In the beginning there was hydrogen. Churning for billions of years in the furnaces of the universe, all of the other elements emerged, mixed, and gave rise to the highest form of conscience we know of today: humans. Thanks to science, we are able to appreciate the long and complex evolutionary processes that have led to our species, even though the link between the evolution of the elements and the advent of life still eludes our understanding. The childish vision that the Earth is the center of the universe is behind us. We know how the Earth was formed. We no longer need to fill the gaps in our understanding with self-centered fantasies of superiority and intentional creation: reality is immense and complex enough to continue baffling our minds and humbling our egos for some time. I would like to suggest that the childish vision that Humans are the center of the universe must be surpassed.
Today, in 2018, we live as though all life on this planet, all of the “resources” of the world, are here to serve us. Nothing in the universe has any value outside of what it can provide to us: financially, culturally, or even spiritually. We do not recognise the absolute value of anything, including ourselves.
We still say “our planet”… “our oceans”… Even in the conservation arena, we speak of “ecosystem services”, which implies that nature has no value if it doesn’t serve us and therefore perpetuates a divide between humans and nature, linguistically and systematically. When we negate the intrinsic value of nature, by consequence, we negate our own intrinsic value as well, we accept that our lives have no other value than the sum of the goods and services we produce plus our consumption. Can we recognize, and perhaps even account for, the absolute value of Life, and of everything else?
Over and over again I have heard and read people saying that nature doesn’t need to be saved, the Earth doesn’t need to be saved, only WE need to be saved. While it is undeniable that our survival and well-being are intimately linked to the health of the planet’s ecosystems, I would like to argue that everything, yes everything, has an absolute value, independently from us. Surely, the great extinction that we are currently causing will leave the biosphere impoverished. “That does not matter” some will say, “life will continue and make new species in the next millions of years”. This reasoning is equivalent to blowing up a beautiful monument and saying: “it doesn’t matter, there are still bricks left around and with time something else will be built”.
Realizing the value of biodiversity for our own well-being is one important step. The next step is realizing the absolute value of life, regardless of the benefits it brings to us. This value cannot be monetary, since money only quantifies an abstract and contextually variable attribution of value. In short: I would pay more for food if I am hungry, but the absolute value of that food in the universe is unchanged by my desires. The idea here is not to suggest a replacement of money, which would be foolish and impossible, but to introduce a second metric, an absolute value of everything.
As far as we know today, this planet is the only one with life, and we are the only sentient creatures on it, capable of complex thoughts, of knowledge transmission, of art. For sure this comes with great pride. Can we realize that it comes with responsibility? If there is any other sentient life out there or down here, they would have every right to judge us based on how we treat each other and other life forms. It is a shift of mindset. Only with this shift can we enter the brotherhood of Life, and recognize the true value of all living beings and natural creations… including ourselves.
~ Pierre-Yves Cousteau
Please share your thoughts below and help these ideas grow and evolve.