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Michael, it’s overshoot. People were at the mercy of nature, food stocks didn’t last through winter, in some places water supply wasn’t secure, basic medicine wasn’t understood, people had six or eight children so that two would survive to have children themselves. It is natural for people to want more under such circumstances.
Only a minority live like that now, but people keep wanting more for a number of reasons. Societies get into habits; striving for more has served humanity well, but now much of humanity has overshot. The system of trade was founded on exchange for mutual advantage, and that worked well, but as it ran out of demand for necessities it turned increasingly to satisfying desires and then, as those desires were satisfied it turned to stimulating desires to boost demand. So now we have advertising, marketing, and social status that is awarded according to affluence. Then there’s inequality. When people see others with vastly more than themselves, it is natural for some of them to want as much. And the media ensures that we see the mega-rich and their lifestyles day in, day out; this sets up the targets that the advertising aims for.
Technology has changed things stunningly fast; just the changes in my lifetime are overwhelming, I live in a different world from the one I grew up in, and such rapid change and lack of stability is not normal in human history. And it takes time for societies to adapt. It takes time, and awareness of the need to change; someone has to point out the dangers, the losses, and the alternatives.
And then it takes time to change politics, and this is all time we do not have. People are good at reacting to threats that arrive suddenly, but ecological degradation is cumulative, it often takes time to be recognised, and although lightning fast on the geological timescale it is slow compared with human life spans. It is creeping up on us and our governments aren’t reacting fast enough.