We are what we measure

Over the last two hundred years or so, we in the West have become an extraordinarily short-sighted culture. What is worse, we have packaged it and exported it until it has become a global culture and arrived at what the IPCC report described as “code red”.

Two different sets of data, The first is so staggering it can only really be understood as a graph – the increase in World GDP over the last two millennia.

The second. Over the same period, during this “great acceleration” we have consumed vast amounts of the living earth. The fact that the figures have been widely publicised, and equally widely ignored, does not make them any less staggering. Three quarters of all land has been appropriated for human purposes.Three quarters of all lakes and rivers are used for crop and livestock cultivation, with great rivers such as the Nile, Yangtse, and Ganges no longer reach the sea. Half of the worlds forests and wetlands have disappeared. Species are going extinct at a thousand times the normal background rate.

“I am life that wills to live, in the midst of life that wills to live”

Albert Schweizer

The list could go on for page after staggering page, so here’s a shorthand version.

We have traded in vast amounts of organic, vibrant life for a sterile, inorganic, narrow version of wealth. We have then divided that wealth in such a way that the richest one percent own nearly half of it, able to direct and apply it and increase it they wish whilst the rest of the planet, animals human and non human, vegetable and mineral decline in every way worth measuring other than money, including mental health. That’s a hell of a trick.

If we define ourselves by what what we measure, we have a problem. Covid-19 and the IPCC report have only demonstrated to us the vulnerabilities we have that were already clear to see, so we have choices to make about what we value. Whether we have a will to life, or a will to narrow definitions of wealth.

I wonder how we might see things if we measured the amount of life in all forms we were enabling through our actions – a measure of contribution – rather than money – a measure of extraction. How differently would we see things if we paid more attention to the vibrancy of life around us than to clever financial instruments that does no more than rearranges sterile wealth in favour of a few.

Whilst it is tempting to see this as conspiracy, it isn’t of course. It’s culture, and we are culture.

We need to choose. Infinite organic life or very finite inorganic wealth, and then act accordingly.

Compound intent is stronger than compound interest.

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