Why Evolving Human Nature is the Key to Sustainability

Why Evolving Human Nature is the Key to Sustainability

Since the climate crisis became a fact and not just another “talking point”, there has been an intensive blame game as to who has been most responsible for the crisis. Along with this has also come a debate in the eco-community as to the approach to take in turning the tide. 

Some people argue that the corporations created the crisis and therefore all efforts should be directed towards getting them to change their ways. Another school of thought believes that the answer lies in the hands of the consumers because the goods produced by corporations worldwide must inevitably be laid at the consumer’s ‘feet’. The logic here is that the individual’s choice is the most effective because if consumers refuse to buy, the corporations would have no choice but to halt production.

Whatever approach we decide on; we can at least agree that overconsumption is at the root of the problems our planet now faces. Whichever school of thought we align ourselves with, the fact remains that we have taken so much from an earth that it is now dying on us. The ‘evil’ brands may be running factories that are polluting our planet but in a somewhat funny twist, they are ruining our environment in a bid to meet our insatiable needs. The consumers in turn, continue to buy and dispose of these products so as to meet up with the impossible standards that these corporations have promoted as the “ideal life”. 

And thus, the cycle goes on and on. 

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Advertising works on behalf of profit-seeking companies to sell an aspirational life and sow seeds of unhappiness that can only be satiated with a purchase. Credit: Unsplash.

Only if this pattern is severed can the world make significant progress in the fight against climate change. To break this cycle; it is crucial that individuals understand that buying more of what one doesn’t truly value or need might feel good in the short-term but that it is not in our communal best interest in the long-run. There is a lesson in the fact that today, it is easier than it has ever been to purchase and discard services but somehow, we have found it the hardest to live happy and depression free. What else would it possibly take for us to realize that happiness does not lie in swiping a credit card?

Now severing this cycle implies making certain communal changes and these changes, while ideal, are of course against what seems our core human nature. Human beings naturally want more, and the quest for better, bigger, faster, and newer is almost never completely realized all through one’s life. I imagine this innate desire comes from a time when men lived in caves; an age when being faster and bigger often always translated into having better chances of survival. The thing is though, that those cave days are long gone now. These urges to buy newer, bigger, brighter and better products are more for cosmetic purposes than for any serious need and at various levels, we all are guilty of this. 

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Clearly, this issue goes beyond the corporations and consumers and engulfs our global society at large. In other words, we all contributed in various degrees to the making of this bed we now lie on and it’s too late to point fingers and throw around accusations. The solution to this mess, I think, lies in the evolution of human nature; I do not use ‘evolution’ here lightly. Scientists and economists will have to redefine certain fundamental concepts such as what success is or what consists of profit for corporations and our governments need to make better laws and execute them to the latter.

True happiness cannot be bought. Credit: Pexels.

Corporations need to evolve into purposeful businesses not just profit-driven ones and they will need to recognize quickly that a climate in crisis is not the best arena for just doing business as usual; they have to consciously resolve to do better. By doing better, I do not refer to any further cursory attempts at the so called “triple bottom line“. I advocate for a more wholesome change than that. 

The ‘evolution of human nature’ here means that we would individually make the choice to put aside the “carnivorous” system that has aided much of our development to this day because it has also brought us to doorsteps of the existential threat we now face. Put differently, we need to overhaul our extant value system because it is clear that it can take us no farther; it will just create more of the same problems.

While in law school, I was taught that the sole reason for the existence of a company is profit. Based on these parameters, you can begin to see why companies are willing to go the extra lengths for profit even at the detriment of our collective wellbeing. Until we redefine these parameters, we will be fitting square pegs in round holes.

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There is an old Igbo proverb that loosely translates as the manner of the search for a thing is always different from the manner in which we maintain it once obtained. This ‘no-holds-barred’ profiteering system may have advanced our civilization, but now that we have achieved that, it is time to re-strategize on how best to save and maintain it. In other words, it is time that mankind evolved to suit our present conditions.

Redefining success may be key to unlocking happiness and a sustainable future. Credit: Unsplash.

More than a decade ago, a poll named Nigeria the happiest country on earth. Alongside other Nigerians, I too dismissed the survey because I was skeptical – is it even possible to be dubbed ‘happy’ in the face of a litany of challenges such as poverty and corruption? Reading through the study recently though; I am inclined to agree. Based on the metrics adopted by the researchers, Nigerians are a happy people. The study was not based on GDP or level of wealth or possessions per capita and I think if it were, Nigerians would not have made the cut. It was based purely on happiness as a virtue and Nigerians are happy despite a million reasons not to be. 

Now let’s be clear, I do not advocate for some collective vow of austerity and my aim here is not to glorify the sufferings of many Nigerians. What I actually wish to show here is that we can evolve better metrics to measure our progress and that better metrics can actually be used (or adopted by nations) even in the direst of conditions. There exists another model for this. You may not know this but in Bhutan, rather than using GDP as a success metric, the country operates a GNH system; Gross National Happiness. Now to further blow your mind; Bhutan is the only carbon negative country in the world today. Do you imagine this to be a coincidence? Because I don’t. I think that the evolution of better metrics by Bhutan has also ensured that they create the best living conditions for themselves, which also happens to involve the least degree of harm to their environment.

The almost mythical view on the hike up to Paro Taktsang, a 17th century temple nestled into a cliff, Taktsang trail BT, Paro, Bhutan. Credit: Light Dixit via Unsplash.

According to the Darwinian theory of Evolution, only the species that evolve to better adapt will survive. I don’t need to be a scientist to know that evolution or change is one of the conditions for survival in any ecosystem. In light of the environmental crisis that now plagues our world, it would be easier for us to evolve better ways of social interaction, value systems and profit-making techniques for our continued communal preservation. 

Because that is the choice, we all now face; evolve or perish. 

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Title image via Pexels.

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