In my last post, I argued that there should be a global responsibility for the preservation of the rainforest – since its continued existence benefits all planetary life. I would however, now go further and say that this should extend to all natural resources.
Just as the oxygen from trees cannot be bound by humankind’s geopolitical boundaries, the water evaporating from the oceans can also have a global impact. As can pollution and climate change. The systems of jurisprudence in the world today are such that individuals are held responsible for their actions – if I hurt you, I am responsible. If this is true at the micro level, then shouldn’t it also be true at the macro level? If I take action to impact the earth’s ecosystem, shouldn’t I be responsible for that action? Put simply, anyone chopping down a tree, should really plant another one in order to ensure that they are not adversely affecting life on the planet… anything less is an abrogation of responsibility.
The present-day concept of the financial ownership of land (and any inherent resources) is one, which is in an anathema to the concept of a global responsibility. Currently accepted practice, is that once the land has been purchased, the owner may proceed to act as they see fit with the resources of that land – in accordance with local regulations. Therefore forests can be cleared and not replanted, metals can be mined etc. or fish farmed with no regard for the consequences upon the global ecosystem. This practice in fact, usurps the moral responsibility for our actions with a limited financial responsibility via the concept of ownership. I say limited financial responsibility, because the owner is not required to replace the resources on the land – hence the financial responsibility effectively ceases after purchase, whereas the impact of the loss of resources in all probability, will not.
Even considering that the money used to purchase the land could be used to purchase more land and plant more trees – this is nothing more than passing the responsibility from one party to another, as there is no guarantee that the invested party will fulfil that responsibility. In addition to which of course, the ecosystem is a closed system (what with there being only one habitable planet) and therefore the quantity of land is limited: a factor which cannot be mitigated by any amount of money.
If we join these two points, we see that despite the impact of our land and resource usage being global, the responsibility remains local or Individual. The ‘owner’ of the resource can to a large extent choose to remove, destroy or preserve those resources – and hence can choose to have an impact on the earth’s ecosystem without any let or hindrance from others. Any system in which the rights of those impacted need not be considered by those who act is a system which has disenfranchised people.
This seems to me to be both illogical and unreasonable.
By acknowledging that changes to the earth’s ecosystem can have impacts on everything, logic dictates that to preserve life we should understand and acknowledge the impact on the earth’s ecosystem of our actions: and assume the responsibility for this. Logically then, any society organised around this concept would require that the impacts of the actions taken by a person would need to be mitigated by the self-same person. Such ‘Collective Responsibility’ would have drastic impacts on our societies… and in particular, on those agencies within societies who consume resources for the production of goods: producers would need to replace or replenish the resources consumed in the act of production.
Collective Responsibility should not stop with the replacement of consumed resources however; as can be seen in the oceans today, an item can still have an environmental impact post production. Therefore, the responsibility must continue throughout the life of the product, a principle requiring that everything produced should be entirely and fully recyclable or at least reducible down to non-polluting component parts (which themselves can be re-used). This would mean that the producer is also responsible for ensuring that the means of recycling are made available – otherwise the producer would be passing that responsibility onto a third party. As for the habit of throwing rubbish into landfill – that is nothing more that quite literally ‘burying the problem’.
Following which, there still remains the question of how to handle those resources which cannot be replaced… humankind cannot at present rebuild mountains or re-insert clay or metals into the earth. The industrial (ab)use of this type of resource can too have a devastating affect on the ecosystem. In such circumstances, perhaps the first step then should be to not extract such resources on an industrial scale!
Collective Responsibility therefore comprises the following key elements:
- ensure that all resources used for the production of goods are replaced by the producer
- ensure that all products made are entirely and fully recyclable and that the means of recycling are made available by the producer
- cease the industrial-scale rape of non-renewable resources
Such changes will necessarily require a paradigm shift – from societies where resources can be bought and consumed without any regard for the impact those resources or products have on planetary life, to societies where resources can be used only by those willing to both replace them and to ensure that planetary life is protected from adverse impacts. Societies will have to consider the impact on life of the production of a good before any goods can be produced.
From my perspective, this will slow the pace of human life down somewhat, but then we are currently so busy moving forward as quickly as we can, that we fail to consider the impact of what we do. Maybe if we were forced to cater for the full impact of our actions, we would be more responsible about how and what we produce and use.