Man and Planet: The “Anthropocene Virus”

Ruining the planet’s health.

Since the Industrial Revolution, the impact of humans on the planet has become so active that we are seeing serious consequences of it today. Many scientists have openly started talking about the beginning of a new geological epoch — the Anthropocene Epoch. Once an intelligent inhabitant of the planet, man has gradually become the cause of geophysical and biological changes on a global scale. A consumerist attitude to the Earth and unwillingness to take responsibility for destructive processes caused by anthropogenic factors have led to the “damage” of the planet’s ecosystem — something each of us is a part of.

“Faustian thinking”, which Oswald Spengler wrote about in only the last century, has spiralled out of all control. And man has begun to gravitate towards overabundance, overconsumption, unlimited growth, and the incredible waste of natural resources. Becoming hostage to Hubris (from the Ancient Greek ὕβρις — “insolence”, “lack of restraint”, “intemperance”), he has turned into an avaricious exploiter, assuming that the planet is there to satisfy his appetites and desires.

Air and ocean pollution, the destruction of tropical rainforests, the extinction of many species of creatures on the planet, the depletion of natural resources, changes in the atmosphere’s chemical composition, overpopulation — all these are the global challenges we need to address. These challenges are the consequences of both a lack of environmental awareness and the race for economic growth. A human looks at his planet through the eyes of an overlord and consumer, not realising that he increasingly resembles a plunderer and a parasite. Approximately 83% of the planet’s landmass today is subject to human influence. A staggering percentage of photosynthetic organisms — over 90% — are also controlled by humans. We relieved our consciousness of a responsible attitude towards the planet, and the result was soon to come.

The fact that the Kyoto Protocol exists does nothing to solve the problem of global warming. We continue to discuss climate change, but we are not acting effectively. We raise the issue of energy, but we are not switching to alternative energy sources. We talk about water pollution, and we’re still dumping 400 billion tonnes of waste into the hydrosphere every year. We affirm that 80% of urban dwellers breathe air in which the concentration of harmful substances is greater than that recommended by WHO.

Yet we continue to pretend that the environmental risk to our health is not so great that we should finally start to sound the alarm. In our quest for profit, we chop down the forests, clearing the area for the next building project. In the space of one minute, approximately 20 hectares of woodland are destroyed on our planet. Humans are responsible for the disappearance of rare species of animals and plants, the destruction of the ozone layer, the release of toxic substances into water and air, and the emergence of new viruses with pandemic potential. The planet is suffering from the “Anthropocene virus”. Humanity has heard numerous judgments being handed down: from the Nietzschean “God is dead!” to Spengler’s “Decline of the West”. Today, scientists are already passing new sentences: global warming, the sixth mass extinction. We react slowly and too late; worse than that, we refuse to believe in the possibility of a catastrophic turn of events. Well-known scientists unanimously state that global warming is a threat to our future, on the scale, perhaps, of a nuclear war, but we remain deaf. It’s as if we are waiting for the average temperature of the Earth to rise by 2–3 degrees, and then we’ll have nowhere to run.

Leaders of organisations such as WHO, WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature), and the UN have been forced to admit that the cause of the coronavirus pandemic (as well as other infectious diseases in recent years) is anthropogenic influence on nature. In 1993, Norwegian doctor Per Fugelli wrote: “Patient Earth is ill. Environmental destruction around the world can have a serious impact on human health. Now is the time for physicians to make a comprehensive diagnosis and recommendations for treatment”. Not many people took these words seriously then and equated “the health of the planet” with “human health.”

Were things different before? Was there a time when man treated the Earth more respectfully and responsibly?

From ego-centrism to eco-centrism

In ancient cultures, the Earth was not only deified; it also had a name. We call our planet Earth, but we have long ceased to consider it our home, to show it respect. The ancient Greeks, who have left a deep mark on the development of humanity and have influenced world culture, called the Earth Gaia (Ancient Greek Γαῖα). As we know, all of the planets bear the name of Greek or Roman gods. Only the Earth is still devoid of a name. It has only an appellation, not a name. We give names to our children and animals, some people even give their car a name and start treating it as a living being. Children give names to their toys and take complete care of them. So why can’t we take care of our own planet in the same way? What’s preventing us from treating it like a living being? What has happened to our consciousness, and influenced our thinking in such a way that we have seized the planet’s body like vampires, draining the last resources out of it? And most importantly, what are we do now?

Those with the ability to radically change the current situation — political leaders, representatives of international organisations, heads of central banks — choose inaction or half-measures. Global environmental challenges should be discussed at events such as the G20 Summit. And not simply discussed — it’s not enough just to state that there’s a problem — what’s needed are decisions that can influence the course of history, results that can prevent a crisis.

The almost complete absence of actors ready to assume responsibility for solving the global environmental problems suggests that they are unaware of their scale. Moreover, the environmental issues cannot be resolved without a new concept of economics. And we’re not talking about yet another reconstruction project for today’s economy. Redecorating is pointless when the entire building needs to be demolished.

Thus, we are faced with two global problems — environmental and economic. But the root of both lies in our way of thinking and in the value system that affects every aspect of our existence.

Today, the voices of those who support the concept of anti-growth (Degrowth) are growing stronger: Serge Latouche, Giorgos Kallis, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and so on. International conferences are being held (the first was held in 2008 and included about 140 participants), as well as cultural events (in 2019, Oslo hosted an architectural triennial dedicated to the idea of a world free from economic growth). An open letter to the European Union was published in September 2018. Two hundred and thirty-eight politicians and scientists proposed abandoning economic growth and emphasising the welfare of humans and the environment.

In 1972, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) released a report called “The Frontiers of Growth”, which warned of the dire consequences that await humanity if we do not stop the growth of the economy. In this report, growth, generally considered to be something very positive, is seen as a destructive factor. A consumer mentality, which no longer knows any boundaries, coupled with the pursuit of profit, can lead us to a civilisational catastrophe. Today, anti-growth activists are proposing to save the planet from exhaustion in the following way. We need to scale down production, reduce the volume of harmful emissions, support the development of the renewable energy industry, eliminate commercial advertising, take control of the mindless human consumer instinct, and limit working hours (thereby providing people with greater opportunities for creativity). Some supporters of this idea talk about the need to introduce an unconditional basic income.

Political ecologist and author of Degrowth, Giorgos Kallis, notes: “Given that our economy has been based on the concept of growth for too long, just shutting off the stopcock won’t be the answer. If we want to slow down the economy without making a mess, we have to rethink our understanding of the whole economic system”. Fair comment. It should be emphasised that the well-meaning impulse of supporters of the Degrowth Movement deserves a lot of respect. However, the movement is not backed by any integral economic system capable of becoming, not only an alternative to the existing capitalist model but also an antidote to the well-established value system. All they offer are solutions within the same economic model. The only way to achieve results is to create a new economic paradigm, which means making the transition to a new financial system. At the same time, we need to understand that environmental and economic problems, such as those mentioned above, have only one source — our way of thinking. As long as a person is a consumer, with an insatiable thirst for profit, he will exhaust the planet’s resources. Until a person cultivates an ecological consciousness within himself, he will perceive the planet, not as a living being, but as a colossal supermarket, capable of satisfying all his needs. Step by step, he will drive the planet to inevitable disaster until another deadly virus puts an end to his parasitic vanity.

Despite the emergence of many environmental and economic initiatives aimed at changing the situation, all of them are developed, here too, within the framework of the old paradigms. And this is where they’re at a major disadvantage.

When philosopher and philanthropist Hares Youssef decided to found the not-for-profit organisation The Gaiia Foundation, he assigned it a major objective — to create global projects that respond to the challenges of the modern digital world, are aimed at protecting humans from an unpredictable robotic future, and set themselves the tasks of protecting the environment and reforming the global financial system. It’s a whole complex of initiatives:

1.Environmental:

To promote an initiative to give our planet the name Gaiia and recognise it as a living being (and thus give it legal status).

2. Economic:

To create a “new economy” based on the principle of financial transparency, and hence establish a new economic paradigm. To launch research in the cross-disciplinary field of “psychonomics”.

3. Technological:

To build the Gaiia Communication Platform, which generates capital from data. The GCP will be the world’s leading social network where any transparent action will become an economic transaction.

4. Intellectual:

To create the Gaiia Think Fabric — a think tank consisting of economists, thinkers, scientists, and others, whose task will be to solve the global problems of humanity.

5. Educational:

To conduct interdisciplinary research in children’s education and upbringing, to establish a Children’s Pension Fund, and create “children’s homes” (Paideums), where children will have the opportunity to reveal their inner potential.

These are only a few of them. Every project developed by the Gaiia Foundation involves the creation of an entirely new paradigm. We cannot possibly solve any environmental, economic, or social problems if we don’t make the transition to a new way of thinking and recognise our planet as a living creature with a name. But rather than “new way of thinking”, it would be better to say “long-forgotten original way of thinking” because our distant predecessors had a spiritual relationship with their Earth. And it is only by assuming an environmental responsibility, that is, by replacing egocentrism with eco-centrism, that we will cure the planet of the harmful effects of the “Anthropocene virus”.

The right to fresh air.

Of course, there will be people who see the idea of giving our planet a name as utopian and ineffective. However, even if we take severe measures to protect the planet’s ecosystem and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we will gradually switch to renewable energy sources, but we will not change our way of thinking. All our efforts will be in vain. Time will pass, and we will find ourselves standing on the same precipice, looking into the same abyss. This is why Hares Youssef attaches such importance to the initiative to provide the planet with a name and recognise it as a living being. It’s more than just a symbolic act. It is an attempt to arouse the environmental consciousness of humanity.

Our thinking is the source of the emergence of social, economic, political and other projects. Everything we possess today, calculating damage and trying to predict every risk, is a product of our mentality. Unless we change our mentality, we will be doomed to tread on the same rake.

Unfortunately, the make-up of humans is such that they only appreciate the value of something when they lose it. We’re prepared to sacrifice anything for a glass of water if the water suddenly disappears. However, we can live without water for around 10–14 days, but how long can we live without air?

Hares Youssef believes that fresh air is the highest value, and every living being has the right to breathe fresh air from birth. We have now lost that right, however, and it seems we are doing everything to secure a future where we will have to spend our days under glass domes. In addition to natural forms of air pollution, such as floods, tornadoes, forest fires, and other natural phenomena, the anthropogenic factor plays a huge role: the chemical industry, oil production, motor transport, nonferrous and ferrous metallurgy, the building materials industry, and power plants.

750,000 Chinese die annually from smog poisoning. India, where high levels of unsanitary conditions have led to soil degradation, annually emits 2,480 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Pakistan, the third most polluted country, is known for its increased lung disease and cancer. Experts have found that, as a result of the harmful effects of fine suspended particles that enter the air when various types of fossil fuels are burned, 40,000 children die every year, even before they reach the age of five. The pursuit of economic growth is too costly for us, and if we do not stop, then, in the words of Hares Youssef, we are sure to find ourselves under glass domes, forced to find clean air for ourselves to survive. The right to clean air must be part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This action is vital.

Hares Youssef says: “Throughout the history of humankind, poets and philosophers have treated our planet as a Mother. Aren’t we, as living organisms, the flesh, and blood of this superorganism? We are created from the same elements as our Mother. We inhale the same air, and we drink the same water. And even if we stop treating the planet as our Mother, we will always be its children. We breathe its love like fish in the ocean.

“We shouldn’t forget that we live in an integral energetic living organism, and are part of a common ecosystem. We don’t appreciate that our negative influences on this ecosystem have a direct impact on our soul. Before too long, the consequences could be irreversible.

“What are we to do and where are we to start? The formation of eco-awareness, which will completely change our attitude to the planet, should begin with its acquisition of the name Gaiia, which is consonant with the name of the ancient Greek Goddess of the Earth Gaia, the creator of all living things. Gaiia is the soul of our planet. By giving the Earth a name that will become a symbol of the Mother, we will proceed to a new stage of our development. This will raise us, as the human species, to a higher level.

“The ground you walk on is Gaiia’s skin, and your activity is, in a sense, a massage. It’s important to understand that your well-being and health are a reflection of Gaiia’s health. Gaiia feels like leaves on trees that react to the air quality, corals that measure its temperature. Gaiia drinks water with its breathing soil; she absorbs the dirty rain from mining pipes, oil refineries, and metallurgical plants, mills, and factories, whose fury arises from insane greed, frenzied desire. Surely you must understand by now that your illnesses are the symptoms of Gaiia’s ailment? Surely you have been able by now to connect the cause of these unknown diseases with the result of your unbridled economy? Hasn’t the coronavirus revealed to you the nature of Gaiia?”