CHAPTER 1 – SHARING EACH OTHER’S SKIN
“There is enough for everybody’s need, but not enough for everybody’s greed.” — MAHATMA GANDHI
When we began work on the first edition of this book at the very end of the twentieth century, it was becoming clear that the environmental goals put forth with so much hope at the focal point of decades of environmental activism, the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro back in 1992, were not only unable to keep up with increasing environmental degradation, they were under relentless assault by mainstream economic and political forces. “Globalization” was still a relatively new term that was being heralded as a social and economic salvation for the world, and most people were still unaware of the massive giveaway of national regulatory rights that had taken place under the world trade agreements signed the same year as the summit. Popular demonstrations and civil disobedience had not yet brought the actions of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to the attention of the average citizen, especially in North America
Most people were also blissfully ignorant of the fact that genetically engineered foods had entered their diets and that the biotechnology industry was releasing commercial products that were beginning to have frightening impacts on the environment, along with a growing potential for harm to human health. Creating genetically altered organisms to serve our own whims and purposes also raises some of the most serious ethical and social concerns our species has ever had to face. All through the late 1990s these growing threats to global environmental stability were largely ignored as the world’s media pursued stories of political sex and celebrity peccadilloes, dot-com proliferation and the exciting new Information Revolution. From Naked Ape to Superspecies was a book intended to address the serious threats our cultural obsessions posed to natural systems, and to remind readers that without clean water, air and viable soil, no cultural or economic life, even a virtual one, could exist for long on this planet.
Today, the continuing exponential growth in human numbers, consumptive demand, technological power and economic reach is putting increasingly unbearable pressures on the most basic commodities produced by the Earth. Global wars are being fought over oil, water is being rapidly privatized by multinational corporations all over the world, and there are so few intact natural systems left that entrepreneurs are now invading thousands of national parks as well as preserves set aside for indigenous peoples to dig for oil and gold, or to log and “develop” the area. These escalating activities have also placed many of the most basic, democratic rights that Westerners take for granted under serious threat
Ecologists tell us that once the complex, interlocking relationships that make up a natural environment, like a forest, a fishery, good agricultural land or a watershed, are undermined beyond a certain critical threshold, it will collapse, usually quite suddenly. If recovery of a forest or a fishery is possible at all, it may take thousands of years. With so much at stake in terms of the air we all breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink, convincing people that we need to reassess the direction in which we are headed has become even more urgent. Put simply, we must learn to live in other species’ skins, as well as in our own.