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The Global Disconnect

By Colin Gibson and Kaaren Mathias in All Sorts

how can we overcome the pre-eminence of global capitalism with its consequential environmental destruction

Kaaren Mathias is a New Zealander nurse living with her husband, children, a cat and a dog in a small town in North lndia where she works in mental health. In a recent issue of Tui Motu, she described her feelings as she sat surrounded by the gloss and chrome of the airport in Dubai, having travelled to an international conference there. What she had to say is such a trenchant reminder of the connections that sustain us and the whole natural world that I thought she should be allowed to speak in this series of articles on our theme.
She says, "I found myself reading a recently released global assessment report on biodiversity and our planet’s ecosystem. The report describes the catastrophic and rapid decline in species diversity and the 'fraying and thinning' of the web of the natural world that sustains us. lt made me feel nauseous and overwhelmed at the fragility of the future, and staggered at the huge losses in biomass and diversity of all species described.
Meanwhile, around me were bottles of amber perfume, aisles of technological trinkets and miles of polished marble floors. Oil-fired air- conditioning (how strange that burning coal makes cold?) ensured I was oblivious to the desert heat glowering outside. Dubai may have a larger environmental impact than other cities on this fragile planet, but we're all complicit. I came and went from Dubai by plane.
Looking around, it seemed as if every pyramid of chocolate and each glistening showcase of watches was as polluting as the shoals of plastic rubbish that swarm down hillsides and redeploy on street corners in my home in Northern lndia. The message of global inter-connectedness is key. The edifices of global finance, commodified health, social inequality and the existence of places like Duty Free in Dubai lead (through a series of tangled and perverse pathways) to the extinction of a frog species in Costa Rica and to toxins found in olives bought at Pak'n'Save.
The disconnect between our actions and their distant consequences is one of the reasons it is hard to do things differently. A purchase of a couple of cheap T-shirts today will pull on the tangled threads of the global web in different ways. Could it give a vote of support to cotton- growers to be heavy-handed with herbicides which lead to an impoverished habitat and, eventually, erode genetic diversity for a spider species? Could my purchase add to the vote of 1,000 other purchases that encourage the T-shirt factory manager in Dhaka to maintain harsh or unsafe labour conditions? Or could it provide income to sewing machinists who have no other choices?
These are not easy thoughts or conversations. None of us like to feel complicit in the systematic destruction of the ecological web that sustains us. But we all are. The more I know, the more ethically fraught my choices on travelling, consuming and just living become. lt is no longer enough to be a well-intentioned and mostly eco-ethical person. To halt this cataclysmic decline in the environment we have to do more than taking cloth bags to the supermarket.
There are strategies and careful structures behind the scenes to ensure the pre-eminence of global capitalism and consequential environmental destruction. We cannot afford to be naive. We can ponder aloud with our children, friends and random strangers about how we can all live in ways that minimise environmental damage. We can give our vote to leaders who will action policy for the Earth. And we can try to live as radically as we can. Like that young carpenter, the preacher guy who, before the time of oil-cooled glassy airport terminals in hot deserts, warmly promoted the idea of loving our neighbour—humans and other species —as we love ourselves."
Colin Gibson