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The ‘inhumanity’ of humanity? In reply to a previous comment, I linked to a Guardian article by George Monbiot. His writing is always clear about the effects of our behaviour – on the planet and on our future – but his summation of the challenge in one line, at the end, seemed particularly apt; ”And unless environmentalists also seek to sustain the achievements of industrial civilisation – health, education, sanitation, nutrition – the field will be left to those who rightly wish to preserve them, but don’t give a stuff about the impacts.” Ignoring the death of all around us, do we want to kill our own species? How does the instinct for survival become so ineffective when it concerns the group, or ‘abstract’, ’unfelt’, future events? Do other instincts, fixed in the personal and in the ‘here and now‘, always overrule? It’s easy to understand how some; such as the Dark Mountain Project mentioned in Monbiot’s article, may leave the field – lose hope of changing the situation, of changing the unchangeable; in effect (as agents of the doom), our human nature.

I’ve already used Jared Diamond’s example of rabbits committing “ecological suicide”, in the article about Meath councillors, but the parallel is again useful; “A similar example was the introduction of rabbits to Lisianski Island west of Hawaii in the first decade of this (20th) century. Within a decade the rabbits had eaten themselves into oblivion by consuming every plant on the island except two morning glories and a tobacco patch.” 

Shouldn’t our ability to reason, or  to look ahead, save us from this fate? Apparently not. Like consumers staring, rapt, at a glittering display, we are told that it is endangered, becoming extinct, but we don’t believe it. It doesn’t affect our behaviour (and I am as guilty as the next person). The alternatives seem grey and hard-going – often they are not yet viable. John Vidal’s review of Paul Collier’s “The Plundered Planet”, also in the Guardian, is dismissive (probably correctly) but carries the same, bleak, point; “His first premise is simple, if dull: economists and environmentalists must come together because they are on the same side in a war that is being lost.” Our humanity will kill humanity. Of course, every civilisation lives over the bones and buildings of those preceding it, but this is different; a time of engulfing ecological vortex. Like time travellers; Oisin returned from Tir an nOg, or Charlton Heston on the beach in Planet of the Apes, we are confronted, if we choose to look ahead, with the knowledge of a death complete.

Our struggle against unnecessary heritage destruction, or heritage theft (metal detecting?), for that matter, is both specific and part of the whole – tree and wood – and a struggle, at its core, with that immutable part of human instinct that is fixed in the personal and in the ‘here and now‘ – comfortable with “the achievements of industrial civilisation”. So, what is the point of even trying to fight this stampede to dystopia? Monbiot gives a straight call; “To sit back and wait for what the Dark Mountain people believe will be civilisation’s imminent collapse, without trying to change the way it operates, is to conspire in the destruction of everything greens are supposed to value.” It’s not an option.

We must be prepared, then, to accept new economic development but only after judging it, and only, on its environmental impact – how can we do otherwise, really, and isn’t it a grading scheme by which most, if not all, previous heritage destroying developments would fail? Otherwise, we are set to spiral down – ride the bomb while gaily waving our hats – to the doom of ourselves and all in the world below. This is the lens through which we must also view the new Irish National Monuments Act and its balancing of development against archaeological protection. How wide a door will it open? Will it leave the field, as before, to those who “don’t give a stuff about the impacts“? I hope not.


May 2010

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