In the over 10000 years of human existence on our planet, the past 300 years have been most significant in changing our daily life for the better. Advancements in scientific technology have made it possible for us to travel farther, commute faster, interact with communities across the globe and made goods produced all over the world accessible to us. This has helped build networks between different cultures and has reduced distances greatly. However, this has also made modern humans more anthropocentric in nature. Anthropocentrism is the belief that holds humankind to be the most important life form in nature and that human existence takes precedence to all other forms of life. This self-centred view will lead us to destruction because life is about co-existence and interdependence.
Imagine this, a world without any insects would mean the end of life on earth in less than a century. Life forms as tiny as insects play an integral role in ensuring the pollination of flowering plants. Flying insects like bees and butterflies account for the existence of close to 80% of all plant life. Therefore, while a world without insects would mean no dengue, malaria, pest attacks on crops and furniture, it would also ease us into starvation and ultimately death. Although we may not be directly dependant on one life form for our survival, we mustn’t forget that all living beings are interconnected with each other. The end of one will result in a domino effect that could lead to the end of life on earth.
We have gained great technological capacities to industrialise our societies and lead comfortable lives. Yet extracting the earth’s natural resources carelessly has led to climate change, global warming and environmental degradation.The basic principle of economic growth that relies on consumption presents a fundamentally flawed logic. With a continual increase in production and manufacturing being a requisite, the exploitation of nature for resources seems inevitable. Opinions of moderation are attacked as being against the ethos of individual liberty, but what of the appetite itself? Surely this is the ultimate source of the problem? The ramifications of uncontrolled consumption shouldn’t be overlooked in the profiteering race.
In this context, it is worth learning about the cultures of Indigenous people who have long been marginalised as being primitive by our industrial societies. When the American President offered to buy the lands of Native American people in the 1800s, the Native American Chief Seattle is said to have asked, “How can you buy or sell the earth?” The authenticity of this letter has been debated, but the validity of his words are worth reckoning, given how multi-national corporations are expanding and profiting at the cost of our environment today.
In India, the indigenous communities, locally referred to as the Adivasis—a Sanskrit word where Adi means ‘First’ and Vasis means ‘dwellers’—largely live in proximity to the forest or in some cases even in its midst. Their ways of life and traditional livelihoods are directly dependent on the forest, and their values emphasise the need to coexist with nature for their survival. They detest the exploitation of nature for pecuniary accumulation.
Their way of life and cultural practices are fading rapidly with many being enticed or forced into accepting ‘modernity’ in order to serve the interests of the powers that be. In this scenario, it is deeply felt that there is a pressing need to understand, appreciate and learn from the primitive’s idea of sustainable living. Adivasi societies are fast being threatened to extinction by a commodity-oriented, market-led global economic system that makes individuals passive entities exchanging transient values in society. The environment that these communities inhabit is reduced to monetary valuations, with little recognition being given to their cultural values, which inherently support environmental conservation.
The Global Village today continues to evolve at the cost of such societies as the Adivasis. Economics incapable of valuing the human relationship with nature beyond production and consumption requires change. It is foolish for us to believe that nothing in this world has intrinsic value,only instrumental value to serve human purposes. Indeed, we seem to be nearing the end of the Anthropocene, which will in all probability lead to the end of life on our planet.
The solutions for many of the problems we face today, especially in the context of mitigating the adverse impacts of climate change, may be found in the way indigenous societies are structured, governed and managed. There is felt a need to take notice of the cultures of indigenous communities who have existed since before the age of empires. A culture that embraces a sustainable way of life with a greater concern for the environment is better than one which sponsors the contrary. We must accept that there is a lot we can learn from these communities. The importance of culture and shared values in helping us move towards a sustainable future, as opposed to the pursuit of profit and growth alone, requires greater understanding and respect.