There are 4 essential steps for our society to change course towards a way of life in harmony with nature:
1. Realizing the importance of our personal contribution;
2. Developing our environmental awareness;
3. Updating our worldview;
The last 3 steps include several levels, much like onion peels. These 3 steps are therefore a continuous process.
1. Realizing the importance of our personal contribution
Great changes in the trajectory of a society are achievable when a critical number of people adhere to a new way of thinking.
In my book, I give the example of the legal status of animals who were once regarded as objects. In many countries, they are now recognized as sentient beings. This change of status is the result of an evolution of the consciousness and way of thinking of a large part of society.
For our society to change, we must begin by realizing the importance of our personal contribution to change.
2. Developing our environmental awareness
In order to move forward, we need to understand where we are, how we got there and what our options are. It is therefore necessary to acquire a basic knowledge of the state of the planet, the causes of climate change and the degradation of ecosystems (our linear production system, industrial agriculture, transport, etc.), as well as of solutions and alternatives. We can then have a better overview of the issues.
An example is that of plant-based bio-fuels supposed to make the airline industry greener: this idea is interesting. However, its large-scale application requires the cultivation of monocultures over very large areas, sometimes to the detriment of local populations, and can lead to deforestation and loss of biodiversity. Knowing that mature forests play an important role in the carbon cycle, we realize that the use of plant-based bio-fuels, applied in a context of a growing airline industry, may shift the problem and create others.
In developing our environmental awareness, we also come to realize that we can not solve our environmental problems only through technological improvements, but that we must also change the way we think. That’s what I realized when I learned that some manufacturers reinvest savings in energy costs resulting from energy efficiency projects – the initial goal of which is to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases (GES) – in the construction of new production lines. Unfortunately, by increasing production, we are back to square one in terms of total GHG emissions, or we do even worse – but we are following the current trend of valuing economic growth first and foremost.
3. Updating our worldview
The prevailing worldview in our western society is man-centered. Humans believe that they are removed from nature and above it; they consider nature as a source of resources that they can utilize at their own will to satisfy their needs and material desires, to the detriment of other forms of life. In addition, our current thinking encourages competition and promotes the health of the economy at the expense of healthy ecosystems.
Fortunately, there are other ways to see the world. For example, some peoples considered themselves (or still consider themselves) an integral part of nature and acted so as not to undermine the regenerative capacity of ecosystems. The functioning of some of these peoples was based on the principles of reciprocity, sufficiency and cooperation, and was inspired by the way in which nature works.
We have the ability to question our way of seeing things and to adhere to a vision of the world in which humans aim for a way of life in harmony with nature, and based on cooperation. For example, the WWF (World Wildlife Federation) offers us a vision for 2050 of a world in which “biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and used wisely, while preserving ecosystem services, supporting a healthy planet and providing essential benefits for all “(Living Planet Report 2018 – Aiming Higher, WWF 2018).
The final step is to make choices and encourage initiatives that promote harmony with nature.
For example, we can start by favoring local and organic foods, by buying second-hand products or by renting them in the case of objects that we do not use often. We can then gradually challenge all our other choices.
We are at the onset of a movement that the American eco-philosopher Joanna Macy refers to as “The Great Turning“, and which is a transition to a sustainable way of life. We each have the opportunity to participate in this movement and to accelerate it for our children, future generations and animals.