We humans have a boundless, perhaps fatal, propensity to gravitate towards, not reality, but what we wish reality to be. Collectively, we opt to ignore what our senses and intuition are telling us in order to satisfy our desire for gratification and fulfilment.
A few years ago, I was on a golf vacation in Guatemala with family and friends. We played the magnificent Fuego Maya Golf Course at La Reunion, situated on the side of a mountain near the colonial city of Antigua. The course, located in Guatemala’s Ring of Fire, was surrounded by four volcanoes, the only active one at the time being El Fuego.
Each time we played the course, El Fuego was erupting—benignly, we wanted to think—and it provided a magnificent backdrop to our games as its smoky plume rose high in the blue sky, its gray streams of lava spilled slowly down its side. At night, it was spectacular, and frighteningly so—tremendous, booming explosions of fiery sparks shooting skyward, the ground trembling under our feet, red ribbons of molten rock spewing sinuously from its yawning maw.
Within weeks of our return home, El Fuego blew its stack in a major eruption, propelling ash nearly four miles into the sky across a sixty-mile span, completely destroying the magnificent Fuego Maya golf resort, burying it in a pyroclastic flow as once Pompeii and Herculaneum had been entombed. The golf resort is gone forever. Nearby villages were wiped from the face of the earth, countless people died or fled from the volcano’s fury. And yet, when we were there, we had chosen to ignore the signs, believing they were simply part of nature’s show, mounted for our pleasure.
In a similar vein, people across the globe delude themselves into thinking their actions are benign—allowing the deliberate dumping of raw sewage into our oceans and waterways, for example, or toxic, chemical slurry from mining operations and munitions manufacturing. Such actions are bringing our planet to the brink—and probably beyond—of a severe threat to our survival. We ignore this at our peril.
Consider this list of issues currently facing humankind, and the potential calamities they may visit upon us: global warming, ozone layer depletion, loss of biodiversity, ocean acidification, water and air pollution, soil degradation, deforestation, natural resource depletion, overpopulation, urban sprawl, inadequate public health response to once-and-future pandemics, generation and disposal of unsustainable waste, so-called artificial intelligence, and the rise of ultra-right-wing autocracy.
Do you deny the existence of these? Do you choose to turn a blind eye to them, not wishing to focus on anything but your own indulgence? Perhaps you do not, but too many of us do.
Whether we ignore it or not, our mother-Earth is at an existential tipping-point, vulnerable to disasters and tragedies both now and in the future, a state of planetary emergency. The planet itself, this lump of rock suspended in our galaxy, will survive in some form, of course. The issue is whether we, as a species, will do so. Are we too ignorant? Or too arrogant?
Our first-world economy is nowhere near as healthy as reported by the media. The poverty gap is not shrinking dramatically, regardless of what the numbers say. In an increasingly-technological society, low-skill jobs are gone forever, so state-of-the-art education and innovative entrepreneurship are of utmost importance if the situation is ever to improve. Are we investing in these?
Racism and bigotry are pervasive and, it sometimes seems, part of the human DNA; there is no quick fix for that, only generational change brought about by relentless pressure and, unfortunately, oft-violent protests. Terrorism is part of our world, and (whether foreign or home-grown) unlikely to be eradicated any time soon; there are too many disenfranchised people in the world, with too many grievances, too much hatred, and too many weapons.
The leaders of nations—elected or appointed, allies and foes alike—are not so much interested in international cooperation as in their own national aspirations, or their own political survival. Large, multinational corporations are less concerned with the common good than with their own, often obscene, profits and dividends. And it is they—not we, the people—who will continue to exert an overweening influence on the state of international relations.
We, the people, are all too often willing to be shunted to one side, caught up in our own pursuits, perhaps so overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the crises in front of us that we deliberately shut our eyes to their significance. Once upon a time, many of us would pull the covers over our heads when the night-monsters invaded our bedrooms, wanting desperately to believe we would thus be kept safe from harm. And back then, for the most part, we were. But we were children then, and the time has come to set aside childish beliefs.
There are those who toil diligently on our behalf to face up to the crises facing us, of course, but they are too often scorned or left bereft of support. And the deliberate and pernicious presentation of disinformation by malignant forces against people too naïve or unwilling to think critically works against the best efforts of the best among us to counter the threats.
So, we have a choice. We can ignore our problems—just as I and my companions, in our arrogance, chose to ignore the threat from El Fuego. But unless we consciously choose to acknowledge and address these various issues seriously, to take action to support those who do so choose, we shall never solve them, never make them go away.
Will wishing make it so?
I think not.