A minority of the population today have good understanding of the ecology of modern society, and this understanding finds expression in the ideologies referred to as environmentalism. The emergence of the Greens as a political entity is another indication of a growing concern about the ecological predicament – although election results in Australia suggest that this concern is shared by only a small section of the population.
In fact, for over half a century there have been signs of growing awareness, among some sections of the community, that our present society is heading for ecological collapse. Numerous books have now been published drawing attention to this reality. Early examples from the 1970s include works by Paul Erhlich, Barry Commoner, Donella and Dennis Meadows, René Dubos and Barbara Ward. Since that time there has been an explosive growth of literature on environmental history and philosophy.
Many individuals and groups have come up with ideas for an alternative society of the future that is ecologically sustainable. In 1972 Edward Goldsmith and others published Blueprint for survival, in which they argued for a shift to a new kind of society to prevent 1992‘the breakdown of society and the irreversible disruption of the life support systems on this planet’. Today there are many community organisations and NGOs campaigning for a transition to an ecologically sustainable society, such as the Transition Towns movement and the Great Transition Initiative.
There are also countless groups focusing on specific ecological issues. To mention but a few local examples here in Australia, we have the Climate Institute, Sustainable Population Australia, SEE Change groups, The Wilderness Society, Permaculture groups, Healthy Soils Australia, 350 Australia and Landcare groups.
At the international level there has been a series of major conferences on the theme of sustainability, organised by the United Nations, including the Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972 to the Rio Conference on Environment and Development in 1992.
There have also been many important international conferences on specific ecological issues, including the United Nations conferences that led up to the Paris Agreement on climate change in December 2015.
With the possible exception of the Paris Agreement, these warnings have not penetrated to the core of the prevailing cultures of the world. We have only to listen to the pre-election speeches of our political leaders for proof of this statement. Although some important measures have been taken here and there to protect aspects of the natural environment, they have not been allowed to interfere with the inexorable thrusts of ever-moreism and market forces. The juggernaut rolls on.
So, while the process of cultural reform is certainly
underway, it has a long way to go, and the inevitable counter-reform backlash
is very much in evidence. The
ecologically maladaptive assumptions of the prevailing culture remain firmly
entrenched, and the reform process is clearly in need of a big boost.