Affluence, the individual and society

About two months ago I was diagnosed with gout. Gout, for those who do not know what it is, is a disease caused by high levels of uric acid in the blood. This acid is caused mainly by the imbalance of food intake which causes the they build up of crystals in joints. And this build up in turn causes severe pain in these joints.

Over-consumption of liver, meat, fish and alcohol (especially beer) are the main causes of gout. But what over-consumption means to each person is of course different. For me it seems to be a low-tolerance case.

Last Friday night I went to yakiniku. Yakiniku is the Japanese version of a Korean BBQ. And like all BBQs meat is the main dish to be consumed. While I am on medication to reduce my uric acid levels (the cause of my gout) I was not instructed to change my diet too drastically. My doctor had probably wanted to find out just how much my diet is the cause of it. And as I write this at four o’clock in the morning, being woken up by the pain in my left knee, I would say the yakiniku plunder last Friday night was not a good idea.

In Japanese, gout is called tsuufuu which means pain-wind or pain-breeze. And I can assure you a slight breeze is enough to cause great pain. Perhaps the English word for it is a kind of exclamation of pain (gouuut!). It is also called in Japan the disease of the affluent in reference to an individuals dietary habits which is its main cause. Yes, I am most guilty of affluence.

While my body tells me that there is a problem in fairly short notice (in my case four days) the environment is not so quick. It could take decades before we see any symptoms of the problem. The case of CFCs – the chemical used to make our fridge and air conditioner work – is a good example. CFCs release into the atmosphere is the direct cause of the Ozone hole, a problem we recognized only after twenty or thirty years we introduced it as safe. Another example is deforestation. The accumulative effects of clearing land for farming and other purposes is becoming more noticeable now.

But even though I say the environmental signs are slow to show up it is only relative. In my short life of seventy, eighty years, fours days is quick. In the course of four billion years of Earth’s life 30 years is almost instantaneous. Thirty years only seems long in our time scale.

So maybe it is time to rethink our way of seeing time and the environment. Maybe it is a wake up call, a call we should be listening to. Planning for our (planet’s) future should not be about this year, five years or even our lifetime. People like David Suzuki say planning for the future should be about planning for seven generations. And not just forward in time but backwards to the past. You might say how do we plan for the past? Well, it all depends on how you look at time. The Western concept of time is not always the best. The same is true of affluence also.

Personal Note: I will be offline for about two weeks finishing up end of year term papers (seven to be exact). Hope to see you back here then. My apologies.

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