Sunday, May 9, 2010

Going Green

A few years ago, a friend sent me a copy of Jared Diamond's Collapse. A few days ago, I came across a note about the book to my friend in my files recently, and decided that some of it bears reprinting. Since that time, Diamond has been sued for inaccurate reporting. The suit has yet to be decided, and I don't yet know if Diamond's research is questionable in other matters. In any event, my general reaction to Collapse, a book about social failures through environmental disasters is, "well, yes." Diamond spells it out, dots the 'i's and crosses the 't's, but I've been aware of the basic risks of ecological collapse for many years. I quoted this in 1991 from a 1970 Gregory Bateson lecture. (Regular readers will recognize the repetition—sorry, folks.)
If you put God outside and set him vis-a-vis his creation and if you have the idea that your are created in his image, you will logically and naturally see yourself as outside and against the things around you. And as you arrogate all mind to yourself, you will see the world as mindless and therefore not entitled to moral or ethical consideration. The environment will seem to be yours to exploit. Your survival unit will be your and your folks or conspecifics against the environment of other social units, other races, and the brutes and vegetables.

If this is your estimate of your relation to nature and you have an advanced technology, your likelihood of survival will be that of a snowball in hell. You will die either of the toxic by-products of your own hate, or, simply, of overpopulation and overgrazing. The raw materials of the world are finite.

If I am right, the whole of our thinking about what we are and what other people are has got to be restructured. This is not funny, and I do not know how long we have to do it in. …
Bateson nailed it, on purely theoretical considerations of philosophy, back in 1970: humans are part of an ecological system and to survive we must understand that and respect it. Bateson was not, of course, the first philosopher to make such an observation, but it is a more urgent one now than ever. If we are to survive, we must change our thinking. The need for ethics, laws, and customs that protect the planetary ecology and control the human population is crying.

I do have a few thoughts on the matter, but it must be stressed that putting any ideas into effect will involve wrenching economic and political change. We need, I suppose, a spiritual transformation that will make the necessary changes acceptable and how to achieve that I have no idea; globally we are in such a horrible state of paralysis that it is hard to get many of us to accept even minor change. That said, here's a very short list of steps we might take, if we could agree to undertake them:
  1. Take powerful symbolic steps. Reforest Easter Island and Iceland, to start with.
  2. Start a well-funded crash research program to find out what we need. How many people can live on the earth at the standard of living we seem to desire? How much of the wild must we preserve or restore?
  3. Educate women worldwide; distribute contraceptive technology widely. Quite apart from the ethical considerations that demand this, it will reduce the growth in population; it may even be all that is required to reduce human population to more reasonable levels.
  4. Phase out all ecologically destructive subsidies as quickly as possible; where there are no major hardships likely, abandon them immediately.
  5. Financially, treat forested land--and all wild ecosystems--as what it in fact is: valuable. Set up "ecosystem trusts" as keepers of valuable land and if someone wants to turn the land to some other purpose, charge. If the other use of the land is less valuable than its developed use, the fund can repurchase and restore the land.
  6. In a related step, implement emissions trading schemes and keep working on them until all the major chemical cycles of air and water are balanced.
  7. Use as much solar energy for heating and cooling as possible; it is technically feasible to do without most of our active climate control systems and it is time to start.
I have tried in these recommendations to hew to market and vote; they are still going to be terribly difficult to implement, amounting to the sudden imposition of a great many new taxes and regulations and establishing a whole new class of rights. Still, considering that the alternatives are the collapse of human civilization or globe-spanning tyranny, it is time to start.

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