Thought for the Day
22nd February 1996
Good morning. It is ironic that, in the same week scientists reported adverse changes to the Gulf Stream caused by global warming, we are then faced with another environmental disaster, also related to a Man and Nature clash. The sea, it seems, struck back - only to spite itself. Although the Sea Empress has now been rescued, its lost cargo of crude oil will do no good to the wildlife of the Pembrokeshire coast. And dispersing the slick by chemical treatment further exacerbates the questionable cocktail that was once salt-water.
The huge slick isn’t just oil, it is liquid consumerism. Oil is drilled and transported to fuel our insatiable cravings for more products and services, - and to have them now - in the belief that happiness is increased through endless material acquisition. Prahlad, a renowned Hindu saint, did not share this belief. He warned, “ideas devised by greedy and materialistic minds fail to satisfy our expectations of pleasure. Rather, such “solutions” to life’s problems bring more severe problems in their wake.”
We may look back to the dirty era of 19th century industry and persuade ourselves that our current technology is somehow more benign. Yet, we are doing more to desecrate the natural world - indeed, we have ample potential to make it totally uninhabitable.
We must certainly apply our intelligence to consider methods of lifestyle, industry, agriculture and transport which are truly sustainable. After all, if human brain-power can put man on the moon, why can’t it resolve our basic needs on earth without disrupting the eco-system for future generations? But, intellect alone is not the answer.
The satirical story of one young man eager to live simply and eschew materialistic life illustrates the tendency. This budding ascetic was advised to be satisfied owning a single loin-cloth. After a while, he thought that having a second cloth would be advantageous and, surely, no hindrance. However, this spare cloth was attacked by mice and so the young man got a cat to guard it; then he got a cow to provide milk for the cat; then a wife to care for the cow; and, before he knew it, he was back in his old job, paying the mortgage.
In an age when personal fulfilment is God, and economic growth the religion, self-control and an honest appraisal of our real needs are not virtues. Perhaps, it requires a revolution of our concept of happiness to plug the gushing flow of liquid consumerism.
Once, a king berated a brahmana youth for not taking advantage of his offer of land and wealth. The brahmana replied that “ if I were not content with the simple possessions I now have, how would I be satisfied even if you gave me the whole world? Contentment,” he said, “is internal satisfaction gained by an enriching of the heart, not endless acquisition at the expense of Mother Earth.”
© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Thought for the Day” on the Today programme Radio 4.