31 May 2019
Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
Seven weeks ago, my father died - abruptly, unexpectedly, and prematurely. I say that as a simple matter of fact because despite my utter heartbreak, no amount of euphemisms or platitudes will change the reality of the situation.
Some people might find it odd to state that my father died prematurely considering he was 72 years old, but my dad was a young, active, and agile 72. Throughout his adult life he always appeared about 10 years younger than his age. Everyone he knew was shocked by the news. The cause of death was determined to be stenosing coronary arteriosclerosis (narrowing of the heart vessel due to plaque) which apparently led to cardiac arrest. The medical examiner’s office stated that his death was due to “natural causes,” but there was nothing natural about his death, just as there is nothing natural about the way we are forced to live our lives.
Like most people, my father was a genuinely good man who deserved far better than what the world gave him. It turns out, unbeknownst to me, that my father was yet another in the long list of casualties of this brutal, immoral, unethical, and unjust American culture. It’s a society that cares little about affording a dignified life to decent people with integrity who have tried their best (i.e., the vast majority of all humans), but instead exalts and rewards rapacious narcissists and psychopaths.
Presumably precipitated by the economic downturn in 2008, my dad faced financial setbacks that appear to have accumulated rapidly, as they so easily do. His strains were also psychological and emotional. I have come to believe his latter troubles initially stemmed from unresolved childhood trauma, the nature of which I suspect and have evidence toward, but will never know for certain. From what I uncovered after his death, the stress he carried in recent years must have been nearly unbearable. Yet under these overwhelming conditions, he took large measures to avoid letting anyone, even those closest to him, learn anything about the extent of his difficulties.
My father spent a great deal of time helping others in his community, whether through his volunteer work with local non-profit and civic groups or just through interpersonal interactions. Undoubtedly a constructive, generous, and kind way to vent some of his emotions, it was also a way to keep too busy to think about them. What he didn’t do was directly acknowledge, confront, and share his own problems.
I discovered that my dad, like many, sought comfort by reading the type of shallow clichés circulated all over social media to remain hopeful: suggestions like “Life is going to get better at the proper time and you will be stronger and more at peace than ever before,” or “When life is dragging you back with difficulties it means it is going to launch you into something great.” That peace and greatness never came for my dad. These platitudes may help one get through the day, but they are generally hollow at their core, which is why they can be contradictory and do little to truly assist people in need.
My father also played the lottery every week, saying that if he won he’d start a foundation to support his favorite charitable causes. Really, he was hoping for a miracle.
Sadly, my father’s secrecy and inability to communicate and to deal with issues and emotions often put a gulf between us. Tragically, there is little doubt that the repression of his anguish and his extreme chronic stress contributed inordinately to his untimely end.
My father’s philosophy with regard to misfortune was to let it go and move on. He put on a brave and jovial face for most people and bottled up the crushing pressure he actually endured. There were numerous reasons for his particular reaction to hardship. He did not want to bother or worry others. He tried to remain sanguine in the face of adversity. He believed in the mistaken notion that how hard you work is directly proportional to the rewards you receive and your “success” in life. He also thought that if you do good things, good things will come back to you. He probably blamed himself for his woes, even though he and others like him are not at fault; the fault lies with a cruel, viscous system.
Ultimately, I think he knew, consciously or not, that a lot of people really do not want to hear about others’ burdens. We live in a culture of forced happiness. What plagued him, just as it does so many other Americans, was the need to keep up appearances in order to keep other people contented and maintain our collective delusion that the world is fair and good.
There’s no room in the Facebook culture for depression or for exposing the reality of our insanely difficult lives in our insanely corrupt and unforgiving society. Most social media sites are all about putting on our best face. (Twitter, at times, offers a slight exception.) It’s a digital fantasy land. Typically, we remain fairly superficial and positive, marketing ourselves as optimistic, hard-working, productive, self-sufficient, successful members of society. After all, what are social media sites like Facebook but simply personal public relations pages? They are a brilliant way for the techno-capitalists to exploit us doubly. They peddle our privacy to other companies then sell it back to us. Meanwhile, we maintain a façade. Our front promotes the illusion that notwithstanding the profound troubles of the world, all will be OK in the end and social media will help.
Pretending our myriad troubles do not exist, whether through denial, avoidance, or escapism is commonplace in our society. Spending our days wallowing in our sorrows is not a healthy way of managing our struggles, but neither is trying to circumvent them. To even attempt to overcome our current perilous planetary predicaments, we must take immediate action to acknowledge their existence and strive to contend with them,
Much of our lives is based on fantasy. We seem to prefer it that way, to prefer avoiding simple truths. For example, far too many prefer to believe the illusion that Chelsea Manning, or Edward Snowden, or Julian Assange are traitors to America than believe the facts revealed by them: that the American government (as well as its corporate colluders) spies on its own people and murders people all over the world for profit, or that both of its major political parties lie, cheat, and steal to win elections and to line their own pockets.
Our denial and avoidance is why inequality and environmental degradation have spiraled out of control, regardless of what out-of-touch cherry-picking privileged voices try to tell us. Most of our public officials, media personalities, corporate moguls, and other elite spokespeople, irrespective of political or ideological affiliation, deny the existence of our major societal and ecological issues or avoid their true natures
Privileged voices will say that we are generally faring better and living longer than ever, belying the widespread suffering in our country and throughout the globe. The truth is a huge percentage of Americans lack their basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, and (clean) water, or their connection to basic necessities is tenuous at best. Those on the ground experiencing economic insecurity know that the specious statistics on employment and poverty do not tell a realistic story at all. Half of all Americans are poor or near poverty.
Financial insecurity places tremendous pressure on the individual. This pressure manifests itself in the form of rising suicide rates, the opioid epidemic, and the countless who suffer in silence. And then there are the innumerable premature, preventable deaths that can be attributed to the inability to access or afford medical care, environmental toxicant exposure from poor living conditions and proximity to polluting industries, and overall stress.
When we do acknowledge the existence of poverty (rather than only focus on the middle class) we still avoid the true cause. Poverty is not about jobs but about wealth (i.e., hoarding of resources) and exploitation of people and planet for profit. Our troubles are not that we don’t have jobs or that they pay far too little. Yes, those are very proximal and real and I know them all too well. But our real trouble is that we even need a “job” to survive. So much of the work that we all do daily is unpaid and not considered valuable enough to warrant survivability. Our troubles are not that more people need to “work,” as defined by the powers that be. Our trouble is that no one should be deprived of basic human necessities (i.e., human rights) because the work they do is not deemed of value or because they do not or cannot participate in the monetary labor market created by those who exploit and hoard all of the resources on the globe.
Exploitation and hoarding of resources and people are also at the heart of our environmental predicament, but many shun these topics. While there may be some left who still outright deny that anthropogenic climate change exists, perhaps more pernicious are those who recognize it but avoid the fundamental causes. They focus mainly on fossil fuel consumption rather than all consumption. Even the current IPCC report suggests that the changes needed to cope with our climate emergency involve more than just energy. Moreover, too many neglect concurrent ecological emergencies such as biodiversity loss, which stems from humans’ land use change and from toxic contamination, not from climate change. We purposely ignore the ills of overproduction and overconsumption at our own peril. We also disregard those around the world who suffer the most from our conspicuous consumption and endless waste.
The overuse of natural resources to produce all of the products and materials of modern life, the subsequent production of toxicants that exist within our products or as byproducts to production, and the insatiable consumption of more and more unnecessary and useless merchandise is the real problem which we evade. In addition, our indefatigable belief that technological innovation will pull us out of our ecological mess, when overall, all it has done is continually intensify it, is yet another form of fantasy and denial. It is merely humanity’s lottery ticket out of ecological catastrophe.
You cannot begin to fix a problem when you pretend the problem doesn’t exist. Our social habit of avoidance and denial is placing tremendous stress on individuals, on society, and on our planetary ecosystem. Stress is wreaking havoc everywhere we turn. The stress on individuals shows up as increases in morbidity and mortality. The stress on society reveals itself as hatred and divisiveness misdirected toward the innocent instead of the perpetrators of our pains. The stress on our environment crumbles our ecosystems and may soon render our species extinct.
The stress of avoidance and denial in order to maintain an acceptable appearance in a callous superficial culture ultimately killed my father.
Some of my dad’s existential difficulties are similar to my own. I attempt to acknowledge and work through them as best I can on a daily basis. The primary problem I face right now is the deep sorrow, guilt, hurt, regret, and remorse I feel about his death, our strife, and my inability to alleviate his suffering. I am not seeking empty reassuring slogans or phrases (e.g. “Everything happens for a reason,” “Things will work out in the end,” This too shall pass”) to cope with my grief. I can’t just move along and go back to normal because my life will never be the same and grief will always remain. But writing about my father in the context of larger issues is one way that I am trying to face this trouble and come to terms with it.
As long as we ignore the true nature of our troubles and offer platitudes and half-measures as solutions, our societies and ecosystems will no doubt collapse under the stress, just like my dad did. My father should have lasted at least a decade longer. He should have had a safe and contented retirement. He had so much more life to live, but he ran out of time. Unless we all stop denying and avoiding our profound social and environmental crises, I fear we as a species are going to run out of time as well.
at May 31, 2019
01 March 2019
We are at the precipice of ecological collapse. There are no two ways about it. And despite what you hear, it is about far more than just catastrophic climate change. In a nutshell, our current biological predicament is the result of overuse of natural resources beyond their capacity to regenerate, the creation and mass production of never-before-known (often toxic) substances, and the accumulation of massive amounts of waste and pollution.
Exploitation. Over-production. Over-consumption. Waste. Pollution. Greed. Opulence. Excess. Power. These vices constitute the origins of our ecological problems, including anthropogenic global warming. Not coincidentally, poverty, extreme inequality, racism, sexism, and militarism also stem from these same sources. And of course, they all form the roots of the tree of capitalism. But if we can sum up the fundamental cause of our existential crisis in one simple phrase, it is this: our way of life. It is a way of life predicated on the desire for more - more energy, more products, more technology, more synthetics, more manufactured goods (i.e., bads), and more manufactured wants. Yet, our insatiable yearning for more has left us with less of the one thing upon which our entire lives depend: the natural world.
In biology, the radicle is the embryonic root of a plant. Likewise, its homophone, radical, means relating to or affecting the root, origin, or fundamental nature of something. To be radical, therefore, indicates that one seeks to get to the root of problems. This prospect tends to be frowned upon in America, where we like to do all we can to gloss over, circumvent, and deny our issues until they become too large of a burden to continue to ignore or obfuscate.
Consequently, we find ourselves faced with ever-increasing levels of anxiety, depression, and suicide with no signs of abating, despite the plethora of drugs dispensed by the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry and despite the increased use of psychological treatment which is no longer stigmatized as it once was. We continue to die mainly from heart disease and cancer and pour millions of dollars into painful and/or risky treatments like statins, radiation, and chemotherapy, though we know from studies of remote indigenous cultures that cancer could be rare, or at least, greatly reduced and that heart disease can be virtually non-existent in non-industrial populations.
We are deplorably unsuccessful in healing (rather than simply mitigating and condoning) our physical and mental illnesses for the same reason that we have not come close to healing our planet - because we have yet to address the root cause our all these ills.
The (New) New Deal
By now, most people know the historical context of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. FDR’s administration passed fairly sweeping economic reforms for the benefit of workers in order to quell the enormous upswell of socialism at the time, but also to maintain capitalism. Sure, the robber-barons (industrialists and entrepreneurs) did make some concessions - none of which amounted to any sacrifice at all to them - but the New Deal legislation still secured their standing as plutocrats. Moreover, massive environmental degradation and deleterious human health effects stood as externalities to the assumed economic necessity of capitalism and industrialism, just as they remain today. All in all, while providing some moral and crucial short-term economic relief for people, the New Deal left a hole wide open for corporate capitalism to stage a dramatic comeback. And so it has over the past half century, leaving wholesale environmental and economic catastrophe in its wake.
Enter the Green New Deal (GND). The recent version (not to be confused with the original, which emanated from the Green Party) outlines an ambitious strategy to eliminate our use of fossil fuels for energy in order to reduce carbon emissions while attempting to foster greater economic equality and prosperity. The low-carbon, more equitable future sought by the GND resolution is undeniably a good one; however, its foundation based on our current paradigm of prosperity - i.e., more energy, more production, more industry, more technology, more consumption - renders it insufficient to effect the radical changes we need for a sustainable future.
Impractical, Unreasonable, Infeasible, Pie in the Sky
Those who tend to ignore the truth or the totality of our environmental dilemma dismiss the GND as not politically or economically feasible. Somehow feasibility is never an issue when it comes to funding corporate interests (including the military-industrial complex). The reality is that continuing on our current trajectory is politically and economically infeasible and unreasonable, because without a livable planet, politics and economics do not even exist. Therefore, their dismissive arguments are hardly worth mentioning. We have never, ever prioritized environmental concerns, which is why we find ourselves in this precarious predicament in the first place. Without fundamental changes, ecosystems will continue to deteriorate all around us to the point where our species is permanently imperiled. Humans have spent the past several centuries (at a minimum) despoiling the planetary ecosystem on which we all rely for life. The idea that it is impractical to attempt to deal with our ecological crises is frankly, insane. It suggests one must be either too obtuse to comprehend the simple scientific realities of our time, or too self-absorbed to care.
What is pie in the sky about the GND is imagining that high-tech innovation and increasing economic development based upon increasing industrialization will save us. In recent interviews, Bernie Sanders repeatedly stated that we have 12 years to transform to a sustainable energy system. But energy is one small part of the issue. In reality, we have likely less than 12 years to transform to a sustainable world-wide societal system. To reduce our environmental problems and remedies to carbon emissions is to focus on a symptom not the disease. Climate change may be the most glaring symptom right now, but there are many others. We don’t need just sustainable energy. We need sustainability.
We have not only disrupted the global carbon cycle, resulting in catastrophic climate change, we have disrupted the global water, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur cycles, to name a few. In the U.S., we are close to exhausting our landfill space, which houses the useless garbage from our production/consumption lifestyle. Most politicians and many academics have insisted that environmental solutions should be market-based, but markets always fluctuate. Now we see the obvious folly of their philosophy, as the market for recycling (not to say recycling itself is at all a solution) has collapsed since China stopped importing the recyclable bits of our disposable products. Thus, in many places our “recyclables” are now being incinerated into highly toxic pollutants like dioxin. In addition, we have deforested the majority of the planet and poured toxicants (especially pesticides) into our air, food, and water, all of which have contributed more to our other prominent crisis of species extinction than climate change has, or maybe ever will.
When confronted by Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes about the GND, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex asked, “What is the problem with trying to push our technological capacities to the furthest extent possible?” Well, the problem is that many of these high-tech innovations rest precisely at the root of our problems to begin with. It doesn’t help that Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff originates from Silicon Valley, one of the most extractive, consumptive, wasteful, toxic, and exploitative industries imaginable when viewed from cradle to grave.
In her formal announcement of the GND resolution with Congressman Ed Markey, Ocasio-Cortez stated, "Climate change and our environmental challenges are one of the biggest existential threats to our way of life." But our way of life is the threat, and if her suggestion that the GND legislation exists as an attempt to preserve our way of life, then it will surely not succeed in preserving our life as a species. Here, she acknowledged that our challenges comprise more than just climate change, but how much does she, or any politician, truly figure the entirety of these environmental challenges into their thought processes and policies?
What troubles me is that many look to the GND as a move toward a futuristic techno-utopia, as Kate Aronoff envisions in her piece in the Intercept. That viewpoint is what is unrealistic about the GND. Aronoff imagines a semi-socialist bourgeois existence on a technological path toward becoming more like the Jetsons. To maintain a livable planet, we probably need to start thinking about a future scenario more in line with the Flintstones. We can still strive to “have a yabba dabba doo time,” but we might have to enjoy ourselves in manner closer to “modern stone-age” rather than a high-tech.
We love to believe that high-tech innovations will fix everything. To produce all of our fanciful technology, many of the raw materials are derived from exploiting other people’s land (Africa, South America, Asia), and the manufacturing comes at the expense of other people's health and livelihood. Let’s hope eliminating this sort of environmental racism figures into the GND platform. Beyond that, thus far in the course of humanity, our technology has only further amplified all of our detrimental ecological issues. It involves over-consuming natural resources and over-producing more of what we don’t need, while leaving us with less of what we do - organisms and ecological systems.
Policy Change + Personal Change = Paradigm Change
While it is way past time for comprehensive environmental legislation incorporating social and environmental justice and equity to reach the halls of Congress, we should be aware that given our multiple ecological (and economic) crises, the GND in any form will never be a panacea. We certainly need to put an immediate end to fossil fuel consumption, but we also need to drastically reduce all consumption. To combat climate change along with widespread ecological degradation and inequality, we need more than reductionist policy ideas. We need a massive mobilization of action in challenging and fundamentally changing our way of life.
Social, economic, and environmental justice are undoubtedly vital goals. Incorporating these aspects of equity into GND is not just commendable but essential. However, this prospect need not be predicated on jobs, which are often frivolous (see: Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber) and unsustainable (a topic that I have delved into here and here) and which leave us all in indentured servitude to the oligarchs and plutocrats. Instead, it might better focus on providing provisions for basic human necessities and dignity.
Essentially, the idea of everyone having more, and continuing to produce and consume more is unrealistic. Granted, many people in this country and throughout the world do need more of the necessities – ownership of affordable clean housing, nutritious fresh food, clean water, and high-quality durable clothing. Everyone should be entitled to these basic human rights. But many others need far, far less. Of course, I’m speaking primarily of the millionaires and billionaires, whose ecological footprints are completely off the charts. Yet the ecological footprints of even most Americans with modest incomes are way too large to be sustainable as well.
Yes, the people at the top of the economic ladder are by far the worst offenders when it comes to ecological destruction and contributing to climate change. They are the worst offenders, period (as I’ve outlined before). The more you have, the more you contribute to all our problems. But these people will never change. Their lives are built on more. They created this paradigmatic mess to economically and materially benefit from it. They are willing to let every organism on the earth die rather than relinquish their money and power. Their psychopathy is evidenced by the fact that they would rather waste their billions building underground bunkers for what they perceive as either an upcoming revolution of the 99% or ecological catastrophe, than sacrifice one single iota of their opulence to help build a sustainable, livable planet for us all. (By the way, good luck with that, billionaires. Too bad you didn’t pay closer attention in biology class. You may have to hide in those bunkers for a very long time, in which case you might like to learn about the Biosphere 2 experiment…)
For this reason, it is up to us. We have to force their hands and seize their ill-gotten purses and power. More importantly, we must reject and replace their psychopathic paradigms about how to live if we want to save the planet. Psychopaths have no empathy. The rest of us must.
No, individual actions will not make a difference in seclusion. And no, they alone will certainly not avert ecological doom. But personal changes are as imperative as policy changes to produce new paradigms that get to the root of our ecological problems. Green policies should enable and support the collective personal changes necessary for an equitable and sustainable future.
Personal changes are important because they are part and parcel of systemic change. As an example of negative collective action, our car culture exists because millions of individuals bought and continue to buy automobiles, prompted by legislation (in collusion with the auto and gasoline industries) facilitating the fateful and foreboding transition from other forms of transportation. On the positive side, after decades of propaganda, obfuscation, and outright scientific fraud from the tobacco industry, governmental policies were enacted to curb tobacco use. But when it comes down to it, lung cancer death rates decreased dramatically in recent years due to the cessation of smoking by large numbers of individuals. Boycott and divestment campaigns are another good example of collective individual actions which, along with institutional ones, support systemic change. And then there is Bernie Sanders. Whatever his faults, his 2016 Presidential campaign brought a number of more obvious, moral, and even radical ideas to the fore of American discourse. His campaign could not have been accomplished without the small monetary contributions of millions of individuals. Likewise, the collective contribution of millions and billions of individuals is vital to supporting changes needed for a livable planet.
President Jimmy Carter recognized the need for collective personal as well institutional conservation in his famous (or infamous) "malaise speech." Regardless of its flaws, his lecture does contain some nuggets of wisdom: “Too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning.” Nor does it satisfy the requirement of a sustainable global ecosystem for survival.
Renowned climate professor Kevin Anderson also views collective actions at the individual level as crucial components of battling the climate crisis. Thus, he not only talks the talk about the necessity of reducing consumption, but also walks the walk by using low-emission forms of transportation among many other personal actions.
Forging a livable planet means abandoning our bourgeois consumer aspirations and replacing them with mature, wise exemplars for life. No more equating adulthood with working to buy fancy clothes, fast cars, and a huge house. No more fascination with lavish luxuries. No more dreaming of diamonds. No more fantasies about flying all over the world. No more infatuation with fatuous gadgetry. No more preoccupation with products and purchases. No more somnambulant staring at screens. No more appetites for vapid materialism. No more conspicuous consumption. No more extravagance; no more excess. (On a sustainable planet, a monstrosity like this can never exist.)
A change of social norms and social values is imperative. Our new paradigm must value intangibles like simplicity, communication, community, nature, and empathy over commodified “things.” Sustainability requires becoming global citizens who can thrive with less stuff, rather than global consumers who constantly crave more.
Radical is Sustainable
Indeed, so many before have written radically about the roots of our ecological crises. E.F. Schumacher considered some of the same issues in Small is Beautiful. John de Graaf, David Wann, and Thomas H. Naylor tackled consumerism in Affluenza: the All-Consuming Epidemic. Annie Leonard examined the economic, psychological, and environmental effects of our consumer treadmill with The Story of Stuff. But perhaps the best, most simple yet accurate portrayal of our predicament was outlined in Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax. A sustainable archetype for society cannot keep “figgering on biggering and biggering and biggering and biggering.” As long as the GND continues to do so, it will surely fail future generations as it perpetuates the root causes of our ecological issues.
People are saying the Green New Deal is impossible. What is impossible is saving our planetary ecosystem while preserving our current way of life. For any GND legislation to be successful, it must work to conserve more rather than produce more. Moreover, it must facilitate collective radical personal changes to our way of life that fundamentally change the underlying paradigms of our existence. Otherwise, it will be as fleeting as the original New Deal, and ultimately much more deadly.
When it comes to a Green Deal, the only sustainable policies are radical ones. And when it comes to a sustainable global environmental paradigm, unless you are talking about the natural world, less is always more.
Kristine Mattis holds a Ph.D. in Environment and Resources. She is no relation to the mad-dog general. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Have you ever noticed that economics dominates our news? All day long we hear reports on the Dow and NASDAQ. There are business sections of newspapers. Television and radio news includes market reports, financial reports, and money reports. Segments of major news programs are dedicated to economics and finance. We even have individual news programs and networks solely devoted to the discussion of money matters. Indeed, economics permeates the discourse on nearly every matter presented to the public. Stories may cover politics, human affairs, entertainment, art, health, and science, but in the end most foundationally concern money.
Now, imagine if all of that time and attention were paid to issues related to the environment, i.e., ecology. Imagine news segments, news programs, and news channels that put the crux of our lives in the context of the climate change, resource use, toxic contamination, pollution, and the plight of other species rather than the economy. Perhaps we might have a great deal more knowledge about exactly what our way of life is doing to our own health and the health of the global ecosystem. Perhaps we might be more concerned by the seemingly innocuous things we do everyday that detrimentally affect ourselves and our global life support system. Perhaps we’d actually be able to say that we truly have a fourth estate dedicated to benefiting people and planet rather than corporate entities and Wall Street.
Those who discuss money matters in the mainstream press tend to be appallingly out of touch with the economic realities of the majority of Americans. Economists extol the virtues of spending for the sake of economic growth, then admonish the people whose atrociously (in a just world, criminally) low wages barely allow them to make a living, let alone allow for extraneous purchases. Real estate market growth is touted as advantageous, while much of the American population can no longer afford rent in most major cities, to say nothing of affording a mortgage.
But even the more enlightened economists rarely include environmental concerns in their economic analyses. There is a glaring disconnect between the reality of our environmental predicament and our constant fixation with economics (particularly in the consumer realm). As a general rule, production and consumption are viewed as inevitable and beneficial, when both are wholly environmentally unsustainable. Exploitation of the environment through over-extraction of resources and toxic pollution are externalities that are rarely discussed in the context of “the market” or economic growth. Frankly, this omission of the ecological repercussion of economic endeavors renders most economic analysis moot. At this point in time, it is clear to anyone remotely schooled in natural science that our global ecosystem is on the decline, to put it mildly. In the broadest sense, toxic substances in our air, water, and products, overuse of resources, pollution, and fossil-fuel generated climate change comprise the main issues that imperil life on the planet. Much of what economists predict and propose would have very little - or at least, much less - relevance if they were to fully incorporate these environmental realities into their equations, which is probably why they do not.
Take this recent article by Dean Baker that suggests economic growth can continue while tending to our environmental concerns. While the author clearly means well, his cursory knowledge of our concurrent environmental emergencies shines through (and continues to in his follow-up piece). His focus is on the impact of economic changes (potentially, degrowth of the economy) that might occur as a result of addressing the climate crisis, but he fails to understand that there is so much more that needs to be addressed other than carbon emissions in order to generate a sustainable global ecosystem. It seems clear that despite the fact that those in the environmental realm have been studying and debating degrowth for decades, the concept is new to him, or he has not delved into the history of the subject deeply. Moreover, unlike environmental advocates and interdisciplinary environmental scholars, he has not thought comprehensively about the enormity of our environmental problems, which is not surprising, since it is not his field.
He concludes that industries like software, entertainment, education, and medicine will continue growing the economy in a sustainable fashion, even if other fields must shrink economically to protect the environment. He assumes it is a necessary for society for these aforementioned fields to advance - a very questionable assumption – or that they are industries that can grow sustainably. Yet, all of those disciplines, at least as they currently exist, require tremendous use of non-renewable, non-biodegradable, sometimes toxic resources, generate tremendous amounts of waste, and are not at all sustainable in their current forms. Therefore, their role in preserving economic growth, growth which Baker suggests is unavoidable, is tenuous, to say the least.
In order to be sustainable, all inputs and outputs need to renewable, generating zero waste. All it takes is a superficial examination of the above-mentioned industries to understand that none of them, much like all industries on earth, are currently sustainable in any manner.
Software is inextricably tied to devices, all of which are created to have limited life-spans and to be continually replaced (known in the business world as “planned obsolescence”). Technological devices transport the ecological and health harms of production (mining for rare earth and other materials) and end-of-life elimination (e-waste) to the most vulnerable and exploited people on the planet.
Entertainment, such as film and television production, is one of the most resource intensive and wasteful industries imaginable. Inputs such as costumes and sets are constantly purchased and discarded or destroyed.
Schools at all levels consume resources continuously. Look at all of the plastics in modern classrooms in many forms of educational materials and manipulatives. Look at all of the disposable snacks and food packages and all of the food waste. Look at all of the technological gadgets (that have not proven helpful to student education at elementary levels) that leave heaps of e-waste in their wake. Blackboards and chalk, made of non-toxic and renewable slate stone and calcium carbonate respectively, have been replaced with plastic white boards and potentially hazardous dry erase markers. At the university level, scientific research utilizes a constant stream of materials and waste, sometimes toxic, much like medicine.
Medicine requires large inputs of immediately discarded materials during every doctor visit, every surgery, for every patient that sets foot into a medical care facility. Radioactive materials are common in science and medicine, and their hazardous waste remains for millennia. Medical waste is a scourge to the environment and to people. Pharmaceuticals are generated by extracting (sometimes stealing) precious natural resources from all over the world. At the end of their life cycles, excess pharmaceutical products may be excreted by humans after ingestion to enter waterways via sewage systems, or unused pharmaceuticals may be discarded and seep into waterways from non-secure waste streams. Either way, they can wreak havoc on ecosystems. Just to name a couple of the repercussions, we see antibiotic super-bacteria showing up in wildlife and the remnants of antidepressant drugs adversely affecting fish populations for generations.
Of course, these examples are merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of the myriad environmental issues within these supposedly sacrosanct industries - industries that we cannot imagine changing. We presume that these industries cannot be scaled down (or even eliminated), as if many of our ailments could not be prevented, thus reducing the need for expensive end ecologically destructive medical interventions, or as if we must have high tech and high production for education, and entertainment. In fact, degrowth must occur in these and all industries.
I don’t mean to pick on Dean Baker, whose work I generally admire, because he is not unlike any other economist, politician, or most people, really - even some who study aspects of the environment. Academic disciplines and other careers have become so compartmentalized, so reductionist, that few people grasp the totality of our environmental concerns because few people examine them in a holistic context. There are no “goods” and services that now exist in the industrialized world that do not over-use natural resources to the point of extracting more from the earth than the earth can replenish. There are virtually no industries that do not leave non-renewable waste and/or contamination as an outcome of their production and use.
If it were indeed possible to have continued economic growth while protecting the environment, why wouldn’t industries have embarked on wholly sustainable ways of doing business years ago? Wouldn’t that have maximized efficiency and helped to eliminate he hassles of dealing with environmental regulations (most of which are wholly insufficient anyway), lawsuits, and constant antagonism from environmental advocates and activists? If business models that incorporated sustainable practices lead to the most growth and efficiency, why would business have not already adopted them universally? I think the answer is because corporations and investment bankers know that economic growth demands ecological exploitation, much like investors recognize (and admit in writing) that continued growth in the medical sector entails NOT curing or preventing disease, but maintaining chronic illness.
We can keep deluding ourselves that economic growth and technological innovation will save our planetary ecosystem from utter annihilation, but that presumption is not based on sound knowledge of history or science. Economic growth hasn’t even created the more equitable economic prosperity that it supposedly should (though we should know by now that assertion was simply a lie). Just because we have been programmed to think the economy is the most important system on earth, this erroneous notion will not stop the rapidly deteriorating ecological conditions on the planet.
Economics is a man-made invention, a “science” with “laws” that may be modified or discarded at our whim. It may operate based on certain principles that have been implemented and inherited and maintained, but ultimately, these constructions are arbitrary and alterable. Biology, chemistry, and physics are sciences whose natural laws are immutable. We may not fully comprehend all of laws of natural and physical sciences, but they will exist nonetheless, no matter how much we try to manipulate them. Until we prioritize these natural laws – more basically, ecology, over economy – and until we learn to think about and integrate our ecological limits, our ecological needs, and our ecological realities into all aspects of our lives, we will never even come close to a sustainable future. To be blunt, as long as economics always takes precedence, ecology will inevitably come back to bite us in the ass.
Kristine Mattis holds a Ph.D. in Environment and Resources. She is no relation to the mad-dog general. Email: email@example.com
26 November 2018
It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it. -- Upton Sinclair
On my last day of teaching Environmental Studies, I posed a question to my students. I explained that for some time in my childhood, my father worked in the airline industry. “What does this have to do with the environment?” I asked. Sadly, even after an entire semester, few if any of my students could make the connection. Air transportation is one of the most polluting industries. Depending on the type of car you use and the amount you use it, one to two flights can generate the same amount of carbon emissions as a whole year of driving. From the consumption of fossil fuels, to the toxic substances utilized or emitted such as jet fuel and de-icing fluid, to all of the disposable products and packages within the plane and the airport, to so much more, there is nothing sustainable at all about air travel. Thus, for a part of my childhood, the majority of our family income was derived from a highly polluting industry that has contributed greatly to the dire environmental predicament we are currently facing.
Of course, mine is not the only family whose income is linked to environmental destruction. In fact, one could make the case that nearly all American households, especially the most affluent, have made their money through directly or indirectly exploiting and polluting the environment (and often exploiting people as well). For example, a conference on “Peace Engineering” just concluded, which implored engineers to consider “ethics, social good, the biases and unintended consequences of the technology they build.” Clearly, this implies that engineering does not usually contemplate the deleterious environmental and social effects of its work. My point in bringing this conversation to my students was to help them think about the career paths they were exploring or embarking upon and for them to keep in mind the ecological impact these careers. At this crucial time in history, when thus far we have all but ignored the warnings to drastically reduce our resource consumption, toxic waste, and carbon emissions for the sake of our incomes, it is imperative that this generation of students take bold steps to help make the fields in which they work more sustainable and to help to permanently put to rest unnecessary industries that are not. In fact, a group of French college students are trying to do just that.
This past September, students from the top universities in France unveiled a manifesto entitled “Wake Up Call on the Environment.” They are attempting to utilize their collective power as future employees to compel companies to prioritize environmental concerns over economic bottom lines, with a tacit threat to withhold their labor from workplaces and industries that do not make radical strides toward sustainability. As of this writing, there are over 23,000 signatories to the manifesto, which includes the following insight:
…Does it mean anything to ride a bike when you work for a company whose activities contribute to increasing climate change or draining natural resources? As we get closer to our first job we realize that the system we are part of steers us towards positions that are often incompatible with the result of our reflections. This system traps us in daily contradictions.
For sure, this is not the first time students have acknowledged the detrimental effects of our corporate, capitalist workplaces on environmental and social well-being. There are those in past generations who have attempted to opt-out of environmentally and socially unjust work, but rather than being seen as proactive, concerned citizens, they were often marginalized. Many Baby Boomers who refused to participate in ecologically destructive jobs were deemed “hippies.” Those in Generation X were called “slackers.” Finally, Millennials who tried to resist harmful jobs on ethical principles were largely lost amid the rest of the unemployed and precariously employed. The difference between this French student manifesto and the individual actions of past generations, though, is the power that a collective force - especially a union of people who reside in the upper echelon of their society - brings to effect change.
If nothing else, the student declaration finally draws attention to the fact that our concern about the environment cannot be decoupled from our careers. If we deem ourselves environmentalists, if we declare we are committed to do everything we can about our global ecological crises, we cannot maintain our integrity if we also work (an activity to which we in Western societies devote the majority of our adult lives) in industries that contribute to the very ills we purport to want to remedy. It is not only disingenuous to ignore the inherent contradictions between our work and our ecological knowledge; it is suicidal to continue on this path.
Back when I was a college student, I spent a considerable amount of time volunteering with the homeless. I recall once serving a meal at a soup kitchen when I struck up a conversation with an attendee. He explained to me that he had graduated from Harvard and that he was homeless by choice. Though that may have sounded like a tall tale, I got the impression he was sincere. I was probably only 19 or 20 at the time and had not yet come to fully understand the destructive force of corporate capitalism on society and the natural environment, but I already had enough experience with the privileged elite at my own university to comprehend why someone with a conscience would choose to no longer participate in such a system. Furthermore, it seemed completely logical to me that a person who had attended Harvard would know better than anyone how the sausage was made, and would want neither to help make it nor to eat it.
Making a principled decision to potentially sacrifice income and livelihood for the benefit of the greater good probably will be a hard sell to many Americans. I will never forget arriving at college, meeting the young women in my dorm, and sharing our aspirations for our impending educations. One roommate blithely stated, “I just want to be rich.” Indeed, “follow your dreams” is American gospel, regardless of what repercussions those dreams may have for your fellow citizens or for society, and regardless of how narcissistic or adolescent that credo may be. It is all the more difficult to publicly suggest that environmental sustainability and social justice might entail a modicum of self-reflection when the people who have the strongest voices in our society are precisely the ones who have followed their dreams, regardless of the costs. These people (like Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, the Walton family, as well as countless financiers and celebrities, for example) may have wreaked the most havoc to the environment and to our collective socioeconomic well-being, but they have the microphone to amplify and rationalize their vapid messages of personal ambition and their phony, superficial commitments to social good. Their messages then echo in our heads, given our almost constant exposure to mass media and marketing. So, penetrating the platitudes of American society to create environmentally and socially just work will be exceedingly difficult.
Several months ago, at my mother-in-law’s funeral, I spoke to an old friend of hers whose grandson had just graduated from the University of Wisconsin, where coincidentally, I had received my graduate degree. The man suggested that the university had placed some crazy “liberal” notions in his grandson’s mind, but that his grandson - now confronted by the “real” world - abandoned those previous “ridiculous” ideals to take a good solid position in finance (or some similar endeavor).
It is precisely this careerist mindset that may have already cost humanity the ability to persist on the planet. A perilous economic circumstance is without a doubt a harsh reality for a substantial number of young people, not to mention a majority of Americans of all ages, in addition to all of the anonymous forgotten resisters who have already tried to opt-out of corporate capitalism to live a principled, sustainable life amidst a wholly unsustainable system. Nevertheless, succumbing to business as usual only solidifies an ecologically perilous future for us all.
Unfortunately, so many of us still characterize the real world as the economic world we created rather the biological world that bore all of humanity. In the actual “real” world, imperiled by catastrophic climate change, toxic pollution, and the loss of biodiversity, the lack of a high-paying job is no longer the major impediment to a good, long, prosperous life, as it may have been for a miniscule moment in human history. Now it should be clear that the impediment to a good, long, prosperous life is the sustainability of our global ecosystem. As long as the foundational elements of our modern socioeconomic systems – our jobs – do not comply with the realities of our ecological limits, our species will have no choice but to comply with the reality of extinction.
Kristine Mattis holds a Ph.D. in Environment and Resources. She is no relation to the mad-dog general. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
28 October 2018
…We can't save the world by playing by the rules because the rules have to change. Everything needs to change and it has to start today….To all the politicians that pretend to take the climate question seriously, to all of you who know but choose to look the other way every day because you seem more frightened of the changes that can prevent the catastrophic climate change than the catastrophic climate change itself… Please treat the crisis as the crisis it is and give us a future.
-- Greta Thunberg, 15 year-old climate activist speaking at the Helsinki climate demonstration, October 20, 2018
When I entered my interdisciplinary environmental graduate program, I already had years of work experience behind me as well as a lifetime of informal environmental education. I recognized the grim ecological picture. Some of my professors, however, were quick to admonish, “We can’t be gloom and doom.” Their other refrain was, “We can’t go back.” They offered no evidence for those two prescriptions with regard to the climate and ecological crises, yet their commands were common among environmental scholars. More than a decade later, we face far more dismal prospects for the future of humanity, but we are still loath to truly address them.
Doom and Gloom
In 1972, the Club of Rome, a consortium of scientists, economists, politicians, diplomats, and industrialists, produced a lengthy scientific report entitled Limits to Growth. Their work predicted a collapse of the human population due to our unchecked economic growth and resource depletion. While their estimates were condemned as alarmist and overreaching, independent researchers have updated the report for the 50th anniversary of the club’s inception, and have largely found that the conclusions from the original still hold.
Nevertheless, in July of 2017, David Wallace-Wells’ New York magazine article, “The Uninhabitable Earth,” about the worst-case scenarios resulting from the climate catastrophe created an uproar. Frenzied scientists and science communicators (positivity adherents one and all) raced to the media to denounce the highly accurate piece as scare-mongering, even as they could not dispute the validity of the information therein.
Then came the most recent report from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), which, more than any of their other previous papers, finally conveyed the true immediacy and urgency of the climate crisis. It largely validated Wallace-Wells’ assessment of impending large-scale catastrophe to all of humanity if we do not act promptly. For some of the more muted voices who study, work on, or otherwise follow the many environmental crises concurrently embroiling (and broiling) our planet, the IPCC report was surprising, not because of how drastically it portrayed the severity of the predicament we are in, but because of how it no longer pulled any punches about our dire circumstance. While still likely conservative in its forecast, as scientific predictions tend to be, this assessment finally painted the very bleak picture in store for us all if we do not change our way of life radically and immediately.
The staunch belief in the field of science communication, based upon a small number of studies, is that depicting the climate problem as it stands makes it appear too big and overwhelming, which incites hopelessness and inaction. Thus, we must keep the information simple and hopeful in order to effect change.
Indeed, Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update supported these notions in the wake of the IPCC news:
Colin Jost: Scientists basically published an obituary for the earth this week and people were like, “Yeah, but like what does Taylor Swift think about it”….We don’t really worry about climate change because it is too overwhelming and we’re already in too deep.
Michael Che: That story has been stressing me out all week. I just keep asking myself “Why don’t I care about this?” I mean, don’t get me wrong, I 100% believe in climate change yet I am willing to do absolutely nothing about it.
On first glance, it would seem that the science communication scholars are correct: the devastatingly huge nature of the problem leads to despair and inaction. But is that really what we are seeing? Are we seeing despair - or denial? I don’t mean the sort of denial that claims climate change is not occurring at all or that it is a natural phenomenon. I am talking about denial in the form of not willing to admit that you, personally, have a role to play in the problem and in the solution – that in addition to so many changes necessary on large-scale political, economic, industrial, occupational, and social levels, every one of us also needs to change our way of life in innumerable ways, and none more so than the wealthy.
One of the issues with the science communication research that emphasizes carefully crafting optimistic messages about environmental crises so that people will act on solutions is that it tacitly assumes that solutions have been articulated. How can we conclude that people’s despondency results in inaction when very few real actions have been offered? All that we offer are minimal, usually consumer-based alterations to what we buy. As we can see, these small, manageable, incremental changes have done nothing. Perhaps that is where the despair comes from? Al Gore’s conclusion in The Inconvenient Truth gave us recommendations to change our light bulbs and drive hybrid cars. This sort of advice, while Gore himself hypocritically continues to own multiple large homes and travel around the world with the excuse of educating the public about the crisis, rings false because it is false. The truth is that the public has not taken action because no one dares to explain what to do, and no one dares to explain what to do because what to do inevitably involves radical changes to the daily lives of the majority of people in the western world, most especially the richest among us who contribute the most to all of our ecological calamities. But even more importantly, no one with money, power, and influence dares to walk the walk when it comes to personal environmental action.
Truth and Consequences
The climate crisis, as many other environmental issues, isn’t a scientific problem; it is a social, political, and economic one. As they say, “it isn’t rocket science.” It is greed. A Green New Deal will not cut it because it leaves capitalism, corporatism, imperialism, and consumerism in place. We aren’t going to “science” our way out of these crises. We can’t advertise or market our way out, shop our way out, sing and dance or entertain our way out, fundraise our way out, engineer (and genetically engineer) our way out, protest our way out, text, tweet, snapchat or instagram our way out, pray our way out, or even vote our way out. Our way out is to dramatically alter much of our way of life. It is to prioritize ecological concerns and do our best to conduct every aspect of our lives sustainably, rather than just pay lip service to our belief that climate change is real or that plastic pollution is a problem or that fossil fuel use is unsustainable. In many, if not most ways, we just simply need to stop. Our way of life is incompatible with the continuance of life.
Donald Trump blatantly admitted to prioritizing the multibillion-dollar sale of arms to Saudi Arabia over the life of an assassinated journalist (not to mention the lives of millions of Yemeni people). While Trump overtly admits placing the importance of economic values over social and environmental ones, the rest of us do much the same every day as we go about our “normal” lives and activities without considering their proximal and distant repercussions.
We know well the myriad problems – global climate change, extinction of species, ecosystem disruption, overuse of natural resources, massive pollution from toxicants and plastic. Scientists have done a wonderful job of documenting the fall ™, but they have not offered many concrete solutions besides ending our use of fossil fuels and placing restrictions on certain toxics and pollutants so that they continue to harm us and our ecosystems chronically rather than acutely.
A far from exhaustive list of some of the things we might try to accomplish, personally and collectively, in order to avert total climate catastrophe (and tackle other environmental issues) is in the appendix to this piece. Suffice it to say, much of what we are used to in our lives is antithetical to sustainable life and probably has to go. Besides reduce, reuse, and recycle, we should add slow down, simplify, and stop.
Our modern technological, consumerist, lifestyle must be massively curbed. We may not be able to curtail environmental disaster completely, but we can at least try to greatly mitigate and adapt to it while also addressing poverty and massive inequality and attempting to reduce the suffering and pain of as many people as possible. Changes that would help the environment and changes that would bring more social justice go hand in hand, because it is precisely the industries, occupations, and lifestyles of the rich that create the enormous environmental, economic, and social crises. Therefore, restraining or removing their enterprises is the ultimate solution to our troubles.
As it is, market forces that enrich the wealthiest not only permit, but demand that food goes wasted rather than to the hungry, that clothing is destroyed rather than worn by those who have need for it, and that homes are left empty rather than housing the millions of homeless and marginally-sheltered around the country. This sort of economic model should be unconscionable because it is not only morally reprehensible but ecologically unsustainable. And we are all complicit in this when we work for these companies and industries that allow for such atrocity.
Along his current book tour, Chris Hedges seems to be repeating a (paraphrased) quotation from Sartre: “I don’t fight fascists because I think I will win; I fight fascists because they are fascists.” Similarly, there are people who live every moment of their lives with environmental sustainability in mind. They might say “I don’t live this way because I will save the world; I live this way because it is the only way to live.” In both cases, while the individual choice is a moral and ethical one, if we all, or at least the majority of us, were to come closer to making those moral and ethical choices, we might have a fighting chance against both fascism and environmental devastation.
Besides which … Are you happy? Polls and surveys suggest that the answer to that question for the vast majority of Americans is a resounding “No.” While the poor struggle to get by day to day, what’s left of the middle class live paycheck to paycheck. And even the upper-middle class and rich are not completely satisfied, probably because they have actual experience that money does not buy happiness in an atomized, unjust, and environmentally degraded world. But they will never admit to this reality and will continue to strive for more wealth and dominance in a futile quest to fill the voids in their lives.
All of those I know who are truly despairing about the environmental situation are the same people who are doing the most about it. Their desperation comes not as much from the overwhelming nature of the problem, but more from the fact that so many around them do not seem to notice or care.
Nearly all of the changes that can potentially help mitigate our environmental crises will also mitigate our social crises and our misery. So exactly why are so many people so reluctant to change? The mega-rich generated their massive fortunes by exploiting the environment and all of us, so clearly they are averse to change. For them to change, the rest of us will have to work together to force their hands. But what is everyone else’s excuse, given that we are all so unhappy and unsatisfied? Why can’t we seem to give up our palliatives (shopping, driving, television, social media, selfies, online gaming, etc.) that wreck our ecosystems as well as our physical and psychological well-being?
Scientists’ best estimates suggest Homo sapiens, the species of modern humans, emerged between 300-200 thousand years ago. While we are an extremely young species in the context of geological time, we have nonetheless exacted a powerful toll on the planet during our relatively short stint here on Earth. The majority of that toll only occurred in the past few hundred years. Not only have we altered geology, chemistry, and biology across the globe, we have left a wasteland of ecosystem destruction, species decimation, acute and chronic toxic pollution, and of course, global climate change. But these alterations were not inevitable.
For most of our 200K years, Homo sapiens, like the other species living among us, affected local areas in limited ways that were not completely detrimental and irreversible. We didn’t leave traces of persistent organic pollutants at the poles of the globe, having manufactured and used them thousands of miles away. We didn’t leave radioactive vessels at the bottom of the ocean and heaps of radioactive materials in piles that we hope will not be touched for tens and hundreds of thousands of years. We didn’t deforest and desertify swathes of land the size of states and countries. We didn’t drastically reduce the number of insects and pollinators of our food supply. We didn’t kill the majority of species of large mammals. We didn’t leave a supply of chemical and plastic waste in the oceans, the quantity of which will soon outnumber the productive biota of the sea. And we didn’t drastically alter the gaseous concentrations of the atmosphere, thereby transforming the entire planetary climate. Some humans never did.
To be sure, not all humans created this problem. Ironically, it is the ones who have all but been obliterated across the globe – the indigenous - who hold the keys to our salvation. They did not exploit natural resources to the point of collapse; they honored and respected other species and their place in our global ecosystem. They considered more than quarterly earnings; they considered the consequences of their daily actions and looked forward toward the preservation of life for a minimum of seven generations of their people. Rather than revere the psychopathic, narcissistic, members of society who hoard all of the wealth, resources, and power to the detriment of people and planet, many indigenous cultures would shun and ostracize them. This is not an exaltation of the myth of the “noble savage.” Even the current IPCC report advises that indigenous knowledge and wisdom have important roles to play if we are to survive.
It is not inexorable that human activity will obliterate all life on earth. There are subsets of our species who lived, and still live, largely sustainably on the planet. These indigenous cultures are models for different, more viable alternatives. We should be striving to adjust our lives to be more like theirs rather than forcing them to adopt our corruptive, toxic, homicidal, and suicidal paradigms. All evidence suggests that we do, indeed, need to “go back,” or at the very least, massively scale back
Right before I received my doctoral degree, I had to meet with the graduate dean for a sort of exit interview. Seeing my field of study, she commented, “So, you are going to go out there and save us.” No. There are no individuals of any field or discipline who can save us. Likewise, to combat utter ecological devastation, people often say “we need our leaders to step up.” If it is not abundantly clear by now, our leaders have little incentive to do anything, and they have accomplished appallingly less.
The truth is, we must all take the lead. We must eat, sleep, and breathe with our environment in mind. In doing so, we will have to support one another in a battle against the rich and powerful who resist - with more fervor than any other type of resistance - all of the changes necessary that might stand half a chance of making this world more equitable and ecologically sound. We should do so not because we will necessarily save the world, but because as moral, ethical, rational, human beings, how can we not do so? And we do so because, unless we are mere sociopaths, we are clear about the truth of our situation and the consequences of not doing so.
Some potential goals to help avert environmental calamity:
- Remember that the economy is a human construct which does not have to exist
- Prioritize the environment, humans, and ecosystems over economics
- Drastically reduce all production and consumption
- Drastically reduce or eliminate extractive industries
- Localize economies
- Eliminate new production and consumption of fossil fuels
- Eliminate production of arms and weapons
- Drastically reduce or eliminate plastics
- Eliminate advertising and marketing
- Reduce offspring to one-two children at most
- Make housing a human right and eliminate housing as a market commodity
- Own no more than one (modest-sized) home per person
- Own no more than one (functional, modest) car per person
- Drastically reduce all automobile travel, air travel, boat travel
- Drastically reduce entertainment production and consumption, such as replacing film, television, and video games with more local forms of entertainment, art, and leisure play
- Drastically reduce the production and consumption of fashion and apparel
- Produce only long-lasting products of high quality, mainly necessities (food, clothing, shelter)
- Drastically reduce or eliminate superfluous, excess, unnecessary, disposable, and low-quality products
- Eliminate industrial agriculture, monocultures, and industrial livestock operations replacing them will small scale, organic multi-crop farms and abundant public and personal food gardens. (i.e., Agroecology)
- Drastically reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides
- Drastically reduce the consumption of meat and animal products
- Compost all organic materials, including human bodies
- Utilize our engineering expertise for only sustainable production
- Eliminate waste with cradle to cradle production of goods
- Utilize reclaimed, refurbished, recycled, and/or biodegradable materials for production and for art
- Eliminate all unnecessary medical procedures, over-diagnoses, and overmedication
- Drastically reducing the size of or eliminate multinational, global monopolistic corporations such as Google, Amazon, Wal-Mart, etc.
- Permanently halt the roll-out of 5G and the Internet of Things
- Drastically reduce our use of computers, tablets, smart phones, and electronics
- Overhaul education, prioritizing sustainability in all disciplines at all levels and eliminating unsustainable fields
- Drastically reduce or eliminate computers and internet from schools
- Have corporations automatically account for and pay for all detrimental externalities that result from their products
- Drastically shorten political campaigns, eliminate all private funding for campaigning, and divide public funds equally among all candidates
- Eliminate useless jobs
Three important means to facilitate these goals:
- Raise the marginal income tax rate for the rich to 90%, as it used to be
- Provide a universal basic income (at a level higher than the proposed $12K per person per year)
- Provide universal, single-payer, government-subsidized medical care for all
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