Towards a 
Philosophy of


I heard the following tale many years ago. It reminded me of Tales from 1001 Arabian Nights, and was obviously meant to have a moral to it. However, I was puzzled as to what it might be, and eventually forgot about it. It wasn't until becoming properly aware of how we are plundering our planet that I remembered it again and was struck by how well and frighteningly it symbolised our situation aboard Spaceship Earth.

Long ago a man stumbled across an oil lamp which, when he rubbed it to see what it was made of, produced a genie which offered him a single wish. 

He did not have to think long about what he wanted - he wished for GOLD. 

No sooner had the wish left his lips than it began to rain gold coins, which poured down on him from above. He became ecstatic, tears of joy rolling over his cheeks as more wealth than he had ever dreamed of poured down and piled up around him. 

His joy and exuberance continued as the gold rained down upon him, first covering his feet, then his legs and groin, until suddenly he realized that he could no longer move. His joy and elation became mixed, at first with a little but then with increasing concern, until finally he called out for the rain of gold to stop. 

But the rain of gold coins didn't let up, not even when he finally started pleading for it to do so.

As the gold rose up around his chest he cried out desperately, then pitifully - but in vain. The gold continued to fall - until it had covered him completely and he was suffocated.



The relatively recent development of science and technology has made it possible for us to produce undreamed of material wealth (the rain of gold in the tale), but in so doing we are placing an ever increasing, and thus non-sustainable, drain and strain on Earth’s finite resources and carrying capacity, decimating its biodiversity and disrupting its climate and life-supporting ecosystems.

Although most people now acknowledge the need for sustainability, very few understand, or are willing to face up to, what achieving it (for 7 - 9 billion people on a finite planet) will entail. The magnitude and urgency of the task has not been recognised, nor the underlying forces which oppose it: a growth-dependent economy rooted in man's "more animal than human" nature, which depends on, encourages and exploits our primitive, fears, greed and competitiveness, along with our need for social status (and security) and an insatiable desire for material wealth (the rain of gold which the man in the tale cannot stop, even when he realises that it is threatening to suffocate him). 

The pile of gold is already up to our waist; we can barely move, and many people are beginning to sense the terrible danger we are in.

How long can the demands and strains we are placing on our planet continue to grow?

Until its natural resources are so depleted and its climate and life-supporting ecosystems so disrupted that further growth becomes impossible.

Economic and social decline on a global and catastrophic scale will follow.


It will be, unless we come out of denial and face up to the problem and the radical changes its solution requires being made to the values, attitudes and aspirations upon which our economy and lifestyles are based.