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Is CO2 distracting us from solving ‘real’ problems?

January 18, 2010

Responding to a Guardian article (US cult of greed is now a global environmental threat, report warns), a poster in the CiF forum said this:

It’s sad the whole CO2 debate has distracted so many from all the other dilemmas we are facing…You can lead a horse to water, you can’t make it drink.

It’s also true that you can lead a horse to data but you can’t make it think.

I do not believe we are being ‘distracted’ by the CO2 debate. It is, in my view, the over-arching dilemma, of which all the others have now become a subset. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to make this the priority because those people having a hard time now are also predicted to be those who bear the brunt of climate change. If we are to help the disadvantaged, should we not address first those issues that will affect them most profoundly? And this is not to say that other initiatives are stalled, ignored or marginalised, but perhaps they just receive less coverage now?

But there is something more profound going on here that I think may lead you to the conclusion reached. In my view, there are many diverse and problematic issues coming to a head all at once: population growth, peak oil and gas, the historic residue of colonial exploitation, climate change, the profound imbalance in education and democratic values between the developed and developing worlds, a growing resentment in the latter that the riches they were promised if only they did what they were told by the World Bank, the IMF and the west, will now be denied them, the constancy and predictability of economic collapse, the failure of pensions and savings, the demonisation of the disaffected who dare to complain or object, the growing hysteria and irresponsibility of the media…all this and more is both sign and signal that the paradigm of consumerism, of capitalism itself, is failing.

Change is inevitable. It is the only constant in a universe driven by unending chaos. We humans have tried for our entire history to oppose change, but that’s one battle we always lose and always will. Right now, we have collectively an opportunity to embrace change for the good – and how we go about it is the discussion we should be having now – but we remained mired in faux-democratic nonsense in which so many of us appear to believe we can carry on the way we do now, and advocates of this fundamental revisionism will resort to any means to foist their agenda on us.

I don’t think mankind will extinguish itself. I do think we have made great, if uneven, progress – as badly distributed as those benefits are – but as things come to a head and we waste the opportunity to manage change, it will inevitably be forced on us. If we wait until the shit hits the fan, it will be testament to nothing more than our perpetual hubris and stupidity, and we’ll get exactly what we deserve.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. markhb permalink
    February 12, 2010 10:28 pm

    In short -I agree, but am interested in your very last phrase “we’ll get exactly what we deserve”. We humans are not a homogenous group. In fact getting the Nation states to cooperate is like herding cats.

    The nature of evolution is such that a species “like” man is bound to emerge in order to fill the niche of greedy adaptable omnivorous exploiter.
    Is it intrinsically our genetic makeup to self destruct? Or can we further “evolve” into a more cooperative & coordinated group that accepts with generosity the limits of the planet?

    Just thinking.

  2. gpwayne permalink*
    February 13, 2010 8:14 am

    On nation states – sure. But they do not represent the individual, hence the disconnect between what we want and what they do. More forces are in play than merely our best interests.

    It is fundamental to my whole philosophy and analysis that we as individuals must take more responsibility. I argue that institutions always betray us, and that the nature of power means they will always do so. So when I opine that ‘we’ll get exactly what we deserve’ this is a view predicated on that responsibility and our failure to meet it. I look at the way teachers, fireman attending fires, ambulance crews and others get physically attacked, and I think – this is the reaction of people who do not accept the world they live in is the product of their own irresponsibility. Consequently, they take out their anger on the nearest representative of the state, of authority, of responsibility.

    The concomitant argument is therefore that we are not programmed to self destruct. We are programmed to get some grub and lie down when we’ve eaten it, preferably next to something we can bonk. Beyond that, it’s up to us to stir ourselves, make things, do things, discover things, change things and, best of all, improve things.

    I see this as the great paradox of human existance – the simultaneous ability to create and destroy. It’s our choice then (or so I maintain) and not our fate.

    Just thinking? Me too… 🙂

  3. markhb permalink
    February 13, 2010 10:13 pm

    We think alike my friend.

  4. markhb permalink
    February 14, 2010 12:38 am

    So if we are programmed to get grub, sleep & bonk; surely unless we moderate and limit those tendencies (either self limiting or imposing those limits on populations or a combination) then that is in itself enough to cause us to self destruct, simply because we have been so successful at the execution of our programming.
    I am interested in your assertion that the very nature of power means that institutions will ALWAYS betray us, and am not sure how that is derived. I have always presumed that institutions are a necessary organisational tool for a competitive densely populated society, and that an evolutionary process will eventually dictate which types of institution and combinations thereof are most efficient and appropriate within different cultures.

  5. gpwayne permalink*
    February 16, 2010 11:41 am

    I’m not sure we need to limit what I have described – rather frivolously – as the evolutionary needs. Our programming are imperatives of survival. What makes us so interesting as a species is that some of us, instead of lying down after a bit of grub, actually look to the horizon and wonder what’s over there. A few then get up, start walking, and the next thing you know we’re up to our necks in science, industrial revolutions and the like.

    As for institutions, this is a reflection on the nature of power. Institutions gain power over those they are meant to serve, and the conflict between the desire to serve and the desire to maintain authority and power is confused. Machiavelli’s The Prince lays out the logic of power, where keeping power becomes the priority. What one does with that power is self-reinforcing, where it is used firstly to maintain that power. The good works – like all good intentions – becomes subsumed by the understanding that without power, no good works can be done at all.

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