Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Progressively worse

I'm free
   - The Who
Do what you like
  -  Blind Faith

       Perhaps in this political season, it is a good time to ask.  "Who will do more for sustainability, progressives, or conservatives ?   Which one will put us on the track toward a smaller ecological footprint?
       Given the fact that Republicans have made it an article of faith that there is no such thing as human caused climate change,  and progressives accept that inconvenient truth,  we naturally assume that progressives must have an appropriate response to climate change.   And to the other insults to our biosphere, such as destruction of habitats, over fishing, releases of toxic chemicals, etc.
       But do they?
        Which brings me to a recent post by Eric Lindberg  on   see here  Lindberg is a very thoughtful writer, and we'll worth reading.   His most recent post deals with Pope Francis ' s  recent Encyclical Letter, "On Care for Our Common Home ".   Lindberg takes up the Pope's letter as part of an ongoing series dealing with the notion of  Freedom.    He suggests that our modern view takes freedom, as the central value.  e.g.    "They hate our freedom". 
        Lindberg calls our modern capitalist liberal democracy ,  "liberalism" , whether is is "progressive"  or "conservative".      Both sorts of liberalism accept the same underlying view of the world, and humanity.   Humans are entitled to be free, free to take what the want, free to "develop", to acquire wealth,  and to modify the environment in the process.  This view assumes no boundaries, that there is always more, and it assumes that we are not connected to the rest of the world, what affects "nature", the "biosphere"  does  not affect us. Both accept the view that humans will continue to reap the benefits of "progress" ,  by providing more consumption to more people.  
         He says that progressives have embraced the Pope's views, under the mistaken view that he also shares these liberal doctrine.    But the Pope's analysis goes deeper.  Environmental ism, is not  really just another progressive movement.  He explains:         
"Previous liberal or progressive accomplishments, without an exception that I can think of, have all been struggles for increased freedom, or increased consumption, and often both, as progressive politics has increasingly united the two.  Whether we are talking about the abolition of slavery, the Nineteenth Amendment, or the end of the 12 hour work-day, the fight against the political or cultural subordination of ethnic minorities, even rural electrification, the creation of the FDA, or victory in Roe vs. Wade--at stake in each case was freedom and material progress--letting people both do what they want and have more.  To return to the language of freedom articulated by Mill, most progressive accomplishments have won the right for the previously excluded “of framing the plan of their life to suit their own character; of doing as they like.”
But here’s the problem: this progressive—“progress”-based approach--has now run into the oncoming walls of a closed world and has therefore nearly run its possible course.  Ecological devastation, including that caused by carbon dioxide emissions and the warming of the Earth, requires an entirely different kind of morality and politics; it is one that may seem inimical to the stated beliefs of most progressives, but also one that some of them (us) may have started to embrace, at least on the down-low.  Rather than increasing consumption, our common home requires that we limit consumption.  Even if we set aside the issue of climate change, as scientists have calculated it we the people of the Earth use up a year’s worth of renewable resources in about nine months; the remaining three months of consumption involve a permanent ecological “draw-down” of  non-renewable resources
There is no formula, then, according to which the entire planet might enjoy “the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly expanding standard of living.”  As Pope Francis notes, “we all know that it is not possible to sustain the present level of consumption in developed countries and wealthier sectors of society, where the habit of wasting and discarding has reached unprecedented levels” (27).  The neo-liberal view that through free-trade and enhanced technology we might all live like middle-class people in the wealthy segments of the world do now, Francis rightly argues, “is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.” (50).
Although most citizens of industrial nations--having very little experience in imagining drastically different and more simple ways of life--miss this part of the Pope’s message, Francis holds this scientific and moral ground without apology: in order to maintain the integrity of our ecosystems, the wealthy of the world are obligated to live more simply, not only wasting less, but using less.  This is not a life-style choice.  It is an obligation.  Our expectations and entitlements are no excuse for our consumption. This is a matter of life and death in our closed world where our luxury means that others cannot have enough simply to survive.
The American way of life, in short, amounts to transnational and cross-generational genocide.  Although he doesn’t explicitly call consumption out as a sin, probably for strategic reasons, it certainly meets all the relevant criteria Francis would maintain, violating god’s law, despoiling his creation, and doing deathly harm to others.  Except according a moral code where might makes right, there can be no justification for many of the daily activities of the world’s wealthy middle class, not to mention the second homes, the airplane travel, the recreational vehicles, the in-home luxuries, the endless and all too banal array of clothes, novelties, and bewildering world of constant novelty and amusement.  Look around the room you are in.  Most of what you see, Francis would argue, is morally unjustifiable.  Thou shalt not kill, and all this stuff is killing.

         Of course, progressives and conservatives have different views,  but essentially the difference is about how to divide up the spoils.  The spoils of our unsustainable enterprise.  The progressives want to give the poor, minorities, and  woman a slice of the pie.   But they generally assume a growing pie - endless growth.
      Thus Bernie Sanders, who says that Climate Change represents the biggest that to national security,, also calls for a GDP growth rate of 5.3%.
   It appears that the Pope "gets it".   But do "progressive environmentalists"?     I am reminded of Paul Kings Norths article , explaining why he could no longer be an "environmentalist" 
"For fifteen years I have been an environmental campaigner and writer. For two of these years I was deputy editor of the Ecologist. I campaigned against climate change, deforestation, overfishing, landscape destruction, extinction and all the rest. I wrote about how the global economic system was trashing the global ecosystem. I did all the things that environmentalists do. But after a while, I stopped believing it.
There were two reasons for this. The first was that none of the campaigns were succeeding, except on a very local level. More broadly, everything was getting worse. The second was that environmentalists, it seemed to me, were not being honest with themselves. It was increasingly obvious that climate change could not be stopped, that modern life was not consistent with the needs of the global ecosystem, that economic growth was part of the problem, and that the future was not going to be bright, green, comfy and 'sustainable' for ten billion people but was more likely to offer decline, depletion, chaos and hardship for all of us. Yet we all kept pretending that if we just carried on campaigning as usual, the impossible would happen."

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