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Reflections on a sustainable society

De
228 pages
We are on the verge of a true crisis of civilisation : ecological disruption, chronic insatisfaction of the basic needs of a large part of humanity and degrading physical and mental health in industrialised countries. We must address the crisis's main cause : the pursuit of a development approach focused on economic growth and based on intensive, inefficient use of natural resources. This book is a call for humanity to look itself in the mirror, question its identity as a species and re-examine its place in this world.
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Isabelle Richaud

Reflections on a
sustainable society

Humanity in the mirror

Foreword by R. K. Pachauri
English version revised by Elisabeth Lyman

Biologie, Écologie, Agronomie












































Reflections on a sustainable society

Biologie, Écologie, Agronomie
Collection fondée par Richard Moreau
et dirigée par Claude Brezinski,

Cette collection rassemble des synthèses, qui font le point des connaissances
sur des situations ou des problèmes précis, des études approfondies exposant
des hypothèses ou des enjeux autour de questions nouvelles ou cruciales
pour l’avenir des milieux naturels et de l’homme, et des monographies. Elle
est ouverte à tous les domaines des Sciences naturelles et de la Vie.


Déjà parus

Pierre PAGNEY,L’incertitude climatique et la guerre, 2016.
Ignace YAPI AYÉNON,Approches du vivant. Études d’épistémologie
biologique, 2015.

Isabelle RICHAUD,L’humanité face au miroir. Réflexions sur une
société durable,2013.
Quênida DE REZENDE MENEZES,Le droit international peut-il
sauver les dernières forêts de la planète ?,2013.
Guy ROLLET,Les Réseaux de neurones de la conscience. Approche
multidisciplinaire du phénomène, 2012.
Patrick MATAGNE, Éduquer à la biodiversité pour un
développement durable. Réflexions et expérimentations, 2012.
Elisabeth MATTHYS-ROCHON et Pierre
SAVATIER,Biotechnologies : quelles conséquences sur l’Homme à venir ?, 2012.
Marcel B. BOUCHÉ,Pour un renouveau dans l'environnement,2012.
Michel GODRON,Écologie et évolution du monde vivant, vol.3. Les
problèmes écologiques réels,2012.
Michel GODRON,Écologie et évolution du monde vivant, vol.2.
L’échelle crée le phénomène, 2012.
Michel GODRON,Écologie et évolution du monde vivant, vol.1. La
vie est une transmission d’information, 2012.
André MARCHAND,Filière viande. Propositions pour conjuguer
une agriculture rentable et une nourriture saine, 2011.
Guy JACQUES,Virer de bord. Plaidoyer pour l'homme et la planète,
2011.
Maurice BONNEAU,La forêt de Guyane française, 2010.
Michel GAUDICHON,L'homme au miroir de la science, 2010.
Jacques RISSE,L’élevage français. Évolutions et perspectives, 2010.


Isabelle Richaud




























Reflections on a sustainable society

Humanity in the mirror




Foreword by R. K. Pachauri


English version revised by Elisabeth Lyman




























































































































French edition

Isabelle Richaud,Réflexions sur une nouvelle ère écologique et citoyenne,
L’humanité dans le miroir, Éditions L’Harmattan, 2017, 978-2-343-11696-9


Previous edition

Isabelle Richaud,L’humanité dans le miroir, Réflexions sur une société durable,
Éditions L’Harmattan, 2013 (french), 978-2-296-99845-2






















© L’Harmattan, 2017
5-7, rue de l’Ecole-Polytechnique, 75005 Paris

http://www.harmattan.fr

ISBN : 978-2-343-11772-0
EAN : 9782343117720

“I’m starting with the man in the mirror

I’m asking him to change his ways

and no message could have been any clearer

if you wanna make the world a better place

take a look at yourself, and then make a change”

~ Michael Jackson, “Man in the Mirror”

(lyrics by Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett)

To Divya
and her generation

Table ofcontents

Acknowledgments .......................................................................................... 13

Foreword by R. K. Pachauri..........................................................................15

Introduction: Reflecting mirrors...................................................................17

Chapter 1: Issues at stake.......................................................................... 23

Introduction: History unfolding................................................................... 24

I. Depletionand pollution of natural resources.................................. 31

II. Biodiversityloss.................................................................................... 39
III. Climatechange ..................................................................................... 47
Conclusion: history at a crossroads..............................................................58

Chapter 2: Changing our behaviour....................................................... 65

Introduction: The hidden faces of our consumption................................ 66

I. Ourconsumption habits..................................................................... 70

II. Theway we eat..................................................................................... 82
Conclusion: Let’s simply be happy... simply!............................................ 107

Chapter 3: Rethinking the economy..................................................... 111

Introduction: An interconnected discipline.............................................. 112

I. Overviewof current economic thought......................................... 113
II. Thefailures of GDP growth............................................................ 119
III. Adifferent economic framework ....................................................128
Conclusion: Economy and ecology as friends..........................................138

9

Chapter 4: Reorganising society............................................................ 141

Introduction: A role for everyone.............................................................. 142

I. Changingenergy patterns..................................................................143

II. Buildingsustainable cities .................................................................147
III. Restructuringthe food cycle.............................................................154
IV. Reconsideringthe role of political authorities............................... 161
V. Reorganisingthe economy................................................................170

Conclusion: A society of cooperation........................................................176

Chapter 5: For a new spirituality........................................................... 179

Introduction: Connecting to the world around........................................180

I. Analternative to consumer culture................................................. 181

II. Religionand ecology..........................................................................188
III. Fora world religion ...........................................................................196
Conclusion: A question of human identity............................................... 209

Conclusion: Human nature .........................................................................213

10

Boxes

Box 1: World poverty in figures ...................................................................29

Box 2: Rachel Carson’s clarion call against pesticides............................... 35

Box 3: Pollination ...........................................................................................43

Box 4: Some extreme weather-related events and their impact............... 52

Box 1: The human cost of the mining industry .........................................71

Box 2: Tips for environmentally conscious consumers............................ 77

Box 3: Harmful chemicals commonly found..............................................80

Box 4: The historical development of meat consumption .......................83

Box 5: The life and death of battery hens................................................... 91

Box 6: The 100-mile diet ...............................................................................96

Box 7: Overview of standards required for organic certification ............97

Box 8: The Marine Stewardship Council.....................................................99

Box 9: Some famous advocates of vegetarianism.................................... 103

Box 1: Collapse of the Easter Island civilisation......................................126

Box 2: Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness .............................................133

Box 3: Lifestyle of the Machiguengas........................................................ 135

Box 1: California’s energy-efficiency policy.............................................. 146

Box 2: Masdar City .......................................................................................149

Box 3: The “Actors of Sustainable Paris”................................................. 153

Box 4: Ghent’s Donderdag Veggiedag...................................................... 159

Box 5: Extracts of political speeches from history.................................. 164

Box 6: A social enterprise revolutionising the business of waste
management................................................................................................... 171

Box 1: End-of-life stories ............................................................................187

Box 2: Vegetarianism seen through the prism of Christianity ...............193

Box 3: Greek legends teaching humility.................................................... 199

11

Figures

Figure 1 Greenhouse gas emissions per kg of food produced...............102

Figure 1: GDP per person against life expectancy (years at birth)........ 122

Figure 1: A decentralized energy system ...................................................144

Images

Image 1: The woven city..............................................................................150

Tables

Table 1: Calendar of fruits and vegetables (temperate countries)............95

12


Acknowledgments




My first words of thanks go to the real authors of this book. As
readers will see, the pages they are about to read are largely inspired by
thoughts and data found in various sources—books, reports and
websites. This book is an illustration of the tremendous work, dedication
and talent that countless individuals and organisations have contributed
to help create a better future. Whether in the spotlight or behind the
scenes, these people must be recognised for their invaluable
contributions to building awareness of the major issues of our times and
paving the way for their resolution.

The main purpose of this book is to continue raising awareness
of the changes that are needed to move society towards sustainability
and, perhaps, to inspire some change in the mindsets and behaviour of
its readers. This is why I would like to warmly thank you, dear readers,
because the mere fact that you are holding this book in your hands is a
step in that direction.

13

Foreword
By R. K. Pachauri


Originally written for the French edition in 2013


It is a great pleasure to write a foreword for this book by my colleague
Isabelle Richaud, a sensitive and environmentally responsible citizen of
planet Earth. In this book, we find a number of central purposes and
goals underlying the thought-provoking material presented. First, it
effectively informs readers about the enormous global environmental
challenges we face and how they can be met in affordable terms. It also
reveals the interactions between these challenges, their social aspects and
the impact they have on human existence. In our economic systems,
including those of former and existing Communist nations, the
consumer’s dominant role emerges paramount. For this reason, the book
highlights the important role consumers have to play and how their
dayto-day decisions can go a long way towards ensuring sustainability.
Isabelle advocates simple solutions in this book, and with good
reason—not only are they easy to adopt, but they also offer significant
side benefits that consumers should be aware of. In discussing the
realities of today’s world, she attempts to make individuals feel part of,
and active in, a larger movement for change. She accomplishes this by
providing examples of pioneering initiatives by individuals as well as
actions taken at the community level. For far too long, human society
has been functioning within narrow silos, driven largely by an even
narrower tunnel vision. The author tries to show the interdisciplinary
thinking and action that are critical for solving the problems we face in
the environmental, energy and economic arenas. She unravels what she
calls “the current crisis of human civilisation”.
An important aspect of the thinking and analysis presented in this
book is the exploration of the spiritual dimensions of the challenges
ahead. She shows us how a materialistic approach, confined to
shortterm gains and a narrow outlook, will not be adequate for dealing with
the challenges ahead. She focuses on the common objective that prevails
in all the world’s religions and mythologies and points out that spiritual
beliefs are important drivers of human action. She feels that it is
important to create a global consciousness guided by “science with ethics
or religion with reason”.

15

The book’s chapters and their titles stake out a holistic approach to
changing one’s lifestyle and heading in a more sustainable and
ecofriendly direction. After covering a number of aspects related to
management of our natural resources, damage to our ecosystems, loss of
biodiversity and the growing challenge of climate change, the author
rightly concludes that human history is at a crossroads. She explains that
we need to reconsider the ways we spend our money, eat, live and travel.
The resulting changes should lead to collective efforts in rethinking the
economy, reorganising society and entering a new spiritual era. Isabelle is
a researcher with training and practice in the field of the environment,
but her book offers a thorough discussion of philosophical and
metaphysical issues as well. The beauty of the material presented in this
book lies in the fact that whether they agree or disagree with the author,
readers will be stimulated by the analysis presented. It will raise questions
in their minds that they will reflect upon—and perhaps act upon—
irrespective of their existing beliefs.

R. K. Pachauri
Former Director-General, The Energy and Resources Institute
Former Chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

16

Introduction
Reflecting mirrors

“Now, please reflect, mirrors.” ~ Jacques Rigaut

“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe”, a part limited in
time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something
separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion
is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a
few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by
widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of
nature in its beauty.” ~ Albert Einstein

“We must remember the chemical connections between ourselves and the stars, between
the beginning and now. We must remember and reactivate the primal consciousness of
oneness between all living things.” ~ Barbara Mor

“Everyone thinks that the principal thing to the tree is the fruit, but in point of fact
the principal thing to it is the seed.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

“Homo sapiens, the first truly free species, is about to decommission natural selection,
the force that made us... Soon we must look deep within ourselves and decide what we
wish to become.” ~ Edward O. Wilson

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” ~ Alan Kay

“There is nothing like dream to create the future. Utopia today, flesh and blood
tomorrow.” ~ Victor Hugo

“One cannot feel both responsible and desperate.” ~ Antoine de Saint Exupéry

17

Mirror, mirror on the wall

We’re living in a critical period of history characterised by unprecedented
environmental problems that are both the source and the result of a
systemic global crisis. It is an environmental crisis, but also an energy
crisis, with the end of cheap oil; an economic crisis, with destabilised
markets and massive, persistent unemployment; a social crisis, with
increasing inequalities between the richest and the poorest; and, finally, a
political and security-related crisis linked to tight interdependence
between nations.
At this time of converging crises, deep uncertainties and economic
and cultural globalisation, we are forced to question our model of society
and view the world from a different perspective. And as we face our
identity crisis, our most valuable tool could well be the mirror.
We need a mirror of truth, like the one used by the queen inSnow
White, and we must look into it with courage before taking the decisions
that will determine our future. We should take a lesson from Socrates
and try to know ourselves; we should reflect on our identity as humans,
our accomplishments and our objectives. Then, we should ask ourselves
whether our lifestyles and development patterns really reflect our deepest
aspirations. Finally, we must change what needs to be changed to correct
the inconsistencies between our development patterns and our deep
aspirations and identity—inconsistencies which are leading us into crisis.
Our tool is also the mirror as defined by psychoanalyst Jacques
Lacan, which helps young children become aware of their own selves,
and thus of the world surrounding them, and thereby develop a sense of
empathy. And empathy is exactly what we need if we want to resolve the
current crises and build a world that is more stable, more supportive and
more respectful of nature. Empathy is embedded in our biology, and
more specifically in what is called “mirror neurons”. These neurons fire
both when we perform an action and when we observe the same action
being carried out by somebody else. These neurons play a key role in
social life, empathy, cooperation and learning by imitation. Just as a seed
contains the potential to grow into a plant if put in the right
environment, the human race must draw from its own propensity for
goodness, kindness and beauty, and create alternative values and
priorities for itself—in other words, an alternative to the culture of
consumerism, a world in which “humanity” can truly flourish.
Our mirror should not be a pool like in the tale of Narcissus,
hypnotising us with a polished reflection of ourselves and making us

18

conceited enough to think we can freely trample upon the laws of nature
and ignore the world that exists beyond society and the economy—a
natural world that we greatly depend on. Instead, our ideal mirror would
widen our field of vision and help us consider the interests of the world
at large and future generations when taking our everyday decisions. In
other words, what we need is a kind of mirror of divinity such as the one
described by philosophers like Giordano Bruno or St. Augustine—an
image of perfection that lies within each of us and from which we get
inspiration and guidance in moving towards a common goal.
This goal is yet another mirror: the marvellous mirror ofAlice’s
Adventures in Wonderland, or the door leading to a better world. The
current crisis is a serious threat to our lifestyles, but also represents a
unique opportunity to start anew, to reframe our lifestyles and
development patterns so we can live in better harmony with nature and
our human nature, and thus live more happily in a better world.

The interdependence of humans and nature

Let’s stop for a moment and think about our species and our world. At
first sight, history appears characterised by the emancipation of humans
from their surrounding environment. Increasingly complex social
organisations, infrastructures and technologies reveal a growing
separation between humans and nature. We seem to have developed a
self-sufficient system allowing us to live our lives without excessive
hindrance from the unpredictability of the natural world.
Or might that just be the reflection of an egocentric mirror that
distorts reality? If we take a closer look, humans are actually becoming
more and more dependent on nature, considering our unprecedented use
of natural resources and production of waste and emissions. The Earth
will soon be unable to renew these resources or absorb any more waste,
as our human systems continue to expand unchecked.
Furthermore, human activities are putting increasing strain on the
natural world and transforming it—to the point that its ability to harbour
life as we know it is becoming severely compromised. Biodiversity is
decreasing at an alarming rate and ecosystems are being disrupted, or
even disappearing, as a direct result of combined human-made factors
such as modifications of natural habitats, monopolisation and pollution
of resources, and climate change.
In the 1970s, a number of local environmental problems emerged
as rivers, soils and the urban atmosphere became polluted. In the 1980s,

19

these problems worsened and became more widespread, and we began
to see acid rain, massive pollution from pesticides and chemical
fertilisers, deforestation and desertification at regional level, and the
appearance of health problems caused by pollution. That same period
saw transnational environmental disasters such as the accidents of the
chemical factory in Bhopal and the nuclear power stations in Chernobyl
and Three Mile Island, and the shrinking of the Aral Sea, as well as truly
global problems like the depletion of the ozone layer and climate change.
These problems helped bring about a global awareness of the
environmental challenges of our time and marked a new era in the
history of humanity and even the planet: the “Anthropocene” era, as
some experts call it, in which human activities have drastically altered the
biosphere and led to a global environmental crisis.
One of the main characteristics of this Anthropocene Era is
climate change. Its dramatic repercussions on both human life and
nature, together with the huge challenge of moving from a high-carbon
to a low-carbon society, have become the hallmarks of the global
environmental crisis and its challenges.

The dawn of a rebirth

Our ability to redirect our path and take into consideration the
interdependence of human systems and the natural world will make or
break the future of human development and even the continuation of
life on Earth. This is the basic idea behind the term “sustainable
development” defined in 1987 in the Report of the World Commission
on Environment and Development as “meeting the needs of the present
without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their
own needs”. This definition dates back to Kant’s concept of
Universalism, according to which we should consider the interest of
future generations the same way we consider the interest of the current
one. This is a key part of the very notion of human development, or in
other words the perpetuation of the conditions necessary for our species
to survive.
More specifically, the sustainability of a development pattern can
be determined using certain scientific criteria. If a societal system is
sustainable, substances extracted from the lithosphere (fossil fuels) and
substances produced by society (waste) do not systematically accumulate
in the Earth’s other spheres (biosphere, atmosphere and hydrosphere),
the physical conditions for biodiversity on Earth do not systematically

20

deteriorate, and societies’ use of natural resources is efficient and
1
judicious.
To move towards sustainability, we must first thoroughly reassess
our development patterns and how they impact the environment. We
must question the very notion of human needs and find ways of meeting
them using nonrenewable resources efficiently while maintaining the
integrity of the rest of the biosphere. We need to better understand and
take into account the way human systems and nature work together and
the root causes of the environmental crisis.
Luckily, globalisation and technology provide us with both the
tools and the opportunity to take a look at ourselves and the world
around us. They’re helping create global awareness of the need to move
towards sustainability and the drive to do so.
Human development has gone through a series of important
stages that thinker Edgar Morin describes as rebirths. Our original birth,
as a species, took place millions of years ago when we differentiated
ourselves from apes by using tools and standing upright. The second was
brought about by the invention of culture and language in the time of
Homo erectus. The third began with the advent of the archaic society of
Homo sapiens. The fourth was marked by the successive developments of
agriculture, the city and the State. Morin suggests that our fifth rebirth
will see the emergence of a genuine global society to replace what he
2
calls human prehistory.
This vision mirrors the theory developed by the environmental
organisation Global Scenario Group. According to this hypothesis, we
are witnessing the dawn of a great transition in civilisation as we leave a
world of capitalist states and consumerist societies to enter the
“planetary phase of civilisation”—a world of increased connectivity with
new global institutions, new technology, environmental change in the
biosphere, economic globalisation, and shifts in culture and
consciousness, giving rise to a new set of values, namely human
3
solidarity, quality of life and respect for nature.
Individual and collective responsibility, including civic
participation, will be core to this new phase of human history. The
notion of “citizen of the world” is not a new one. The Stoics of the

1
Holmberg J., Robert K.-H., Eriksson K.-E., 1996. Socio-ecological principles for sustainability.
In Costanza R., Olman S., Martinez-Alier J., 1996.Getting down to earth—practical applications of
ecological economics. Washington, DC: International Society of Ecological Economics, Island Press.
2
Morin E., 1993. Terre-Patrie. Paris: Le Seuil.
3
Raskin P.D, 2006.World Lines Pathways, Pivots, and the Global Future. In:Frontiers of a Great
Transition, GTI Paper Series no. 16
<http://www.gtinitiative.org/documents/PDFFINALS/16WorldLines.pdf>

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