“Human life will be adversely affected due to the loss of the many ecosystem benefits and services provided by biological diversity,” says Loria. “For example, water pollution can affect provisioning services, such as food and water, leading to reduced dietary diversity and / or its quality and safety. The widespread degradation of ecosystems threatens the conditions of life on Earth, in particular the survival of our own species. “
Our impact on the planet is much deeper than the carbon footprint or global warming. It indicates a future where the effects of anthropogenic matter will take over – if not already – the identity of Earth and its life. In the face of this, humans themselves could be losers in the evolutionary race.
Eliminating materials like concrete or plastic or replacing them with alternatives will not solve the fundamental problem of human attitudes and our unprecedented appetite for more. This is exactly where materialism can seamlessly transform into a known unknown risk factor for global catastrophe. The myriad of ways it can turn this planet into a mundane world is something our civilization has never experienced before.
In the absence of a fully secure evolutionary shield, we could rely on our intelligence to survive. Nonetheless, as Abraham Loeb, a Harvard University science professor and astronomer in search of dead cosmic civilizations, puts it, “the mark of intelligence is the ability to promote a better future.”
“If we continue to behave this way, we might not survive very long,” he says. “On the other hand, our actions could be a source of pride for our descendants if they support a civilization intelligent enough to last for many centuries to come.”
The story of Bhasmasura in Hindu mythology offers a strange parallel to the impact of materialism. As a devotee of Lord Shiva, he obtains a blessing from Shiva, which allows him to turn anyone into ashes with a simple touch on the head. Immediately after acquiring this magical ability, he tries to test it on Shiva himself. Shiva manages to escape, tells the story.
But humans may not have the chance to run away from their own actions. Unless we offer a different vision rooted in reducing consumption, the flames of our own materialism could consume both us and our Pale Blue Dot.
* Santhosh Mathew is professor of physics and astronomy at Regis College, Greater Boston, and science writer who has written two books.
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