There is something fundamentally wrong with living like this

Posted May 18th, 2009 in Blog, Featured 2 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

Well, Congress will be teeing off in the great cap-and-trade debate this week (see also, Climate Bill Seeks a Broad Coalition), with many Democrats struggling to get meaningful carbon dioxide reductions written into law, while Dems from big fossil fuel producing states join with Republicans to struggle for the ongoing right of industry to waste and harm our planet in the name of economic growth and jobs, as if we have no other way to put people to work.

We are not big fans of cap-and-trade since it creates yet another market for profit-making corporations (which some lawmakers worry will subject this strategy to the same market manipulation that just brought down our whole financial system)  when what we really need to reduce emissions is for all of us to start paying for the damage we are doing, for the true costs of fossil fuels.  Carbon taxes, fossil fuel use taxes, would get most of us using dramatically less energy, which is the direction we must go, and will have to go in any case once the fossil fuels begin to run short — not too long from now.

This does not increase profits for the fossil fuel industry, and guess what industry is a major contributor to congressional electoral campaigns?  (See: Big Oil Protects Its Interests, and Lobbying Spending Database Coal Mining.)  If Congress is bought by the coal, oil, and gas industries, what are the chances of getting meaningful, adequate legislation to get this nation, the world’s number one per capita CO2 emitter, to sharply reduce emissions as quickly as possible (and we mean ‘possible’ in practical terms, not in terms that protect profits and do not involve some serious economic jolts)?

The mainstream on this issue is still looking for ways to do this without impacting current economic growth models, corporate structures, or the frameworks of wealth generation and consumer-driven trade regimes.  THIS IS NOT POSSIBLE.  WE DO ACTUALLY HAVE TO DECIDE BETWEEN TWO DIFFERENT TRAJECTORIES.  Don’t let them fool you otherwise.

Energy footprint by region - The Sustainable Scale Project

Energy footprint by region - The Sustainable Scale Project

Now, there are two ways to get ready for the post-fossil fuel future — by disaster or by deliberation that takes the planet and the welfare of the majority of human beings into account, those human beings who do not benefit from this deeply entrenched industrial capitalist economy.  We can get there by way of chaos and breakdown, or by way of preplanning, getting ourselves used to a new way of life before we are forced into it — because at that point, really terrible things will already be happening (are happening now, actually).

So, we root for Congress to do something meaningful.  We hope you will all get involved – vociferously — in this national debate, one of the more crucial of our time.  But something more than this is required here, far more.

There is something fundamentally wrong with the way we live. Our way of life, our economies of ‘growth,’ depend upon vast destruction of the ecosystems of our planet.  Most biological creatures are smarter than we self-aware college-educated Homo sapiens sapiens.  Most biological creatures are tuned in to when they are in danger.

Alberta tar sands - Google Earth

Alberta tar sands - Google Earth

Here is my example for the day, a standard favorite of mine, right up there with mountaintop removal coal-mining, this article about Canada’s oil tar sands from today’s NY Times, Report Weighs Fallout of Canada’s Oil Sands.

Just look at the scale of the devastation we are talking about.  The physical destruction of the land is horrific enough, but when you add all the other elements that go into this mode of oil/gas production, like the immense amounts of water used to force the oil out of the sands, and then what it services — the ongoing growth monster of fossil-fuel-based industry and transportation — this begins to look like what an old Catholic like me might call mortal sin, as opposed to the lesser venial sin — the kind that condemns you for all eternity — which is what we are doing to the current species alive on our planet, including us, by this way of life.

Again, the ‘wrong’ is fundamental.  It is not about new policies to make this way of life a little less awful in its impact on the planet.  There are no quick or easy fixes within the economics of growth that can fix our predicament.  We must learn how to live differently — fundamentally.

Are we ready for this?  Because that is the heart of the matter, the essence of our struggle to preserve the rich and diverse ecosystems of the planet within which we are embedded.  We human beings must learn how to live with a fundamentally new framework of meaning built upon a fundamentally different set of values.  We know this; we actually know this.  But we are afraid to take this leap into the unknown of our future.

But trust me, that unknown looks far less scary than the future we know if we continue on this course.  Oh my goodness, we have got to stop tearing at the heart of this beautiful planet in order to keep up the profit margins of energy companies and to enhance comfort, convenience and wealth generation for the affluent of our world, or to preserve the power base of elected politicians.

The change required is fundamental, and we can start living that change within our world right now.

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2 Responses

  1. Steven Earl Salmony

    Yes, definitely yes, there is something fundamentally and vitally wrong with the way leaders in the world’s predominant culture are choosing to live because the lifestyles and values of these economic powerbrokers, their bought-and-paid-for politicians and their absurdly enriched talking heads in the mainstream media are soon to become patently unsustainable and ruinous of life as we know it on Earth.

    Culture presents us with much that is real and also less that is illusory. From a psychological standpoint, because humans are shaped early and pervasively by cultural transmissions in our perception of reality, it is an evolutionary challenge for humankind to see the world as it is. Since the eighteenth century human beings in our culture have sought to find the actual causes of things, to figure out how things really work and to gain knowledge of what the world in which we live is truly like.

    Not only do we seek to establish what is real about the physical world, we also strive to gain knowledge of what is real about the self and society. Of course, to the social scientists falls the task of uncovering the misperceptions of individuals as well as of peoples within the world’s socio-cultural aggregates.

    I am a psychologist. When a psychologist thinks a patient is suffering from a mental illness, that is an evidence-based clinical judgment. However, general standards of normalcy are not clinical judgments, but matters of socio-cultural norms and conventions that are full of correctly perceived aspects of reality as well as some misperceptions of reality. Deeply disturbed mental patients distort reality drastically. By contrast, social organizations like nation-states as well as cultures appear not to misperceive reality so sharply, yet distortions of what peoples perceive do remain. A term of art in psychology is useful here, folie a deux. The term means that two people share an identical distortion of reality. This understanding leads to other terms, folie a deux cent million for a social order or folie a deux billion for a culture. These terms refer to a misperception of reality commonly held by many people of a society or culture. One way to define the highest standard of what is “normal” for the individual and for people in a particular culture could be looked at in terms of what is free of illusion, what is in scientific fact real.

    People can and do choose to politicize science, particularly the science regarding the activities of the human population on Earth, by using science selectively to promote personal self-interests, to support a social status quo or to buttress religious dogma. But I would like to submit to you that these are perverse uses of science.

    At least to me, in these early years of Century XXI humanity could be confronted with daunting, human-driven global challenges, ones already dimly visible on the far horizon. It is inconceivable that the human community can respond ably to whatever challenges present themselves in the years just ahead if we choose not to so much as acknowledge, much less adequately address, that certain adamantly maintained cultural transmissions regarding the consumption, production and propagation activities of the human species on Earth may have served to mesmerize many scientists into thinking that the humankind is somehow not an integral part of the natural world and ultimately not subject to biophysical limits to growth that are ultimately imposed on living things by a finite planet with the size and makeup of Earth.

  2. Steven Earl Salmony

    The leaders of the family of humanity can do better and I trust all of us, leaders and followers alike, will choose necessary behavioral change rather than the profane maintenance of a morally disengaged and patently unsustainable socioeconomic status quo. Socioeconomic reasoning is feeble, fundamentally flawed reasoning, and suggests its inconsequentiality, because such “self-interested” reasoning is faulty; it has everything to do with what is economically expedient and socially suitable {as well as politically convenient, religiously tolerable and culturally prescribed} and nothing to do intellectual honesty, moral courage and an appreciation of the practical requirements of biophysical reality. What is often called socioeconomic reasonng is a kind of ‘reasoning’ that cannot lead the human community to meaningfully embrace sustainable lifestyles, to sensibly protect biodiversity and to recognize the necessity for preserving Earth and its environs.

    The leaders of the human family will continue to adamantly insist that everyone live as they do, without regard either to human limits or Earth’s limitations and in evidently unsustainable ways, I suppose, and our children will learn {the hard way} from their not-so-great elders the price to be paid for unadulterated arrogance and unbridled greed of a single generation.

    The brightest and best, most powerful advocates of socioeconomic reasoning are leading the children down a “primrose path” to some sort of colossal ecologic and/or economic wreckage, I fear, the likes of which only Ozymandias has witnessed.