to think about potentially having to give up) things which bring them pleasure.  Additionally, on another level, the pain that would ordinarily act as the stronger motivational force, does not enter our consciousness, because many of the consequences of our earth-unfriendly actions might not be gravely felt until after we have departed.

[17.]  “Extroverted Sensors” considerably outnumber “Introverted Intuitives.”  Much of what I presently know about the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) personality typing system (which identifies 16 different personality types), I owe to the book Do What You Are:  Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type (by Paul D. Tieger, and Barbara Barron-Tieger).  Something I read in this book offers insight, in my opinion, as to the reason why our prospects for saving the planet look so bleak.  It states that about 42 percent (37-47 percent) of the American population is made up of Extraverted Sensors, whereas only about 12 percent (10-14 percent) of the American population comprises Introverted Intuitives – that’s a 350% difference.  “Strong messages permeate our culture that it’s better” the book states, “to be the former (action-oriented, social, pragmatic, and practical) than the latter (thoughtful, introspective, complex, and creative).”  Again, this is strictly my personal opinion, and may not be shared by the book’s authors, but it would seem to me that someone in that latter category (thoughtful, introspective, complex, and creative), is considerably much more likely than someone in that former category (action-oriented, social, pragmatic, and practical), to be capable of playing a substantive role in finding real solutions to our environmental woes.

(Incidentally, in the edition I have – the Third Edition, 2001 – one sentence, on page 91, contains inaccurate figures.  I emailed the publisher, and was told corrections will be made in future editions.  I have made the necessary changes above, so those percentages I cite here are correct.)

[18.]  Psychological barriers.  The very way our brains work, can impede progress on environmental issues.  An excellent article, written by freelance journalist Beth Gardiner, published in The New York Times (“We’re All Climate-Change Idiots,” 22 July 2012:  12 [the “Gray Matter” column, in the “Sunday Review” section of the Sunday edition]), discusses this – specifically, as it relates to the climate change issue.  The article quotes Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, as stating “You almost couldn’t design a problem that is a worse fit with our underlying psychology.”  There are several examples of these underlying behavioral barriers, mentioned in the article, including:
(a) “We have trouble imagining a future drastically different from the present.”
(b) “We block out complex problems that lack simple solutions.”
(c) “We dislike delayed benefits and so are reluctant to sacrifice today for future gains.”
(d) “And we find it harder to confront problems that creep up on us than emergencies that hit quickly.”

[19.]  The “dark fate” hypothesis (for lack of a better title).  What if man simply lacks the intellectual capacity, for doing what needs to be done (in order to save the planet).  For example, we all-too-often forget – or may even refuse to acknowledge – the simple, irrefutable fact, that we are, after all, at bottom, just animals.  We regard ourselves as being above nature, and above the animal kingdom (e.g. many people believe that humans have souls, but animals don’t), but we are a part of nature, and a component of the animal kingdom.

There are some very legitimate – even necessary and crucial, I would argue – questions we need to ask, in this regard.  In Seattle, Washington, in 1989, Dr. Helen Caldicott delivered a brilliant speech (titled “Saving the Planet”), in which she pointedly asks:  “Who are we?  And why are we so arrogant with the earth?”  That “Who are we?” still reverberates, sometimes, within the walls of my cranium.  In assembling answers to those and similar questions, among the things we need to consider, are:  “What is consciousness?”  “Do we have ‘free will,’ or is that entirely an illusion?”

Perhaps, what we think of as “free will,” is merely the way atoms and molecules behave, when they are within the confines of that unique environment we call our brain (with our genes, and unique life history, acting as the maestro, that orchestrates their performance).

Or, in the words of Francis Crick – co-discoverer of the double-helical structure of DNA – as he wrote in his book The Astonishing Hypothesis:   “ ‘You,’ your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”

I also like the thought-provoking phrasing Robert Wright used in a review he wrote for the New York Times Book Review (“Can it be that human thought and feeling are mere physical events?” 9 Jul. 1995 [a review of Paul M. Churchland’s The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul:  A Philosophical Journey Into the Brain]), in which he was describing one conceivable perspective from which to perceive consciousness and free will.  “Consciousness,” he wrote, “is to a brain what a shadow is to the body that casts it … a mere epiphenomenon.”  Your inclination to believe “that you listen to people and decide how to respond is merely the poignant illusion of a robot blissfully oblivious to the inexorable force of its physical programming.”  Think about it.  Everything that happens in this world happens as a result of causal influence – even though these puppet-string-like deterministic forces are often hidden, indiscernible, and unquantifiable.  The world inside our cranium is no different than the world outside our cranium, in that respect.  Everything is the sum of what came before it.

[20.]  Nature, on the whole, is perceived by us as being indestructible.  Teenagers, similarly, possess a feeling of virtual immortality – as though their “youth were a magic shield, protecting them from danger” (as one columnist once put it).  Perhaps it is because, when you are a teenager, old age seems light-years away, in a distant future too far off to even imagine.  Likewise, that is how society tends to regard environmental degradation.  We are blind to the destruction we are wreaking upon a planet we perceive of, on some level, as being indestructible.

[21.]  We do unto the earth, as we do unto ourselves.  Considering the extent to which we mistreat our fellow man, and even our own bodies – smoking, drinking, illicit drugs, bullying, fighting, violent gangs, organized crime, wars, DWI, getting dark tans, overeating, eating the wrong foods, not exercising, inadequate sleep, and so forth – should it really be all that surprising that we are mistreating the earth, as well?  In fact, I remember reading that only 3 percent of the U.S. adult population adheres to these four basic health principles:  don’t smoke, don’t be overweight, get regular exercise, and have five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day.  This was based on a study using data from more than 153,000 adults, in all 50 states, and was conducted by researchers in Michigan (Mathew Reeves of Michigan State University and Ann P. Rafferty of the Michigan Department of Health), who reported their findings in the April 25, 2005, issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Another study, conducted at the University of Cambridge in England, suggests that being physically active, not smoking, drinking alcohol only moderately, and eating five or more servings of vegetables and fruits daily, could extend your life by 14 years.  (“Did you know?:  4 habits that could add years to your life,” Consumer Reports June 2008:  45.)  And yet how many people do those four things?

[22.]  God-belief.  Most people don’t see anything inherently wrong with, or dangerous about, believing in a Higher Being.  But by putting our faith in a supreme, beneficent being, this lessens our resolve to face difficult and challenging environmental issues on our own.  Many are taught in their houses of worship that “All you need is faith.  That’s it!  Just put your faith in God, and He will take care of you.  He will not let you down.  If not in this life, then surely in the afterlife – because death is not the end.”  I see this as an extremely dangerous and destructive belief system, on so many different levels, not the least of which is that it chips away at our resolve to face the pressing, urgent problems we need to be facing, now, on our own, without expectation of any divine intervention.  But another deep concern of mine is this:  If I can’t convince someone that a dead person is really dead (even after maggots and the wind have rendered the body nothing but scattered dust) – because, they will argue, “But what about the soul?” – how can I convince them that the planet (biosphere), itself, is “dying?” If I can’t convince them of something that couldn’t be made any more obvious (literally), what hope have I got of convincing them that we are destroying the earth?  A closed mind can’t see what a closed mind doesn’t want to see, no matter what – and I see that as one of the biggest hindrances, and one of the biggest challenges, pertaining to saving the planet.

[23.]  Perhaps the greatest threat to the biosphere, comes from technology (applied science), and the Law of Unintended Consequences.  However, assuming this were true, it still leaves out what specifically is the driving force that is creating this problem (in terms of human fault, or behavior).

Indeed, it is worth noting here, that Chris Langan – tested as having one of the highest IQs of anyone alive today – was quoted, in an article in Newsday (Dennis Brabham, “The Smart Guy,” 21 Aug. 2001:  B6), as stating:  “I think science is rapidly outstripping the sophistication of our ethical systems.  I don’t think we have any understanding of what constraints we should impose on science, if any.”  He then goes on to suggest the need for “an overarching philosophy that provides us with a scientific theory of ethics,” that we can turn to, to answer some of these questions.  Though the distance between theory and practice can be worlds apart – as the admonition “The devil is in the details” warns – I quite agree.

[24.]  Something else to consider:  society’s transformative nature.  Society’s transformative nature may cast serious doubt upon the workability of any such “overarching philosophy” (see number 23, above), or “blueprint” (as in my “blueprint for ‘saving the planet’” book project), no matter how well-constructed and well-thought-out – even though this may indeed represent man’s best hope.  Perhaps there is something about human nature, in general, that would tend to nullify any such attempt to constrain it – like trying to hold together the repellent ends of a magnet.  The ebb and flow of wave after wave of emerging and receding generations, bring forth new ideas, new energy, new thinking, new paradigm shifts, constantly changing and reshaping the world – the world of philosophy, the world of entertainment, music, technology, and so forth.  This constancy of change seamlessly transforms societies, and continuously shapes and reshapes new realities into being.  It is sort of like a generational rite of passage.  As Heraclitus stated, roughly 2,500 years ago:  “Nothing endures but change.”  Or in the words of Jonathan Swift:  “There is nothing in this world constant, but inconstancy.”

[25.]  Another important consideration (concerning the predicament man is in [ecologically speaking]):  I would argue that there are three camps of thinkers (let us presume that each of us must fall into one of these camps):  (a) the “We Will Prevail” camp (these people believe we are not in any real danger, or that we will always be able to find a way to escape any dangerous situation that may come our way);  (b) the “We Won’t Prevail” camp (these people believe the situation is absolutely hopeless, there is nothing we can do to reverse our dire fate);  and (c) the “We Don’t Know Whether Or Not We’ll Prevail” camp (maybe mankind will be wiped out, maybe mankind won’t be wiped out, but there is no way to know for sure one way or the other).

While I have met plenty of people I would likely place in the first or second camp, I haven’t met too many people who I would place in the third camp (the camp I’m in).  Most people who offer an opinion give either a thumbs up, or a thumbs down, assessment.  A lot of the people in the first camp tend to be overly optimistic, and out of touch, with the seriousness of the situation.  Most people in the second camp tend to be too overly pessimistic, or too overly negative, to seriously get involved in any real way – thus pushing their apocalyptic vision closer toward becoming a reality (all the more ironic, since they also tend to be quick to place the blame on others).

From a logical standpoint, there should exist only one camp (since none of us could know what the future holds) – the third camp.  But this third camp can be divided even further, into more differentiated camps – only one of which would be the people who are really committed to doing all they can do, to save the earth.  I think this illustrates the magnitude of the challenge we are up against.  Such a statistically infinitesimal proportion of humanity is genuinely involved in the all-important battle to save it.

[26.]  Our predicament is twofold:  (a) virtually no one possesses both the ability, and the desire, to create a (comprehensive, substantive) “blueprint for ‘saving the planet’”;  and (b) very few of us would be willing to live by its precepts.

[27.]  Perhaps the greatest threat to humankind can best be summed up this way:  We take ourselves (both as individuals and as a species), far too seriously (through everything from self-conscious concerns like masking the graying of our hair, to believing that an omnipotent Being intended for our species alone to have dominion over the entire planet);  and the earth, we don’t take seriously enough (it is, after all, the wellspring from which everything that sustains us derives).

In an article published in Newsday, staff writer Fred Bruning expressed a similar enough sentiment (“Harvest of Hope,” Dec. 19, 1999, p. A19) when he wrote that “those who argue that humane values and reverence for the Earth are inextricably tied may be raising the most important question of the new millennium:  Do human beings take themselves too seriously — or their world not seriously enough?”

{28.]  Lastly, here is my single, unifying theory.  It fuses together a lot of the same theories I’ve included up to this point.  I believe it represents the single best way to explain the paradox of how a species with our degree of intelligence, can be wreaking such damage upon the very planet we solely depend upon, for our continuing survival.

Of all the environmental challenges we face – global warming, ozone depletion, acid rain, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, overpopulation, diversion and depletion of our water resources, pollution of our land, water and air – the greatest, by far, is probably what I would term “mind pollution.”

Think of humanity as if it were a giant melting pot.  And into this pot go all the brains.  And into this soup melt all the toxic mind pollutants, contaminating the whole batch.  That is why we have wars, killing, equal rights struggles, human rights abuses, ineffectual schooling, pollution, etc.  The more pollution there is in that vat, the more pollution we create here on earth.  We all have mind pollution, but the combinations and amounts (assuming they are quantifiable [which of course is not the case]) are unique to every individual, much like a fingerprint.  Obviously, there is probably always going to be room for improvement – and this is something we need to work on (both as individuals, and as a society) – but this also underscores the importance of education (not the system now in place, but rather the system we need to strive for and create).  (Which leads to the paradoxical question:  “How does a society so inept at envisioning the type of educational system it needs to have in place, construct such a system?)

So what exactly is “mind pollution?”  Here are some examples of mind pollution, or what could – under the right circumstances – be deemed as “mind pollution”:  Apathy, insouciance, egregious indifference, intellectual sloth, superficiality, reductivist thinking, faulty logic, shortsightedness, overgeneralizing, oversimplifying, undervaluing, incuriousness, ignorance, irrational thinking, denialism, whataboutism, addiction, greed, jealousy, vengeance, vanity, impatience, anthropocentrism, hedonism, narcissism, egotism, self-interest, arrogance, hubris, overconfidence, bias, spin, zealotry, sophistry, obfuscation, chicanery, dishonesty, rationalizing, cognitive dissonance, lack of a deep sense of eco-consciousness, relativism, optimism, pessimism, negativism, miswanting, misprioritizing, misunderstanding, misinterpreting, miscommunicating, mishearing, misjudging, intolerance, escapism, fundamentalism, religious dogma, Creationism, supernaturalistic magical thinking, superstition,  blind obedience to tradition, groupthink, racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, looksism, elitism, classism, tribalism, nationalism, patriotism, jingoism, materialism, speciesism, misanthropy, misogyny, cynicism, xenophobia, and so on …

(For further reading, see also the Wikipedia article “List of cognitive biases,” to review a long list of types of biases:  List of cognitive biases)