One of the many, many problems caused by the Judeo-Christian religions is how we see our place in the universe. We say that we “come into the world”, whereas other religions say that we “come out of the world”. In the words of Alan Watts “We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe.”
In Genesis God (apparently) said “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”. Whether we consider ourselves religious or not, whether we think the bible is true or not, is not relevant here. What is relevant is that this “dominion” way of thinking has dominated society for over a thousand years.
Compare the above to a short excerpt from Chief Seattle’s letter to US president Fraklin Pierce (I highly recommend that you read the whole letter), “Our dead never forget this beautiful earth because she is the redman’s mother. We are part of the earth and she is part of us. The scented flowers are our sisters: the horned beasts, the horse and the majestic eagle are our brothers. The fields, the warm body of the foal and man, all belong to the same family.”
Would we have the environmental crisis that we currently have if we all saw the world like Chief Seattle? I can’t see how we could.
Why does this matter and why am I writing about this?
This perception matters because we are seeing our solutions to the problem through the same lens that made us create the problem in the first place. I am writing about it on a business/marketing blog because it’s businesses that have caused the problems, and that have the opportunity to do the most about it. It’s also businesses that spend the most amount of money communicating with people (ie advertising). By changing their narrative they can change the narrative as a whole.
The problem is reflected in the repeated use of the phrase “Save the Planet”. This phrase is rooted in this faulty view that we are separate from the planet and have dominion over it, when we are not, we are simply an expression of the planet and a very short-lived one.
The planet is over 4.5bn years old. Life on earth, in its simplest form, dates back 3.7bn years. If you take a 1,000 sheet roll of toilet paper and map out the history of the planet; the first know animals don’t show up until 740 sheets in (nearly ¾’s of the way through the planet’s life so far). The first dinosaurs appear at 950 sheets in (ie (95% of the way into the planet’s life) and they last for about 20 sheets. Early primates are 988 sheets in. Neanderthal man appears 0.22cm from the end. Modern man appears 0.2 cm from the end (click here to find out more). In the life of the planet, we are an irrelevance, a small blip.
Yet, when we say we are going to “Save the planet” we put ourselves in a position of domination, strength and power, as though we are the heroes and the planet is the helpless maiden who needs rescuing. The truth is the opposite. We need rescuing. We need rescuing from ourselves. We are screwing ourselves over. The planet will be fine. Yes, we are doing some damage to the planet, but to the planet, it’s like a small cold that lasts a few days, definitely no worse than the meteor impacts (and subsequent changes in temperature, sea levels etc) that it has experienced before. The planet has seen mass-extinctions before. Life grew back. It grew back in different forms, but it grew back. The planet is fine. Life, as a generic concept, will continue. What may not continue is human life and the life of most of the current species on the planet. That’s not a problem for the planet. It’s a problem for us.
If we want life to continue for humans, for our children and our grandchildren we need to stop speaking as though the planet is at threat and start speaking as though our ability to live on the planet is at threat. We need to see that we are part of the planet, not separate from it. We need to replace the slogan “Save the Planet” with something that reflects our position of danger, weakness and threat.
I have to acknowledge the other slogan, “There is no Planet B”, which is a little bit better, but not much. The NLP people out there will note that this introduces the potential idea of a Planet B, and this is backed up by the colossal amount of media coverage we hear about potentially moving to Mars. It’s also not true, there are billions and billions of potential planet B’s out there, but the likelihood of us being able to travel to one before destroying ourselves is tiny. Plus, even if “we” did manage to colonise another planet, who is the “we”? A very few, select people. Human life may go on, but that is unlikely to be our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren etc.
I don’t have the answer to this and I am not so marketing-obsessed that I think a new slogan is going to fix the problems, but I do think that a new way of talking about the environmental crisis will help.
If we start by realising that the Planet doesn’t give a f*ck about us, and that we are only harming ourselves, it’s a start. This might seem simplistic, but we are all going to have to make changes and we are inherently selfish. When you have the choice between driving and walking, does “saving the planet” really give you an incentive? A bit, but not much. If you thought that walking instead of driving would save your future grandchild’s life, you’d never get behind the wheel. We need great big companies with great big budgets to start talking this way. We need governments and news outlets to start talking this way. I really believe that this small step will help us drive change.