April 26, 2011

Everything we do is a problem.

Excerpts from The Fine and Excruciating Construction of the World: An interview with Ed Burtynsky by Robert Enright published in Border Crossings, Issue No. 117, March 2011:

... We're constantly being reminded that our patterns of consumption are consequential and that we are reaching limits, limits of what the oceans can provide, of how much deforestation the earth can take before it stops sequestering carbon, of how much water can we take before it goes bone dry? Why would anyone think there aren't significant consequences in having our cities and our cars and our jets and our fuel, especially if there are seven billion of us? Look at the wasteland we create in the taking. It is a direct consequence of our search for a middle-class existence. We almost have to live in a constant state of guilt and remorse for everything we do. It's a conundrum, and that's where the contradictory set of emotions comes from. If you think humanity is a cancerous growth on the planet, and everything we touch is a disaster, then it should be photographed horrifically. While there are moments when I get frustrated with the unimpressive response to global conditions that are becoming untenable, I have a fairly optimistic view of humanity. Humans are the most interesting things in the universe, and the fact that we are on the cusp of understanding the origins of the universe is the culmination of a million years of evolution. We're a bit of a rogue species right now, and our populations are running amok, but we're also at the pinnacle of that evolutionary process.

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We've evolved as a species that has been able to control and shape many things to our vision. It was fine until there were too many of us. No previous generation has had to consider that the path they set themselves on, and that most people accepted, was flawed. Everything we do is a problem. We live in a world where consumerism is seen as a negative thing. As I said, it's difficult for people to have to live in a world of contradictions. To me this whole psychological state of cognitive dissonance is interesting. A lot of people don't want to buy into global warming - that's larger-than-life scale cognitive dissonance. At that point, it is no longer rational. When I was born, the world's population was two and a half billion; now there are seven billion people in the world. That's what has changed, and the whole thing doesn't work anymore. Supply and demand is out of proportion. If India and China and Indonesia and South America achieve our standard of living, we can't expect there to be fish or iron ore or copper or any oil left. The earth doesn't have it to provide, so we're on a very real trajectory. Scientists have shown that for all those countries to achieve our standard of living, we're short three earths.

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