Democratic Underground Latest Greatest Lobby Journals Search Options Help Login
Google

Grist: The fallacy of climate activism

Printer-friendly format Printer-friendly format
Printer-friendly format Email this thread to a friend
Printer-friendly format Bookmark this thread
This topic is archived.
Home » Discuss » Topic Forums » Environment/Energy Donate to DU
 
GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 09:22 AM
Original message
Grist: The fallacy of climate activism
The fallacy of climate activism

by Adam D. Sacks

In the 20 years since we climate activists began our work in earnest, the state of the climate has become dramatically worse, and the change is acceleratingthis despite all of our best efforts. Clearly something is deeply wrong with this picture. What is it that we do not yet know? What do we have to think and do differently to arrive at urgently different outcomes?

I think that there are two serious errors in our perspectives on greenhouse gases:

The first error is our failure to understand that greenhouse gases are not a cause but a symptom, and addressing the symptom will do little but leave us with a devils sack full of many other symptoms, possibly somewhat less rapidly lethal but lethal nonetheless.

The root cause, the source of the symptoms, is 300 years of our relentlessly exploitative, extractive, and exponentially growing technoculture, against the background of ten millennia of hierarchical and colonial civilizations. This should be no news flash, but the seductive promise of endless growth has grasped all of us civilized folk by the collective throat, led us to expand our population in numbers beyond all reason and to commit genocide of indigenous cultures and destruction of other life on Earth.

The second error is our stubborn unwillingness to understand that the battle against greenhouse-gas emissions, as we have currently framed it, is over.

It is absolutely over and we have lost.

We have to say so.

There are three primary components of escalating greenhouse-gas concentrations that are out of our control:

(GG: snip reasons, but they are compelling: lag times, positive feedback loops and non-linearity.)

Bitter climate truths are fundamentally bitter cultural truths. Endless growth is an impossibility in the physical world, alwaysbut alwaysending in overshot and collapse. Collapse: with a bang or a whimper, most likely both. We are already witnessing it, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.

If we climate activists dont tell the truth as well as we know itwhich we have been loathe to do because we ourselves are frightened to speak the wordsthe public will not respond, notwithstanding all our protestations of urgency.

And contrary to current mainstream climate-activist opinion, contrary to all the pointless focus groups, contrary to the endless speculation on correct framing, the only way to tell the truth is to tell it. All of it, no matter how terrifying it may be.

It is offensive and condescending for activists to assume that people cant handle the truth without environmentalists finding a way to make it more palatable. The public is concerned, we vaguely know that something is desperately wrong, and we want to know more so we can try to figure out what to do. The response to An Inconvenient Truth, as tame as that film was in retrospect, should have made it clear that we want to know the truth.

And finally, denial requires a great deal of energy, is emotionally exhausting, fraught with conflict and confusion. Pretending we can save our current way of life derails us and sends us in directions that lead us astray. The sooner we embrace the truth, the sooner we can begin the real work.

Lets just tell it.

After we tell the truth, then what can we do? Is it hopeless? Perhaps. But before we can have the slightest chance of meaningful action, having told the truth, we have to face the climate reality, fully and unflinchingly. If we base our planning on false premisessuch as the oft-stated stutter that reducing our greenhouse-gas emissions will forestall the worst effects of global warmingwe can only come up with false solutions. Solutions that will make us feel better as we tumble toward the end, but will make no ultimate difference whatsoever.

Furthermore, we can and must pose the problem without necessarily providing the solutions. I cant tell you how many climate activists have scolded me, You cant state a problem like that without providing some solutions. If we accept that premise, all of scientific inquiry as well as many other kinds of problem-solving would come to a screeching halt. The whole point of stating a problem is to clarify questions, confusions, and unknowns, so that the problem statement can be mulled, chewed, and clarified to lead to some meaningful answers, even though the answers may seem to be out of reach.

Here is the problem statement as it is beginning to unfold for me. We are all a part of struggling to develop this thinking together:

We must leave behind 10,000 years of civilization; this may be the hardest collective task weve ever faced. It has given us the intoxicating power to create planetary changes in 200 years that under natural cycles require hundreds of thousands or millions of yearsbut none of the wisdom necessary to keep this Pandoras Box tightly shut. We have to discover and re-discover other ways of living on earth.

All that being said, we neednt discard all that weve learned, far from it. But we must use our knowledge with great discretion, and lock much of it away as so much nuclear weaponry and waste.

Time is running very short, but the forgiveness of this little blue orb in a vast lonely universe will continue to astonish and nourish usif we only give it the chance.

Our obligation as activists, the first step, the essence, is to part the cultural veil at long last, and to tell the truth.

More at the link.

It's precisely this understanding that has caused me to shift the focus of my attention over the last year. We may not be able to alter the trajectory of climate change, or Peak Oil, or complexity-induced social failures, or a hundred and one ecological horrors. We can, however, change the trajectory of human beings. Working singly, in small and large groups, we can spread the memes of sustainability, cooperation, interdependence, compassion and awakening, so that no matter what happens we will be better prepared and able to remain fully human in the face of change.

Others will dismiss such an approach, and will brand any speculation about whether it might be too late as tantamount to treason. That's fine with me. We need people who are willing to battle these long odds in every way they can, since we won't know what the the future holds until it arrives. But a commitment to telling the truth, to ourselves and each other, has to be the one value shared by both camps. And the truth is that people like Adam Sacks and the growing community of people who are choosing altermative responses to this crisis might, in fact, be right.
Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
Bigmack Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 11:51 AM
Response to Original message
1. Our THIRD error
is our quaint little belief that facts will persuade the Great Unwashed. Ms Bigmack
Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 12:29 PM
Response to Reply #1
4. Pretty much.
That's why I've stopped banging that drum in front of the house of humanity, and have started looking for a back door.
Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
tama Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 05:43 PM
Response to Reply #4
15. Hey
don't stop banging that drum. Drumming together, bodies vibrating and tears rising, brings much healing. :)
Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 12:12 PM
Response to Original message
2. Article summed up: AGW is a symptom of technology, we must abandon most technology.
Does anyone here actually agree with that?

I blame industrial capitalism, not technology, but that's just me.
Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 12:31 PM
Response to Reply #2
5. No.
Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 01:56 PM
Response to Reply #5
6. Here's what he said:
How do we survive in a world that will probably turn—is already turning, for many humans and non-humans alike—into a living hell? How do we even grow or gather food or find clean water or stay warm or cool while assaulted by biblical floods, storms, rising seas, droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, snow, and hail?

It is crystal clear that we cannot leave it to the technophiliacs. It is human technology coupled with our inability to comprehend, predict, and prevent unintended consequences that have brought us global catastrophe, culminating in climate disruption, in the first place. Desperate hopes notwithstanding, there are no high-tech solutions here, only wishful thinking—the tools that got us into this mess are incapable of getting us out.


This simply isn't true. Science, technology, *proved* that CO2 would cause us problems more than 30 years ago. We *understood* the problem long before it became apparent. It's that our *society* simply said "oh well."

So while the author pretends to know the "truth" for the symptoms, he simply fails to recognize the actual cause. Not technology, but the society in which it was developed.
Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 02:36 PM
Response to Reply #6
7. I disagree that that's an appropriate summary of the article.
My takeaway goes something like, "It's too late to stop or appreciably mitigate climate change. No one is telling people that simple, stark truth. It's time to tell people the truth."

The fact that he brings in technology (which is at least the proximate cause of climate change) as one of the things we should examine very skeptically does not make that the point of the article. It's just the point that triggered you.

I will say that I think Sacks screwed up royally by including "leaving behind 10,000 years of civilization" in the problem statement. That might have some place in a discussion of proposed solutions, but while it's clear that technology got us into this mess, it's far from clear that abandoning it would get us out. In fact, I'll go so far as to say he shouldn't be thinking along those lines at all. Human development is largely a one-way function, and at every moment we need to start from where we are. The future may be unknowable, but the past is utterly inaccessible. There may be lessons back there we can learn with the benefit of hindsight, but moving forward by moving backward has never been an option. That's one lesson the anarcho-primitivists have failed to learn, one that dooms their philosophy.
Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
The2ndWheel Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 03:19 PM
Response to Reply #7
9. "but moving forward by moving backward"
Another one of those man-made traps/illusions.
Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 03:28 PM
Response to Reply #9
11. On a philosophical level I agree with you completely
Edited on Thu Sep-17-09 03:29 PM by GliderGuider
However, I don't think it would be a useful gambit in this argument. It's a bit too far down the rabbit hole.
Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 03:34 PM
Response to Reply #7
13. Yeah, I can't disagree with him about "stopping climate change..."
But "mitigating" I must disagree with. It's paper napkin physics. It can be summed up in a sentence. "Algae use 5 times as much energy as us, therefore there is no logical reason civilization cannot exist environmentally neutral."

The point of the article is to, as is common in these types of arguments, basically conclude the answer without considering outside variables. If you dismiss technology wholesale (as the author does), then you wind up not considering how it can mitigate the problems that we will invariably face. The basic assumptions then cannot be credible.

I focused on this aspect of the argument because from it everything else can be derived. "Technology causes climate change, technology cannot stop climate change, climate change is unstoppable." Of course, it's a completely circular argument, and illogical.

A = B thus A === B

Or:

B = f(A)

Expanded:

f(x) = x

How this is useful for scientific consideration is anyones guess. Indeed, the author has the position that we should "recognize" the problem but we should not think of "solutions."

X = X, the complexities revolving around human existence and environmental destruction is then reduced to nothing.

"It is what it is."
Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
tama Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 06:10 PM
Response to Reply #7
17. Anarcho-primitivists
I haven't done any extensive reading in anarcho-primitivist philosophy and criticism of civilization, but this:

"Human development is largely a one-way function, and at every moment we need to start from where we are. The future may be unknowable, but the past is utterly inaccessible. There may be lessons back there we can learn with the benefit of hindsight, but moving forward by moving backward has never been an option."

sounds like a familiar quote. :)

Of course even anarcho-primitivists can be a pretty versatile bunch...

And if speaking the truth is called forth, leaving behind 10 000 years of evidence of civilizations collapsing because of limits of growth and ecological catastrophies, this current global civilization just the latest in a long chain and possibly last one, does not sound wise.

Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
OKIsItJustMe Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 02:56 PM
Response to Reply #6
8. "technophiliacs"
One of the largest sources of problems for me (as a computer geek) is technophilia; not my own, but that of my clientele. Too many of them must always have the newest the fastest the most novel, when they have yet to master the mundane and old fashioned.

I tell people, I am a great advocate for the use of appropriate technology.

I am amazed by young able bodied people who will wait a minute or more for an elevator to take them up one floor, rather than climbing the adjacent stairs (wasting time waiting for the technological alternative.) It is this sort of wasteful, irrational technophilia that I believe is a significant source of our problems.

So, while I believe the eventual solution to our problems (if there is one) may lie in the use of appropriate technology I sympathize with the authors singling out of technophilia.

Have you read Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut?
Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 03:22 PM
Response to Reply #8
10. Oh, I agree, I'm always 5-10 years behind the curve.
I don't own an iPod, iPhone, modern computer, etc. In fact, I plan to buy some land soon (within the next year or two) and live off of it without having to pay for any utilities, recycling my waste, whole nine yards.

I agree that people are too reliant, too dependent, too stuck in a technological loop that won't let them experience their world as it is, and that it is arguably detrimental in many ways to their existence, but I don't blame the technology itself, more the society in which it exists.

The author is conflating capitalist industrialism, grow or die culture, with raw technology. It's basic physics and math that determine the true (environmentally neutral) human carrying capacity of the planet. It's that our culture doesn't see a problem with its mass exploitation of planetary resources, until more recently. It is probably too late for us to affect the effects of CO2 (seeing Greenland melting at a disturbing pace illustrates that to me), I don't disagree with the author there. I don't even disagree with the kinds of technology he does advocate (that which can be used locally). However, I don't think that means we have to give up iPods.

The end I see technology as being able to mitigate the problems that the would will face in the coming years as sea level rises to consume our cities and destroy our southern croplands. If not completely reverse the negative impact of such a change.

I read Player Piano, but I think it illustrates the problems with *capitalism* more than it does technology, although I appreciate that Kurt may not have seen it that way (with his admonishment for science being responsible for some serious war).
Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
OKIsItJustMe Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 09:35 PM
Response to Reply #10
22. OK, I own an iPod shuffle
It's great for learning Gilbert & Sullivan.

For me, the definitive scene in Player Piano comes at the end. Society has revolted against the machines; a tinkerer decides to repair one of the hated drink machines, and the crowd joins in to help him do it.
Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 09:50 PM
Response to Reply #22
24. Indeed, this is why I am an advocate for "free hardware."
"Free hardware" as in the same concept of "free software." Individuals learning to use technology collectively, without being part of a hierarchy of technocrats. *A lot* (dare I say all) of our problems stem from the fact that a few people with power control tech and knowledge.

I ask, why haven't we got to the point of vertical gardens, hydroponics, and sewage to feedstock recycling? Why?!? Some in the 70s predicted that this would be *necessary* for our populations to even continue growing (they were wrong). I say it is *necessary* to stop polluting streams and destroying our ecosystem.
Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
tama Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 05:56 PM
Response to Reply #6
16. Who asked us?
Was there ever a campfire where we sat and talked to get informed and gain thorough understanding from all viewpoints available and then decided whether to accept a technology or not? Nope, the "technophiliacs" or technocrats decided for us and for the planet.

Was there ever an Amish campfire where free men sat and discussed whether to accept a technology or not? Those Amish campfires happen all the time.

Problem is not technologies. It's technocracy and technocratic "Wille zur Macht" that does not care for consequenses (not even suicidal consequenses) in its hunger for godlike power.

Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 06:22 PM
Response to Reply #16
19. It's here, now. You were born into it.
You can, of course, feel free to jump off, if you want. The damage it has caused is no different from any other natural ecological occurrence (we are but children of nature, after all). So don't complain too much.

Me? I won't mind playing god and trying to geoengineer ourselves out of the mess we inadvertently got ourselves in. It's not like those who utilize technology sat around and said "Well gee, how can we fuck up the planet? Let's do that!"
Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
tama Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 06:54 PM
Response to Reply #19
20. You missed the point
point being a question:
What makes Amish (and some remaining tribes resisting modernization) different?
What makes Amish and some native tribes free not to accept technonolgy, while those of us born into this culture or civilization are not (but can try to jump off, of course)?

Answer to this question could something worth learning from. I suggest the answer has to do with world-views and social organization. First thought that comes to mind is that the refusers are small local communities which allows consensus-decision making, and on the other hand, global mass culture can be created and controlled only through high-tech means.
Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 09:07 PM
Response to Reply #20
21. Every "modern primitive" that exists now can live the rest of their life "off the grid."
Instead of doing so, dying happy, they insist on living in a world which they, by all accounts, actually *hate*. *Especially* when they actually have a *choice* to "drop out." Really, I did it, it's quite dooable. Some have done it, moved to low agriculture coops and the like. Supposedly they're happy.

However, I'm different in that what *I* want is absolutely not an option unless I work very hard at it (save money to buy land).

And *most* people, what they want, is truly basically impossible for them to attain (be able to have their standard of living without being slave-drones, in my experience, is what most people want).

Perhaps instead of lamenting about their condition, introspectively, one might be better off understanding the condition of others and their desires.

But then again, the whole premise of collapse and doing nothing would go against that!
Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
tama Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Sep-18-09 03:00 AM
Response to Reply #21
25. While ago
I was at a three day meeting of "modern primitives". There were people who allready lived in "low agriculture coops" or similar communities, others planning to do so or are in the middle of process of founding a new community, people are learning necessary skills - many are studying at gardening schools. Practical and social and self-transforming skills. There was lot of talk about all kinds of difficulties involved, sharing of various experiences. Buying land and finding the money to do so is a great problem, many kinds of options were discussed but at that meeting, nothing decided.

At the meeting I didn't hear much "lamenting about their condition". People talked about their fears, hopes, experiences and ideas. And listened.

This experience was different in many ways from what your experience sound like. Thank you for the opportunity to share this experience. :)

Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Sep-18-09 11:30 AM
Response to Reply #25
26. I've been to "dewilding seminars."
While I appreciate the spiritual and wonderful aspects of these places, I find that most people could not, under and circumstance, actually survive for very long in the wild. Chris McCandless is the best example of someone naively attempting to do this. (This is a guy who poached an elk in the off season and then failed to properly cure it, starving to death.) It takes a lifetime of training, a lifetime of getting along in nature to pull it off.

There was a roadkill seminar where they dissected roadkill in order to learn how to get the proper meats. I was amazed at the inability of the instructor to dress the carcass without ruining it (hitting the gallbladder, a mistake he realized instantly, but instead of saying he messed up he claimed it was OK).

I mentioned to one of them that I could "have us some squirrel soup within an hour," and I got distasteful looks. Granted, I have a very southern accent and I may have come off as some kind of crazy hick who wanted to murder cute little squirrels, but I offered to do it *without modern weapons* (with a heavy rock and a team of helpers you can easily catch a squirrel). The idea of actually living off the land became taboo, in a circle of people who were trying to learn how to "dewild"!
Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
tama Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Sep-18-09 12:11 PM
Response to Reply #26
27. Doesn't sound surprising
It's a big leap from urban background straight to surviving in the "wild", but I know couple guys who done it, living of the land for years. Curiously, neither hunts. I'm certainly not against hunting for food but it's good to know it's possible to survive through these winters here just by gathering (plants, shrooms, insects). There are also many trained "wilderness" guides in the "movement(s)", people who share their experience and knowledge. Any case, it's easier to start with gardening.

"Wild" and "rewilding" are of course civilized words, not words of people who are at home (and at workplace and at temple) in forests, on prairie, in the desert etc. I don't believe that such language is helpfull, but keeps on recreating the divide between culture and nature.



Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
pscot Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 12:14 PM
Response to Original message
3. James Big Oil Inhofe
was up on the floor of the Senate this morning damning the Kyoto accords, lamenting the cost of climate change vowing to fight it every step of the way. He also commended coal and oil state Democrats who were opposed to legislation. No action is likely this year, and next year is an election year which means we're probably looking at 2011 before anything actually happens. And then it's likely to be inadequate.
Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
Blue Meany Donating Member (986 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 03:31 PM
Response to Original message
12. In my view, to make the impactd we need to we have to
replace the "religion" of consumer capitalism, in which meaning and selfworth are derived of the acquisition goods, with a world view in which these are derived from a good character and service to others. Otherwise we will not be able to stem the drive to bury ourselves in stuff we don't need purchased with money we don't have. Unfortunately, cultural change is a slow process and we don't have alot of time, so our only hope may be that resource crises may wake people up.
Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 03:39 PM
Response to Reply #12
14. Yes. I think that's already starting to happen.
Check out Paul Hawkens' book, "Blessed Unrest". Culture is prone to tipping points, and I happen to think there's one right nearby. The converging crisis of energy, ecology and economics is definitely waking people up.
Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
tama Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 06:16 PM
Response to Reply #14
18. Havent read it
and short on the dole, I'll just ask you.

What does Hawken tell about Russia? Does he cover the Anastasia-movement (which is huge, at least in these circles) - and/or the Jeebus of Siberia, Vissarion?
Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 09:44 PM
Response to Reply #18
23. No, it's more general than that.
He doesn't talk about particular groups. The book is about the meta-movement that he sees them all as being a part of: a movement consisting of over 2 million small, independent local environmental, social justice, indigenous rights and small spiritual groups growing in every city on the planet, as a response to the dis-ease of the planet and the species that inhabit it, including us. It's growing at over 40% a year right now.
Printer Friendly | Permalink |  | Top
 
DU AdBot (1000+ posts) Click to send private message to this author Click to view 
this author's profile Click to add 
this author to your buddy list Click to add 
this author to your Ignore list Fri Nov 28th 2014, 11:24 AM
Response to Original message
Advertisements [?]
 Top

Home » Discuss » Topic Forums » Environment/Energy Donate to DU

Powered by DCForum+ Version 1.1 Copyright 1997-2002 DCScripts.com
Software has been extensively modified by the DU administrators


Important Notices: By participating on this discussion board, visitors agree to abide by the rules outlined on our Rules page. Messages posted on the Democratic Underground Discussion Forums are the opinions of the individuals who post them, and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Democratic Underground, LLC.

Home  |  Discussion Forums  |  Journals |  Store  |  Donate

About DU  |  Contact Us  |  Privacy Policy

Got a message for Democratic Underground? Click here to send us a message.

© 2001 - 2011 Democratic Underground, LLC