Do we lack solutions (or just willpower)?
Do we lack solutions to our environmental problems or merely the will to implement them?
As I hope this blog has made clear over the last 12 months, our environmental problems are not the product of an over-active imagination; the result of a predisposition to being a doomsayer; or the fictional preamble to an insidious plan for worldwide authoritarian government – they are real.
They are also all inevitable consequences of the number of humans on the planet and the rate at which we are consuming, polluting, and/or destroying the Earth’s finite resources. In short, all our environmental problems are long-predicted Limits to Growth phenomena.
Even with only a rudimentary understanding of the basic Laws of Physics, this ought to be self-evident and incontestable. However, there are many people – either very wealthy or obsessed with becoming wealthy – who do not want to accept this reality. This led former World Bank economist Herman E Daly to conclude:
“Anyone who asserts the existence of limits is soon presented with a whole litany of things that someone once said could never be done but subsequently were done… but [c]ontinuing to study economies only in terms of the [exchange value of money] is like studying organisms only in terms of the circulatory system, without ever mentioning the digestive tract.”
Bearing all this in mind, I think a very important thing happened last week, which I hope will be a turning point in the long battle to rouse the bulk of humanity from its catatonic state of reality denial – in that one of the UK Government’s most senior scientific advisors has said that it is no longer realistic to think we can limit the rise in global average temperatures being caused by human activity to less than 2 Celsius: Professor Watson is a highly respected and world renown scientist on climate change policy and is currently Chief Scientist at the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and a former Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I really hope that this will be a game-changer; it certainly deserves to be: For the first time ever (that I can recall), the BBC publicised what he said as genuine news; with no attempt to provide a false balance with the opinions of those who claim nothing unusual is happening.
David Roberts has recently drawn attention to the probability that the prevailing view that unconventional hydrocarbons (oil shale gas in particular) represent the solution to our energy problems is a form of collective hypnosis. However, having recently finished reading parts 6 to 9 of Schalk Cloete’s 9-part series on the probability of an impending economic collapse, I think Professor Watson is right to say that our leaders lack the political will to change course. This is because, as Schalk shows – with typical crystal clarity – we are all (whether we like it or not) so deeply enmeshed in the Ponzi Scheme of Globalised Capitalism that it will be impossible to deconstruct it as fast as is now required.
In saying this, I would not want anyone to think of me as an anarchist – or even an anti-Capitalist – I consider myself to be merely a pragmatist and a realist. Indeed, as Schalk eventually demonstrates (in posts 8 and 9 of the series), there are simple solutions but no easy way to see how our political leaders will allow them to be implemented (because turkeys will never vote for Christmas). Despite this, we really must all stop being so compartmentalised in our thinking. Our economic and environmental problems are so intertwined it is not possible to solve any of them in isolation. A holistic problem requires a holistic solution. Arthur Mol, an early proponent of the concept of Ecological Modernisation, circumscribed the problem perfectly when he suggested that “a structural design fault of modernity” is causing “the institutionalised destruction of nature.” (For more on this subject, please see my Can modernisation ever be ecological? – Part 1 (24 September 2011)).
As Professor Watson notes, our leaders appear to lack the political will to change the system; and (as I have suggested) the analogy of turkeys not voting for Christmas may explain why this is the case. However, what are the solutions and why will they be so hard to implement? Well, even though Schalk’s discussion is focussed on the impending collapse of globalised economics, the solutions he proposes apply equally well to the environmental collapse that we have also brought upon ourselves:
Solutions to our problems
In his Healing the System post (part 8 of 9 in the Collapse series), Schalk posits four necessary changes required to the way the World currently operates:
– Minimise our use of products and services that consume non-renewable resources.
– Eliminate the massive inefficiencies of the globalised economics that drive this over-consumption.
– Pay off our all our ludicrous debts and re-establish individual financial resilience.
– Reduce over consumption in developed countries and excessive population growth in developing countries.
I know this is in danger of sounding like a Utopian dream to eliminate poverty and suffering; and establish World peace… but – as Learning from Dogs has recently reminded all those that will listen – David Roberts has a point; either we do something about all of this or we’re screwed.
Obstacles to implementation
In his Practical Challenges post (the final part in the Collapse series), Schalk highlights the following difficulties:
– Reducing consumption of non-renewable resources will require an entire culture shift to convince 100s of millions of people that consuming things does not make us happy.
– Restoring system efficiency will require the money to be spent on things that benefit society as a whole rather than an elite who are already very wealthy (turkeys and Christmas problem again).
– Reducing overall indebtedness will also require the dismantling of systems of power and control; power that has corrupted people, companies and entire governments (ditto).
– Reducing over-consumption (i.e. implementing austerity) is not easy at a time when people are obsessed with consumption and in the Age of Entitlement. In the meantime, although reducing population growth in developing countries through the education and emancipation of women is genuine work in progress, it is taking a long time; and time is a luxury we do not have.
Change the World begins at home
Echoing another recent post on Learning from Dogs, if we want to change the World; we must start by changing our own behaviour. This is the conclusion Schalk reaches too:
Honestly, the only practical solution I can see is a peaceful grassroots revolution of concerned individuals changing their lifestyles and talking to their friends… People simply need to wake up to this blindingly obvious fact and start incorporating it in their day-to-day consumption patterns… The One in a Billion project has been especially designed to make such individual action as easy and rewarding as at all possible. I am fully convinced that gradually implementing these sustainable lifestyle choices is the single most important thing that any one of the richest billion individuals on planet Earth can be doing right now.
I may have linked and/or dipped into it repeatedly above but, as it is so beautifully constructed, scripted and presented, I really would recommend reading Schalk’s entire series of posts from their beginning. So, if you have not already done so, start here.