Tuesday, April 22, 2008

In a departure from my usual and mostly affable frivolity :: OR :: on the periphery of meaningful discourse

I’m going to [try to] talk knowledgably about this absurd piece of rhetoric: “Can Capitalism Save Climate Change?”

Someone gigantically important, no make that monumental, to my head asked me for my views on this idea, saying my advice on this matter would be pertinent since I am among, as he’s most generously and somewhat inaccurately suggested, “…the wisest people I know”. [And, since his views are “mostly unprintable”.]

I put on my most formidable expression and off I went on a resolute search across world wide web for some borrowed ideas and pert observations in a foolish attempt to live up to this false reputation. [Some types of adoration are certifiably injurious to one’s respectability.]

However, notwithstanding how I feel about the act of seeking borrowed intelligence on the matter, I’ll get on with my findings [observations is just too dishonest] or at the very least offer you a chronological account of all the adventures I’ve had across the ether net.

Sailing along Google, I first chanced by George Reisman.

An objectivist and strident advocate of laissez faire capitalism, he believes environmentalists at their moderate best are enthusiastic naïve, blinkered do-gooders and at their extremist worst, a bunch of fascists doomsday alarmists.

In Reisman’s worldview, the UN is the new harbinger of a mutant and vilely insidious form of Communism and [hold your breath] Nazism: Environmentalism. In an illustrious piece on his blog, he says:

“Environmentalism [here Reisman’s referring to the Environmentalist take on it]: The pursuit of individual self-interest causes global warming, acid rain, and ozone depletion. It must be replaced by self-sacrifice for the good of other species—our "fellow biota"—and for the good of the planet, under the auspices of international treaties and a nascent Global Socialist State: the UN. Most of the human race must be exterminated for the benefit of exploited species and the planet. (This is what the environmentalist “extremists” already openly say. The “moderates” merely want to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 90 percent and thereby reduce the American standard of living to that of a third world country, with a third world country’s infant mortality and life expectancy.)


From Reisman’s perch, the world is clearly divided into Capitalist and Environmentalist. If you’re pro-environment, you’re against progress. And of course, American = Person. All other existences are one messy puddle of indistinguishable life form.

But let’s be optimistic. Let’s assume that Reisman provides a critical balance to this raging debate on Capitalism vs. Global Warming. Let’s assume that his is the voice that represents an absent army of bottom line enshrouded corporate sultans whose voices are vaulted away with their hefty bank balances – who are not present, simply because it doesn’t interest them to lend a voice to this tiresome rant about the environment. Trivial things like an obscure ozone layer, landslides in fucking half-the-globe-around and the migration patterns of Siberian cranes are clearly not their concerns, well within the periphery of reason.

Let’s assume, also, and let’s be frank in assuming this, that he gives resonance to that little voice in our heads [my head] which really doesn’t put much faith by the idea of eco-friendly practices leading to viable solutions to anything that will ever be efficient or affordable. A voice that somewhere genuinely believes that material progress is antithetical to being sensitive toward the ecology.

This libertarian voice of Reason goes on to say that we must accept global climatic changes and other such ecological disturbances as the inevitable byproducts of industrialisation, rather than view industrialisation as an infringement on the rights of other species [and people from third world countries and the world at large]. He implies that by being the easiest way forward, industrialisation is also the most natural way forward. It is within the scheme of evolution.

To quote him again:

“…Before any implication for action can be present, additional information is required.

One essential piece of information is the comparative valuation attached to retaining industrial civilization versus avoiding global warming. If one values the benefits provided by industrial civilization above the avoidance of the losses alleged to result from global warming, it follows that nothing should be done to stop global warming that destroys or undermines industrial civilization. That is, it follows that global warming should simply be accepted as a byproduct of economic progress and that life should go on as normal in the face of it.

(Of course, there are projections of unlikely but nevertheless possible extreme global warming in the face of which conditions would be intolerable. However, as I explain below, to deal with such a possibility, it is necessary merely to find a different method of cooling the earth than that of curtailing the use of fossil fuels; I also show that such methods are already at hand.)

In fact, if it comes, global warming, in the projected likely range, will bring major benefits to much of the world. Central Canada and large portions of Siberia will become similar in climate to New England today. So too, perhaps, will portions of Greenland. The disappearance of Arctic ice in summer time, will shorten important shipping routes by thousands of miles. Growing seasons in the North Temperate Zone will be longer. Plant life in general will flourish because of the presence of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere…”

The assumption is that life – regardless of its form – if it flourishes, is sufficient justification for the unnatural [defined as ‘through man-made conditions’ here] obliteration of millions of other species, because shorter shipping routes are evidently more critical in the larger scheme of things.

To push for a stronger case, he adds, defining a clear polarity of intention:

“…The environmental movement does not value industrial civilization. It fears and hates it. It does not value human life, which it regards merely as one of earth’s “biota,” of no greater value than any other life form, such as spotted owls or snail darters. To it, the loss of industrial civilization is of no great consequence. It is a boon…”

Reisman goes on to bring to our notice another scientific finding, in favour of his argument.

“…two ice ages having apparently occurred in the face of carbon levels in the atmosphere 16 times greater than that of today, millions of years before mankind’s appearance on earth…”

He has a point. Any geologist will have you know that the Earth is in a constant state of flux. Land, water, climate, species that exist and even the shape of the globe; regardless of human presence, things are going to continue to turn. Rivers are going to change their courses, the seas are going to expand and contract, and species of every life form will continue to flourish and die out.

But what he omits to point out is the rate at which it’s happening now. In the last two hundred years [economists and environmental scientists safely – because they must prove it – peg it at developments since the 1950s, which is all the more alarming], the kind of ecological imbalances we’ve set in motion are perhaps equivalent to [or far more extensive than] what we’ve managed over a slower, less synthetic process in the last several millennia predating these two hundred years, which in scale is certainly not as trivial as something to be brushed aside as a mere byproduct of something [industrial civilisation.]

However, what is undeniably attractive about Reisman’s perspective is that he forges on with an exuberant and glorious faith in human intelligence [that abhorrent word again.] His argument hinges on the objectivist notion that the sole moral responsibility of the ideal human is to seek happiness – which is a biologically developed barometer for measuring how successful one is in the pursuit of one’s life purpose. So humans must essentially act for the better of their own kind. He forgets that we measure our purpose in human lifespans, and invariably future generations [whatever lip service we may pay] are never a part of the plan. Why else would America not sign the Kyoto protocol?

However, not all economists subscribe to this extreme viewpoint in favour of an almost fanatical notion of capitalism.

During Nicholas Stern’s tenure as an economist with the World Bank [I shan’t get into the controversy surrounding WB’s involvement in development projects around the world, now] his team wrote up a report, now famously known as The Stern Report, which speaks of the imminent and serious dangers of abusing the environment. It then goes on to draw up a viable economic plan for how developed nations of the world should plough back a percentage of their GDP into environmental damage control.

Sounds reasonably sensible – in a moderate sort of way, na?

While Wikipedia lists an impressive compilation of quotes from Nobel laureate economists over the years congratulating Stern’s report for being the first of its kind to have opened up scope for finding viable ways of addressing the issue of environmental damages without trying to change the order of the world, it too has received scathing criticism. For a faulty calculation of discount rates. Yes, right, my response too. Discount who?


I had to stop here with this post. Because it went on in this vein for a while, over a week really. Looking for a nicely compact little watertight idea on healing the environment turned into this messy slow march through a marsh of many conflicting views with no clarity in sight [such a visually loaded sentence, straight out of the Sundarbans. Ah irony.]

And now, I have nothing to show for my diligence. Just a very muddled, alarmed, hopeless head which I am increasingly tempted to bury in a mound of sand [because flushing wastes too much water].

So I’ve dashed off three to four paragraphs of some very crisp words to Monumentally Important Person detailing: a.) my abysmal level of awareness, followed by b.) my views [nonetheless, since you asked] outlining a largely sketchy [at this stage] plan on how political bodies at international, national and local should work it out, ending off with c.) my cheeriest and best wishes for a fantastic debate. Love H.

Uff. I hate compromising my wisdom with such emails.

And now I must leave you with this absolute gem of a quote, which M – the best friend – believes I have fallen in love with just because of the way it’s been phrased [can you believe how absolutely annoyingly right some people can be?]:

“…millions of people in the United Kingdom [H note: this could be true across the globe] who are happy to be described as “environmentalists” remain acutely reluctant even to acknowledge the ideological heartland of what they call “environmentalism”, and are so depoliticised that any mention of the bigger capitalist picture sends them running off back to their bird-boxes and gently simmering organic lentils…”
– Sir Jonathon Porritt


Before I run off to my little birdbox, here’s a little note for those of you [all one of you] who’ve made it to these last words.

Since I’ve written a spectacular amount [if we can overlook the quote-unquote] concluding nothing, do share your ideas on this… If you send them in soon enough, perhaps MIP could make use of them – with due credit of course.


B Ditty said...

Hmm well I am but 20 years old and do not think much about climate change. So I fear any comment I might leave will sounds abundantly uneducated. Perhaps I'll just say...plant more trees?

Prometheus said...

Fart less. That's what Prometheus does in his 2 bits of environmentalism.

Prometheus hopes H will not write science, technology and geopolitics too often. Prometheus hopes H will continue to write her own genre-defining stuff.

And Prometheus is still cross. He never called H 'America' but she called him unmentionables. Prometheus thinks H hates him, which isn't quite unnatural for normal humans.

H said...

Ben, planting more trees is good too... however, in your individual capacity, what do you do?

Prom, no no no no no! H does NOT hate Prom. H did NOT call Prom unmentionables. She almost did. Accidentally. Which is not so bad. c'mon. There IS a brighter side.

Oh dear. I agree, H shouldn't ever try to be relevant. It is like addressing mathematical problems atop the faraway tree: if twenty blackbirds sat in a blueberry bush and three flew away, how many apple pies for lunch?

Somewhere, deep inside the H-head, a failed journalist has just shrivelled up and almost died [almost, because there's no space for another burial].

But here's a plaque for the best possible solution [btw, did you know that an insane amount of greenhouse gases are produced by animals?]: "For a Flatulence Free World - Shri Prom"