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I Seek Pleasure, Don't You?

By: for enoughmagazine.org on July 23, 2015
Opinion

"Even during a period of deadly environmental instability, we can always depend on the general population to purchase whatever meager sensual stimulation is available."

Having found ourselves in the abyss of an ecological tragedy, the current inheritors of the earth are entitled to a moment of solemn reflection in which we wonder, “Am I really responsible?” It seems that the initial cause of this ecological catastrophe dates back to a time well beyond our influence, and its solution, should there ever be one, won’t really manifest until well into the future. How are the young people of today expected to feel about this mess? According to Al Gore in his article “A Climate of Denial,” published in Rolling Stone magazine in 2011, we’re expected (albeit by our well-wishing corporate overlords) to deny it, or at least feel helpless and hopeless, because that’s what is best for business.

Indeed, “green” is the new black—and the latest trend in self-indulgent consumerism. Even during a period of deadly environmental instability, we can always depend on the general population to purchase whatever meager sensual stimulation is available, regardless of ominous selfdestruction. Likewise, equally determined, clever capitalists are always willing to meet the demands of self-righteous greed. Thus, an astounding array of “green” products fills your home and your heart with solemn promises to reduce the detrimental impact on the environment and appease your guilty conscience. But while the average punters may feel peace of mind, confident in their conscientious purchasing power, the saner section of society knows that this convenient ruse can hardly evade the crisis at hand: that a predominant section of society are habituated to a lifestyle of reckless consumption.

I hesitate to repeat the usual depressing statistics for fear of making us more desensitised to the impact of thoughtless consumerism on the environment. Still, just to remind everyone of the carnage, here are some extraordinary figures from the United States, for example. The Sierra Club testifies that over a lifetime, the typical American will create thirteen times the amount of environmental damage as the average Brazilian. To grow about half a kilogram of wheat requires around 490 litres of water. For meat production, depending on the type of meat— multiply that water usage by five to ten. Considering that the average American eats about 104 kilograms of meat and poultry each year, it takes approximately 1,135 600 litres of water each year just to sustain one person’s carnivorous diet. Perhaps the statistics for electronic waste are the most embarrassing. The United States Environment Protection Agency reports that, in the year 2008, over three million tonnes of “e-waste” was disposed of in the United States alone. That’s about thirty million televisions, two hundred million computer parts, and 140 million cell phones—most of which contain nonbiodegradable and hazardous materials. Meanwhile, half of the world’s population lives on less than two dollars a day.

But let’s not pick on the United States alone; New Zealand’s household consumption (expenditure per person) increased 40 percent between 1992 and 2011. This shows that New Zealanders are buying a greater volume of goods and services than in the past, a trend similar to that of other countries.[1] Vehicle Kilometres Travelled (VKT) per person is a proxy used to show the average greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants from road transport for each person in New Zealand. According to a report from the Ministry for the Environment, between 2001 and 2007, VKT per person intensified, increasing by nearly 3 percent. “By international standards, New Zealanders rely heavily on road transport. The latest Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) comparison (2002) shows that New Zealand had the second highest VKT per person out of 30 OECD countries.” [2]

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a four-year effort involving 1,360 scientists and other experts worldwide assessed conditions and trends regarding the world’s ecosystems. At the end of the assessment in 2005, they concluded, “Nearly two-thirds of the services provided by nature to humankind are found to be in decline worldwide. In effect, the benefits reaped from our engineering of the planet have been achieved by running down natural capital assets…”[3]

The assessment reported that half the world’s temperate and tropical forests are now gone.[4] Just between 2000 and 2005, we lost forest acreage the size of Germany.[5] Each year fifty million acres (an area the size of Nebraska) becomes too degraded for crop production or are lost to urban sprawl.[6] About half the wetlands and a third of the mangroves are gone.[7] Twenty percent of the corals are gone and another 20 percent are about to disappear.[8]

What’s an honest person to do? Sever all dependency on excessive materialism haphazardly? History has shown, through the ineffectiveness of liquor prohibitions, austerity budgets, and abstinence campaigns, that mere abnegation is unsustainable, because of a primeval urge that impels us to seek happiness even amidst impossible circumstances. Krishna explains this condition in the Bhagavad-gita: “Though the embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, the taste for sense objects remains. But, ceasing such engagement by experiencing a higher taste, one is fixed in consciousness.” (2.59)

Intelligent persons, who aren’t blinded by the glitter of mass-produced fantasies, understand that the quest for pleasure is the inherent inclination of the soul. Therefore, a wise person does not look for solace in restraining the senses, either voluntarily or under economic pressure. The fact of the matter is that people will seek material pleasure despite diminishing vital resources, even at the expense of moral and social principles. To remedy this predicament, the Krishna consciousness network seeks to revitalize a culture of nonmaterial pleasure, nourished by an everenlivening spiritual experience.

Genuine spiritual experience is not like the tussle with limited resources that we’re so familiar with in this material world: The mor e oil your country has, the less oil my country has. You’re enjoying more wealth so someone else inevitably has less. Rather, spiritual pleasure is distinct from its material counterpart in one very convenient way—the more it’s tapped into, the more it increases! The more I make use of spiritual technology—namely chanting the Hare Krishna mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare; Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, the more the supply of Krishna consciousness increases and becomes available for others. And by the mass distribution of this technology, its effect will take the pressure off our scant material resources, because people will naturally seek satisfaction in a dimension that is unlimited.

Spiritual connoisseurs are in high demand and the marketplace is ready for them to share their wealth. Who wants to capitalize on this opportunity? Simultaneously, the current materialistic trends are leading humanity towards dismal consequences. Who is ready to take responsibility?

Notes 
[1] “Household Consumption Expenditure,” Ministry for the Environment, 2012, available at http://www.mfe.govt.nz/environmental-reporting/consumption/ household-consumption-expenditure-indicator/household-consumption-expenditure. html
[2] “Vehicle Kilometres Travelled by Road,” Environmental Report Card, Ministry for the Environment, March 2009, available at http://www.mfe.govt.nz/environmental- reporting/transport/vehicle-kilometres-travelled-by-road.html#key
[3] Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, Statement from the Board, Living beyond Our Means: Natural Assets and Human Well-being, March 2005, 5. See also Jonathan A. Foley et al., “Global Consequences of Land Use,” Science 309 (2005): 570.
[4] Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA), Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Synthesis (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2005), 31-32.
[5] Food and Agriculture Organization, Global Forest Resources Assessment, 2005 (Rome: FAO, 2006), 20.
[6] For more on this see U.N. Environment Programme, Global Environment Outlook, 3 (London: Earthscan, 2002), 64-65. See also “Key Facts about Desertification,” Reuters/Planet Ark, 6 June 2006, summarizing U.N. estimates; Zafar Adeel et al.,“Overcoming One of the Greatest Environmental Challenges of Our Time: Rethinking Policies to Cope with Desertification” (Tokyo: United Nations University, December 2006).
[7] MEA, Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Synthesis, 2; MEA, Ecosystems and Human Well-Being, vol. I: Current State and Trends(Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2005), 14-15.
[8] MEA, Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Synthesis, 2.

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