My people are a problem

Posted July 10th, 2009 in Blog, Featured 6 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

Obstacles to addressing our ecological crisis in any significant way are strewn all through the U.S. culture.  We have a president who gets the problem to some extent, at least on climate, but says some stuff that makes me cringe; for example, “There is no contradiction between environmentally sustainable growth and robust economic growth.”

China Air pollution - NASA photo

China Air pollution - NASA photo

Well, actually, there is.  Maybe if we try to restrict our understanding of the crisis to global warming and climate disruption we could combine these two dynamics.  But on a depleted planet where we are already living far beyond the means of the planet to continue supporting human consumption and waste, the contradiction is becoming increasingly dangerous.  We have to learn how to model economies on something other than ‘growth,’ and we must do that quickly.

Then there’s Congress, full of its own contradictions depending on which campaign donors or groups of voters members fear most.  They will not lead, they will only follow; and they will only follow the science, the facts of the matter, if there is a strong enough movement that forces them to do so.

Then there are ‘my people.’  Pew Research Center just released the results of a new survey that indicate our larger, more challenging problem.  A very large segment of the U.S. population does not believe we have a climate crisis at all, does not believe the global warming science, and does not believe in the most basic of all stories — the story of evolution.  Now this latter one really disturbs me because, if we don’t understand evolution, we also do not understand the role of the human within living systems and why our ravaging of those systems could bring about catastrophe for Homo sapiens and other living species.  Without that understanding, how will people be motivated to make the changes required of us now in order to avoid unimaginable disaster?

Hold your breath for this one, from Cornelia Dean, reporting this story for the NY Times:

Almost a third of ordinary Americans say human beings have existed in their current form since the beginning of time, a view held by only 2 percent of the scientists. Only about half of the public agrees that people are behind climate change, and 11 percent does not believe there is any warming at all.

To read about the survey and its results, go here.

I hardly know how to respond to these things anymore.  No wonder our politicians are not acting as if a fire has been lit under them.  It hasn’t.  And many of them share these beliefs.

As I have written before, I await the big Obama speech, like the one on racism or the many on our economic woes, where he clearly addresses the nation and lays out the stark reality.  But in order to get it right, he has to stop assuring us that economic growth can work in tandem with keeping our ecosystems from collapsing.  Instead, he needs to lay out the consequences of continuing to rip up the planet, sow toxins everywhere, alter the chemical and genetic makeup of the atmosphere and biosphere, all in the name of a magical notion of growth that can get us all back to the levels of expectations and comfort that came to a crashing halt last year.  Instead, he needs to begin to lay out the outlines of a new economics, an ecological economics that defines the limits of the human venture and how to equitably share those limits.

But here’s the other thing:  all of us, all our teachers, scientists, cultural leaders, religious leaders not wearing the blinders of anti-science fundamentalisms, journalists, theologians, and on and on must commit to the task of the education of the American people about the real world in which we live.  It seems crazy to have to say this in 2009, but there it is, right there in the Pew Research Center’s poll.


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6 Responses

  1. Jason Crow

    It’s really sad that there is so little awareness of the fact that we are trashing the planet at an staggering rate. I was in the car with two coworkers the other day and I mentioned something about the pacific garbage patch and they had never heard of it. I kind of felt like they thought I was some kind of crazy treehugger or something (I think I might be one). the majority of people have absolutely no idea what is going on. They think buying cases of eco shaped bottled water is good for the planet. We have been dumbed down and made into a consumer society that is going to crash hard.

  2. Margaret

    Our inability to preempt disaster is one of the most worrying aspects of the ecological crisis. Paul Krugman wrote on this over the weekend:

    ‘Boiling frog’ syndrome seems to be expression of our cultural pathology when it comes to climate change. We slog through another day not unlike the day before and ask, “what crisis?”

    It’s a beautiful, cool clear mid-July day in Wisconsin. What crisis?

    Pathological behavior does not lead to healthy results.


  3. Priscilla

    I think you’re right on when it comes to stretching President Obama’s vision. He isn’t clued in to ecological economics yet. I too despair about the climate change deniers. Their position is not just ignorant, it’s profoundly irresponsible. As in so many issues, the die-hard deniers are committed to a certain worldview–and so their position is impervious to reason. I had a grad student awhile back who wasn’t convinced even by the best evidence in the world, the IPCC 2007 report. What’s more, this person wasn’t interested in reason or in comparing evidence. I just don’t know what will get through to a person like that–except disaster, and then it will be too late for all of us. I just read Krugman this morning; he despairs about this one too. Anyway, thanks for your thoughts.

  4. Priscilla

    PS: Thanks especially for linking spirituality and economics. Too often they’re perceived as dealing with different worlds. A large part of addressing our ecological problem, I believe, will involve redirecting our spirituality toward THIS world–which in part involves bringing spirituality and economics into conversation with each other.

  5. Margaret

    I could not agree with you more. After all, THIS world is the only one we have. If our spirituality is not rooted HERE, then I think we have missed the point of Creation to begin with. And since economics are part of the construct of human society, how can an authentic spirituality not be in dialogue with it — and vice versa, for that matter.

  6. hombredelatierra

    This is a rather interesting document given that it issues from a Western Government, the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission. It’s long, over 100 pages but presents some interesting perspectives for the contemporary activist.

    They postulate an alternative economic model in which growth (interminable and unsustainable) is dethroned as the “motor” of prosperity. Other, human and community centered, values are presented as essentiel to human “flourishing”.

    The current mode of emulative, ostentatious overconsumption is presented – correctly, I believe – as a form of social or mass psychopathology: ecologically suicidal and, contrary to it’s proponents propaganda, fostering values and life styles inimical to human “flourishing” (mental, physical, spiritual and social health; life-affirming self-expression, positive affecting bonding..)

    I believe there is hope in the current darkness. Mother nature is sending us clear messages! GO BACK! GO BACK!

    No, some will refuse to listen; time will eliminate them. The “trick” for the activist today is to arm themselves with knowledge and whatever means they can to exploit the coming crises. It is at such “tipping points” (thresholds / Phase or State transitions) that action is most effective: everything balances on a feather. Events become fluid and can take new, unsuspected trajectories along novel pathways of evolution (“emergent phenomena”)

    We live in “Interesting Times” !!