I stumbled upon ‘human achievement hour’ in my web crawling today. Conceived in 2009 by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, it is a conservative reaction to Earth Hour, instructing people to leave the lights on in celebration of “the energy that makes human achievement possible“.
It goes on….
While earth hour activists will be left in the dark, Human Achievement Hour participants will be going to the cinema, enjoying a hot meal, driving their car or watching television.
There is really no limit to how you can support Human Achievement Hour just like there is no limit to what mankind can achieve.
I was at first convinced that it was clever Yes men style spoof. Such subtle humour, hinting ironically that watching television represents the pinnacle of human achievement. What a clever imitation of the stale soundbites that so often characterises conservative activism.
But no.. it’s deadly serious.
What a wonderful world we live in with such a wealth of different opinions and ways of viewing life, and what richness and dynamism that brings to our existence. They make a valid point; humans have indeed achieved many wonderful things that deserve recognition. We just disagree on what those things are; for me it’s civil rights, womens liberation and dessert. For the Competitive Enterprise Institute, it’s individually amassaed wealth and coal powered television.
‘Human achievement hour’ represents a view of the world that pits humanity against nature as though we are locked in some shakesperian blood feud with the original cause long forgotten. As I heard sister Joan Chittister once say, this view comes in part from man’s superiority to nature advocated within many religions. In part, it comes from a history of struggle in small agrarian societies against the elements. In part, it comes from our attachment to the industrial revolution that propelled us forward into what we consider progress. It is cultural. And, as in all culturally reinforced heirarchies, some benefit more than others. Oh, if it were only one of the multitude of colourful-but-harmless opinions that make this world as interesting as it is.
The problem, though, is that our knowledge of science; itself a great achievement, tells us that this opinion is simply no longer tenable. Environmental degradation in every biosphere is mounting to unsustainable levels. From melting of glaciers in Nepal, coral bleaching in Australia, desertification of rainforet areas in Peru to the great pacific garbage patch, all the signs say ‘enough’. We can no longer deny that we have a dramatic impact on our environment. What we are beginning to appreciate is that when we damage the environment in these ways, we end up damaging ourselves; whether we are farmers in Kenya who do not know when to plant, fishermen in an Indonesia without fish, or an unborn child in the US who will live through a succession of resource wars. We are the walking, talking embodiment of nature, just as the trees which stretch like living tendrils of soil out of the earth. Just as much as the chimpanzees with whom we share 99% of our genetics. This is why as our damage to our home reaches critical mass, so to does our consciousness of it; we are the body, the disease and the cure.
Just like the aging intellectuals of mediaeval Europe outragedly dismissed Copernicus when he told them the earth is not the centre of the universe, followers of the dualistic philosophy will not easily give up their position at the top of the conceptual heirarchy. But just as surely as we now accept that we live on one globe that spins in space around one star among millions, some day we will all understand the depths of our interconnection with Earth’s biological systems that support life. That will be the next greatest human achievement.