In his splendid book, Hell and High Water: Climate Change, Hope and the Human Condition <http://www.alastairmcintosh.com/hellandhighwater.htm> , Alastair McIntosh speaks of our current "ecocidal" patterns of consumption as addictive and self-destructive. Living like this is living at a less than properly human level - McIntosh suggests we may need therapy, what he describes as a "cultural psychotherapy" to liberate us. That liberation may or may not be enough to avert disaster.
But what we do know - or should know - is that we are living inhumanly.
We must begin by recognising that our ecological crisis is part of a crisis of what we understand by our humanity; it is part of a general process of losing our "feel" for what is appropriately human, a loss that has been going on for some centuries and which some cultures and economies have been energetically exporting to the whole world. It manifests itself in a variety of ways. It has to do with the erosion of rhythms in work and leisure, so that the old pattern of working days interrupted by a day of rest has been dangerously undermined; a loss of patience with the passing of time so that speed of communication has become a good in itself; a loss of patience which shows itself in the lack of respect and attention for the very old and the very young. It is a loss whose results have become monumentally apparent in the financial crisis of the last 12 months.
We have slowly begun to suspect that we have allowed ourselves to become addicted to fantasies about prosperity and growth, dreams of wealth without risk and profit without cost. A good deal of the talk and activity around the financial collapse has the marks of what Alastair McIntosh calls "displacement activity" - it fails to see where the roots of the problem lie; in our amnesia about the human calling.
We have seen growing evidence in recent years of a lack of correlation between economic prosperity and a sense of wellbeing, and evidence to suggest that inequality in society is one of the more reliable predictors of a lack of wellbeing. It looks very much as if what we need is to be reconnected rather urgently with the processes of our world. We shouldn't need an environmental crisis to establish that the developed world has become perilously out of touch with the experience of those living in the least developed parts of the world and with their profound vulnerabilities and insecurities.
We have to ask whether our duty of care for life is compatible with assuming without question that the desirable future for every economy, even the most successful and expansionist, is unchecked growth. Unless we re-evaluate our obsession with growth in consumerist terms, we can be sure of two things: inequality will not be addressed (and so the powerlessness of the majority of the world's population will remain as it is at the moment); and the dehumanising effects of the culture of consumer growth will worsen.
Our response to the environment crisis needs to be, in the most basic sense, a reality check, a reacquaintance with the facts of our interdependence within the material world and a rediscovery of our responsibility for it.
[This is an edited extract from the 2009 Operation Noah lecture