Breathe deeply… clear the mind of distractions… and focus

Published online 27 July 2010.

So what would count as doing something effective about abrupt climate change?  This diary, then, is a thought experiment: what if we actually made abrupt climate change itself a priority rather than mere window-dressing for another legislative report?

(crossposted at Docudharma)

I suppose this diary is prompted by RLMiller’s diary of Monday: the word is out that we’re not going to have “effective climate change legislation,” and so the pundits are placing hopes in the EPA or something like that.

But I don’t see the point in being pessimistic.  This all looks to me like an opportunity to step back and judge what really needs to be done.  At the very least, this diary can count as a laundry list of things to be done while the blogosphere, here, is waiting for the next opportunity to influence legislation.

*****

My central point here is that we haven’t really focused our minds upon abrupt climate change, and so if we’re going to have a hiatus, here, we can use this as an opportunity to understand how we’ve seriously underestimated the problem of climate change.  There will be rather extreme consequences to the massive alteration of Earth’s atmosphere by the burning of what will be at least a trillion barrels of oil by industrial society.

The obvious evidence for our underestimate of the problem is that none of the legislation being proposed would really have been effective.   Cap-and-trade wouldn’t have saved us.  Fab new technologies won’t save us either.  Carbon taxes can be evaded through accounting tricks or by moving the “carbon consumption” outside of the taxed area.

The fossil fuel “producers” of the world are not going to “produce” 85 million bbls./day of oil, an equal carbon-equivalent of coal, and so on, and then nobody’s going to consume it.  Thus the answer is simple: to reduce “carbon consumption” you have to restrict “carbon production.”  Ah, but the “carbon producers” are not going to accept the opportunity costs of leaving the grease in the ground.  The Saudis have already told the world this, before Copenhagen.  Thus we need a system which will make the break with capitalism, and forge an international agreement to abandon the coal mines, plug up the oil wells, give up on natural gas.

*****

Moreover, we haven’t considered the problem of abrupt climate change holistically, which would be to include all of the other damages we’ve inflicted upon the planet through industry.  A summary of the ways in which human industry depletes the planet’s biodiversity resources can be found in John McMurtry’s 2002 essay “The Planetary Life Crisis: Its Systemic Cause and Ground of Resolution” from Miller and Westra’s Just Ecological Integrity: The Ethics of Maintaining Planetary Life.  Industry has declared war upon the Earth’s ecosystems, one if by land, two if by sea, and three if by air.  The combined effects of industrial activity upon planet Earth deserve our study both 1) as to what we are doing to the planet and 2) as to alternative, “post-capitalist” ways of subsisting upon planet Earth which would not be so costly.

Doing the complete analysis of this, the “metabolism of society and nature,” will be something much more thorough than merely lobbying our legislators for climate change legislation.  It is, however, a prerequisite for better legislation.  We need to be adopting a holistic goal of ending the metabolic rift between the development of human society, and the rhythms of change in the natural world.

We aren’t, of course “there yet.”  And, just as we can’t rely upon the legislators as a crutch to solve our environmental problems, so also can’t we rely upon the experts to solve our environmental problems for us either.  The experts, as Kees van der Pijl reminds us, form a “cadre class,” which is responsible to two masters: 1) the future of the world, which would certainly be impacted by climate change, and 2) their paymasters in the various foundations and other employing agencies, who demand a sort of political allegiance (or at least a refusal to attack) in exchange for their monies.  Thus the experts may grant us the data we need to say that there’s a problem, yet may also not be willing to describe the revolutionary solution necessary to solve the problem.

One way of proceeding democratically is what Richard Kahn calls “ecopedagogy,” and Kahn’s ideas are outlined in his recommended new book “Critical Pedagogy, Ecoliteracy, and Planetary Crisis.”  Kahn’s ideas fall within what is now the mainstream of critical pedagogy — the central focus is upon education as the function of a social movement to change society, leaving education as the function of an inequitable, unjust, and destructive society to its own devices.  Do we have educational institutions dedicated to the social change necessary to solve the abrupt climate change problem?  Can we create such institutions?

*****

So what I’m saying, then, is that we really need to spend time with society, with its “mainstream” members, if we hope to refocus the whole of society toward the goal of a solution to abrupt climate change.  “Mainstream” society, it can be assumed, has other priorities.  If the Senate could not be bothered to do anything about abrupt climate change, it’s not likely that a lot of public pressure was put upon said Senate.

It’s clear, then, that there are things getting in the way of the public’s interest in abrupt climate change.  The most important of these has got to be the economy.  How shall I put this delicately?  We are at a time in history in which the super-rich are consolidating their gains while the middle class is disappearing.  People are concerned about losing their jobs, about working conditions, about being able to appreciate the “good things in life” in their time off.  And it is generally understood that this is what people should be doing with their lives — politics junkies are generally regarded as a marginal subset of a society which pursues “leisure” in the hours not devoted to “work” (or at least to looking for work, an even more painful activity per se).  So we are in a bind here.  How are we to pay attention to abrupt climate change if we are too busy making a living?  Perhaps a more equitable economy would allow us to focus upon abrupt climate change.

Moreover, we really haven’t exhausted all of the strategies available to us for “doing something” about abrupt climate change.  Awhile ago I suggested a field of study around this topic — post-capitalist environmental design.  The ideas of the 21st century socialists need to be applied in this country.  And so on.

So you can see that there’s no need to mope, nor to spend a lot of time with “Democrat cowardice” (unlike Something The Dog Said, I didn’t have illusions), and plenty to do before we have the critical mass necessary to change world society.  But first: breathe deeply… clear the mind of distractions… and focus.

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