Balancing the needs of the planet and humans

Keeping the needs of the planet and our fellow human beings in balance is becoming increasingly difficult

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QUATHIASKI COVE, BC, Feb 12, 2015/ Troy Media/ – News is never just news. Because it must always be a narrow slice of the world’s unfolding events, it distorts by selecting from a spectrum of other news. This is why balanced news is a higher order of news than simple news. By adding perspective to simplicity, balanced news infuses news with some of the depth and complexity that is closer to reality.

Generally, people are eating better and living longer. They are healthier, more literate, better informed and happier than ever before in human history. Our very intolerance of wars, starvation, poverty, unfairness, cruelty and injustice is an indication that our expectations are lifting the condition of humanity in almost every region of the world.

A false belief in balancing differing agendas

Our visceral response to acts of terrorism is a measure of our rising moral character; our pained reaction to images of disasters, crimes and misfortunes is an indication that we have an expanding empathetic connection to others. Sensational news items are disturbing precisely because they are the exception that offends our sense of caring and compassion. If we were truly indifferent to the plight of others, we would register no response to their individual or collective suffering.

Balancing the needs of the planet and humans may not be possible

The impression to be derived from all this positive news is that our modern civilization is succeeding in its quest to provide fulfilling lives to all humanity. However unequal, slow or awkward the process, a common morality is spreading across the global village as the human character expresses its most commendable traits. We are motivated by the belief that, given enough time, we could eliminate want and suffering.

Unfortunately, this good news story is counterbalanced by the amount of energy, resources and space required to lift the prosperity, health and happiness of 7.3 billion people – recently predicted to reach nine billion by 2042 and 11 billion by 2100. The biophysical systems that govern the smooth functioning of the Holocene – the approximately 11,000 years of climate stability we have experienced since the end of the last Ice Age – are under unprecedented pressure. Four of these nine crucial systems have been damaged beyond their safe boundaries: the extinction rate; deforestation; the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide; and the flow of nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizer into the ocean. Four more are seriously stressed: freshwater use, ocean acidification, atmospheric aerosol pollution, and the introduction of exotic chemicals and modified organisms. The only one under successful control is ozone depletion.

Many scientists are calling this a planetary crisis. The world has lost 50 per cent of its wildlife populations in the last 40 years as human activity kills or displaces fish, birds and animals in unprecedented numbers. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have risen to 400 ppm, the highest in at least the last 800,000 years. 2014 has just been declared the hottest year in human history: 0.04°C higher than the two previous records set in 2005 and 2010, and 0.69°C higher than the 20th century average – all without the help of the warming currents of an El Niño year.

Balancing the debit and credit columns

This sobering news is the dark obverse of any good news story, the debits that balance the credit column on the ledger of reality. Our humanitarian accomplishments, for all the praise they deserve, are incurring a terrible ecological cost. And the more of us there are to feed and clothe, and the more consumer goods we need and want, the greater is the strain on the limited capabilities of our supporting natural systems.

The environmental damage we are inflicting on our planet and the prosperity we are experiencing for humanity offer two different perspectives of the one complex reality in which we live. We care, as we must, for the wellbeing of our fellow humans; so, too, must we care for the natural world on which we are wholly dependent. The two are inextricably connected. But keeping them in balance is becoming increasingly difficult. At this moment in our history, we seem to be poised on the precipice of a dilemma in which we are risking grievous injury to not just one or the other, but to both. In the great and implacable design of things, this is what is meant by balanced news.

Ray Grigg is the author of seven internationally published books on Oriental philosophy, specifically Zen and Taoism.

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