In our current times, we are confronted with many short, medium, and long-term challenges and imperatives to which are superimposed three different types of interest – ours, those of our close ones, and those of all beings. One way to respond to these challenges could be to create a more cooperative and altruistic society, one which takes into consideration the interdependence of all things and the collective interest. Wonder, taken as awareness of the wildness in the world, would be one its pillars. Cultivating a relationship of humility with life, being fully aware of it, makes us more inclined to pay attention and to devote ourselves to it. The desire to care for what ignites this sense of wonder in us would encourage the necessary changes of lifestyle and allow us to take into account the fate of all species.
For over half a century, humans have been exploiting and excessively consuming the planet’s resources1 thus provoking a tilt into a new geological era: from the Holocene into the Anthropocene2 . As the explorer and doctor Jean-Louis Etienne reminds us, while changes in geological eras used to be the result of natural phenomena, humankind is now the principal agent of change3 . The impact factor of its activities on Earth’s life-sustaining system depletes its “natural capital” reserves (fossil fuel, forests, marine resources, fresh water…) without leaving enough time for their renewal4 and leading to the current sixth mass extinction of species.
During the Global Positive Forum in 2019, Aurélien Barrau, astrophysics professor and climate advocate, pointed out that “with a solar-powered bulldozer humans can still raze the Amazon forest5”. It is our very own practices that lead to these numerous disruptions, and climate change resulting from human activities is one aspect which has repercussions on all components of the system. So it is possible to change!
Faced with a lack of political will and commitment, we must refrain from falling into general apathy or resigned cynicism where we tend to think that “after all, we’ll see when it happens.” As Herbert George Wells quite rightly writes: “History is a race between education and disaster.”
There are solutions. We still have a few years to take decisive measures. It is imperative we take heed of the scientists’ warnings and transform our individual and collective actions which affect the whole planet. We should also follow currents of thought that promote altruism and true well-being as authentic guides in our decision-making.
Reconnecting with life around us by developing our sense of wonder leads to an important shift in mindset which is a determining factor in the short, medium and long term. It encourages actions that are necessary to the rise of a new economy, of new lifestyles and consumption habits so that they become more solidary and more responsible towards our planet and all its inhabitants.
Wonder for wilderness alone will not solve the ecological crisis, but this awareness is a requirement for effective action. Cultivating a state of mind of gratitude and humility is an antidote to superfluous and deadly consumerism – a hope in restoring trust in human nature and preserving the wild part of the world.
In practice, if each and every one of us strived to take care, for example by having greater consideration for animal species, we would naturally rethink how we treat them. Instead of reducing them to insensitive beings that can be instrumentalized, we would recognize their consciousness and state of living beings. Envisioning this will to care allows us to better understand our interdependence. A sense of wonder necessarily leads to the desire to protect and to act accordingly. By cultivating collectively this consideration for the fate of other beings – humans or not –, we could prevent blindly sacrificing the world for ephemeral interests, leaving only a polluted and impoverished planet to those who will come after us.
Wonder, in aspiration and in action, is a concept which enables us to work together towards a better world by seriously taking into consideration the fate of generations to come and of the eight million species we cohabit with.
Johan Rockström, acclaimed researcher on climate and environmental changes, told me recently: “We are all part of one community and would gain by being kinder towards one another. We all depend on our collective ability to remain within planetary boundaries in order to maintain a safe space within which humankind may continue to prosper. By threatening the planet’s equilibrium, we put future generations at risk. Keeping a planet stable is the ultimate expression of kindness and intergenerational justice. We must talk about the right to be born on a planet that offers the proper conditions for life. Kindness demands that we hand over a viable planet to our children. This would be our greatest success.”
Wonder leads to respect, respect leads to the will to take care, and taking care leads to action – together, let’s extend our personal commitment to universal responsibility.
1 Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jørgen Randers, William W. Behrens, The Limits to Growth, Universe Books, 1972
2 In 2009, Johan Rockström and twenty-seven other world renowned scientists introduced the concept of “planetary limits’ onto nine great environmental changes. In 1950, Paul Crutzen, Nobel prize laureate in chemistry, started calling the “anthropocene” the predominance of the influence of human activity on terrestrial systems. Today, we are witness to what scientists call “the great acceleration”. Everything is increasing: population, fertilizer and water use for agriculture, overfishing and sea pollution, number of cars, methane from industrial breeding, ozone depletion. By constantly impoverishing the very sources that, from the origins, have constituted life, human activities are destroying the material structure of nature. The era of the anthropocene marks the overshooting of “planetary limits”. By violating the rights of living beings with human activities irremediably compromises the sustainability and survival of species and future generations.
3 Jean-Louis Etienne, Inventer sa vie, Points Aventure, 2016.
4Croissance : les dessous du réchauffement climatique, Pour L’éco, 26 décembre 2019. Croissance : les dessous du réchauffement climatique.
5 Aurélien Barrau au Global Positive Forum, 2019, Réveiller, Alerter mais surtout Encourager ! S’engager pour un monde positif – GPF2019. Réveiller, Alerter mais surtout Encourager ! S’engager pour un monde positif – GPF2019.