Shakespeare, in his pastoral comedy As You Like It, has Jaques recite one of The Bard’s best known monologues:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players. . . .
Those who are familiar with this will know that it goes on to speak of the seven ages of man from the mewling and puking infant through to second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans teeth, sans everything.
In 1600 or thereabouts when the play was believed to have been written the world’s population was estimated to have been between 500 and 580 millions. We are now at some 7 billions and anticipated to be around 9 billions by 2050. Understandably some 400 years ago nobody was paying much attention to the stage even though it was recognized that we, mankind, are just the players.
As time has moved on so the number of players has dramatically increased although the stage, from a certain perspective, has remained unchanged. Moreover, we still take it for granted. Planet Earth, for all practical purposes, is essentially the same size and occupies the same planetary location. What has changed, of course, is the surface of the planet and how it is used (and abused). With a population of 500 odd millions climate change, resource depletion and a host of other issues had yet to raise their heads in any comprehensive way. That is not to say that all was fine and dandy in 1600, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were certainly making their presence felt.
What was different, however, was that then we were not bumping up against planetary limits. Indeed, that there might be such things as constraints on growth, food insecurity or tipping points probably never came up as topics of polite conversation. Contrast that with today, barely a day goes by without some reference in the media to climate change, pollution, recycling and a host of other environmental issues. Not to mention all the related economic and social implications of a burgeoning world population on a finite planet. Whether we think about this or not the choices that we, and the 7 billion others, exercise daily are having their impact upon our environment.
For most of us, and by that is meant all of us - East and West, North and South, our concern is with earning a living, providing shelter and putting food on the table. This preoccupation inevitably leaves little time for reflecting upon the larger issues of life. Understandable as that may be the fact is that whether we appreciate it or not we are all stewards of Mother Earth. As the old Native American adage would have it ‘We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors but borrow it from our Children’.
For this to become a practical proposition some things have to change. We have to think differently about ourselves and our relationship with the environment. We, the players, are an integral part of that environment and the web of life it supports. Without a stage upon which we, and the generations to come, can properly act out our parts there will be, at best, the prospect of a greatly diminished performance.