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City of Los Angeles – Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

This is the sixth in the series of my reflections on the “shifts of being” proposed by Jem Bendell in Deep Adaptation: Navigating the Realities of Climate Chaos (UK/USA 2021).

#1: Reflections on the Nature of Being
#2: Reflections on Entitlement
#3: Reflections on Surety or Certainty
#4: Reflections on Control
#5: Reflections on Autonomy

Jem Bendell uses the word “progress” in e-s-c-a-P-e ideology to describe the assumption that material progress is possible and good for the advancement of human civilization. This assumption or narrative of progress, he argues, means that new technologies and ideas are given the benefit of the doubt, and the hidden or unforeseen costs of those ideas tend to be downplayed or fixed with even less tested ideas (Bendell, pp. 134-135). In prioritizing our drive for progress, we humans push ahead to use technologies that disrupt Earth’s natural systems and unravel the Web of Life upon which human societies depend. The Men of Progress reject any alternative way of organizing society that does not guarantee them material or financial gains. Capital accumulation reigns.

Without a doubt, I have benefited from humanity’s technological progress. Thanks to this progress, I enjoy a comfortable life with all my needs met for energy, food, shelter, and water. With just a click, I can connect with others worldwide. Motor vehicles, trains, and planes make getting together with loved ones so much easier and less time-consuming. Advances in medicine lengthen my lifespan. What is there not to love about human progress?

The One Percent atop of the human pyramid are quite content with their paradisaical and parasitical lifestyle. They do everything within their power to maintain their dominance. Meanwhile, those among us at the bottom of the pyramid, squashed into submission, know that something is not right with this system called progress. Their arduous labor for low-paid wages, oftentimes under life-threatening conditions, keeps the system running. Yet, they do not participate in its gains and benefits.

Those whose livelihoods depend upon Mother Nature also witness the price we pay for human progress in the degradation of our environment and the fragility of the non-human life with whom we share this planet. Proud of our achievements as the apex predator, we refuse to acknowledge the truth: Our progress is built on exploitation, destruction, death, and extinction. Who can blame those among us who choose to live in a post-truth world of alternative facts? Truth hurts. Truth immobilizes. Truth demands acts of courage in the face of fear.

Data available present the grim reality of human progress. In 2021, according to figures released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service (USDA ERS), 33.8 million people, representing 10.4 percent of the U.S. civilian population, lived in food-insecure households. Among them were 9.3 million children—over two-and-a-half times the population of the City of Los Angeles.

Based on the Report from the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO), the situation worldwide in 2021 was/remains grimmer. Around 2.3 billion people (29.3 percent) across our planet were moderately or severely food insecure. An estimated 45 million children under the age of five were suffering from wasting, the deadliest form of malnutrition.

Here in the City of Los Angeles, homelessness has reached a crisis level. On February 22, 2022, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) counted 41,980 homeless individuals. The number could be higher since the methodology had its flaws. Numbers available for the United States from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) accounted for 326,126 people experiencing “sheltered homelessness” on the night of January 2021. These were people found in emergency shelters, transitional housing, or other temporary settings.

The non-human inhabitants with whom we share our planet remain vulnerable in the face of human progress. Those unable to adapt to human encroachment and degradation of their natural habitats have dwindled in numbers or have gone extinct. The 2019 Report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES) found that around one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades. Some scientists refer to Nature’s dangerous and unprecedented decline in human history as The Sixth Extinction.

“The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture,” said IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

Is this the kind of progress we want?

Your wants consume everything on Mother Earth, Child of Man. It is the great Sky Spirit of the Dead who speaks. Humans call me “Condor.” In your part of the world, I am the California Condor. For thousands of years, we formed a legion across these lands in the West, carriers of the Spirits of the Dead on Earth into the heavenly realm of the Sky God.

Then the White Man came, bringing suffering and pain wherever he went. The Dead festered across the land and along the seashores. Tormented spirits cried to the Sky God for release. Even the noble Condor could not escape from the Bringers of Death. Now, only a few soar freely in the skies over Mother Earth. Through the wisdom of the almighty Sky God, we have escaped extinction.

From my panoramic vista in the heavenly realm, I perceive what the Child of Man cannot see. The Men of Progress gorge on the remains of the Long-Dead buried deep within the bosom of Mother Earth. The burning of this soulless dead matter, set free into the heavens, brings only more death and extinction.

You must change your wants and your ways, Child of Man. You are one with the Condor and all life on Mother Earth. A Great Dying advances across the land and seas. Humankind, too, will be consumed.


VIDEO: “How the Condor is Reclaiming Its Place in American Wilderness” released by Mossy Earth/Rewilding Our Planet