We can buy anything we want — but the price may be the destruction of the natural world

Aug 6, 2021 | 13 comments

Indigenous peoples will choose to protect most of the planet’s biodiversity if we let them. (Photo by SL Photography)

By Adam Gebb

The raging rate of human population growth and the demand for ever-higher standards of living are destroying what remains of the natural world. Rainforests seen by some as empty places to get resources actually hold millions of species that are enormously valuable to all of humanity. They are being blindly thrown away at a record pace.

The latest Earth Overshoot Day figures show that this year we used a year’s resources by July 29. Each year. Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity has used all the biological resources that Earth regenerates during the entire year. Humanity currently uses 74% more than what the planet’s ecosystems can regenerate — or “1.7 Earths. One of the most brutal drivers was Amazon deforestation, with 1.1 million hectares lost in Brazil alone.

Western nations have booming materialism and the resources for manufacturing everything from toasters to tea cups has to come from somewhere. Being able to buy anything you want  instantly and have it arrive quickly has certainly been popular with people across the western world. But few of them know how the enormous volume of modern materialism is driving international corporations to scour the globe for the resources to keep manufacturing roaring.

An end game for the planet’s natural resources is happening now because they are being rapidly depleted. Rising human populations both increase demand for products and limit where the resources to manufacture them can come from.

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Reckless natural resource extraction with no consideration for the environment and local peoples is being accelerated by artificially low consumer product and gas prices. Responsible resource extraction requires that all the raw materials have much higher costs. The prices we pay for everything from iPhones to blenders is way too low because the true cost of exterminated cultures and poisoned ecosystems was never included.

The environmental cost of smartphones  is far greater than what you pay. (Photo by Hadrian)

Overconsumption is the norm in western nations. I want my iPhone, I want my car, I want to travel. Most people do. But these habits are now damaging the planet enough to make many people suffer.

The 6th great extinction is well underway as countless ecosystems including those protected as national parks are quietly collapsing in front of us. Decisions made now will affect whether future generations have more extreme poverty or functional ecosystems with vibrant human cultures.

We must come to grips with protecting the earth’s remaining functional ecosystems and their indigenous caretakers to counter the ceaseless economic forces driving  deforestation and extinctions  — or lose the vital biodiversity forever.   If the latter happens, and we are seeing that down-spiral now, it will be a body blow to the planet and another huge step closer to causing drastic drops in human populations.

Key conservation areas have to be protected and expanded, not degraded if we are to succeed. The fact that most national parks and conservation areas around the world are not large enough to maintain the evolutionary processes that created their ecological communities means that urgent efforts to enlarge them will be pivotal. Using bio-corridors to connect previously conserved areas with surrounding landscapes will be a requirement. However, it’s clear that these days people are living almost everywhere and success in conserving landscapes with resilient evolutionary processes requires working with these people.

There are very few empty lands around the world for conservation or plunder. Eighty percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity is in indigenous territories and to protect these areas the indigenous nations will have to be supported to do so.  The old model of conservation of empty lands is over.

Reversing the tide of extractive industries that convince small nations to poison pristine ecosystems and their indigenous caretakers has to be a global priority. To do this, the root underlying causes in western nations will have to be identified and addressed.

Unsustainable lifestyles in western nations are driving the destruction of the natural world. (Photo by Paralexis)

Local peoples with subsistence lifestyles depend on a clean environment. With little or no money, they are much more likely to fish, hunt, farm or gather to get their food needs met. The outsiders looking for resources often offer them a new school or jobs that are likely to be hazardous. Environmental reviews are nonexistent and the people living in very remote areas are unlikely to understand that what they are being offered may be tiny compared to what they will lose when their environment is severely polluted.

Indigenous nations holding the vast majority of the world’s remaining biodiversity are the targets of resource extraction that only pays five cents on the dollar when the value of functional ecosystems and human culture is considered. This is a giant loss for both indigenous peoples and the rest of the planet.

Native peoples are never paid enough to cover the costs of a poisoned landscape that can no longer support them. Their amazingly biodiverse forests are essential to stabilizing world climate, can be the foundation of more sustainable economies and provide new cancer cures. Everyone loses unless they are protected.

But to some degree, most of the above has been happening for centuries. Why is it different now? Because the number of healthy ecosystems is shrinking fast as is the number of people who live sustainably. Healthy environments and living sustainably are now goals of our modern society. But instead of protecting the few areas that maintain these qualities, citizens of modernized nations are poised to destroy them by blindly continuing with their unsustainable lifestyles.

Clean environments offer all people enormous benefits. (Photo by SL Photography)

Genocide is defined as “the destruction of an ethnic group.” Unique ethnic cultures around the world have been and continue to be poisoned in place or driven from their wild environments so that rich western consumers can get their broom sticks, blenders and smartphones for a low price that bears no reflection of the true costs involved. Stop blaming the Chinese. They are just manufacturing what western consumers want. Stop blaming government officials in tropical nations as they have limited opportunities for economic growth and are falling in line with the demands of western consumers.

Western nations and their affluent populations are driving the rapid collapse of the world’s remaining ecosystems. It’s a quiet ecocide and genocide that is ramping up today as growing wealthy populations purchase more and more due to low product costs and free express delivery.

Western nations have to move swiftly and pay for the conservation of the earth’s remaining functional ecosystems.  If they don’t act fast,  the costs of global ecological collapse and extreme widespread poverty will  be beyond our comprehension. Helping indigenous nations to continue to caretake their territories which now hold 80% or the earth’s biodiversity is the only way out of this imminent planetary disaster.

For those wishing to know more there are links below…

Here is an article about what materials are used in an iPhone, followed by links to articles about the severe environmental and human health damage caused by the mining of these materials around the world.

iPhones contain a fair amount of base metals, including an estimated 33 grams (1.1 oz) of iron, 6 grams of copper, 2.7 grams of nickel, and 0.7 grams of tin. Rare earth metals typically linked to conflict mining, including tungsten (900 mg or 0.03 oz) and cobalt, (70 mg) were also detected, as well as small amounts of precious metals like gold and silver.

Iron mining is poisoning the Amazon

The mining of Bauxite, the raw material for tin/aluminum, is destroying farmland and water sources in many areas including in Guinea.

Gold mining is poisoning indigenous territories in the Amazon. It’s not just used in jewelry, but can be found in computers and other technology products

Zinc and Silver mining in Peru is poisoning thousands of children.
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Adam Gebb is Executive Director of the Andes Amazon Conservancy.

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