Democracy Now! For Ecological Sustainability
One of the most terrifying pieces of climate change denial which I see crop up from time to time is some form of “No problem, we’ll just use air conditioners.” This simple statement betrays so many levels and types of ignorance that I prefer the “It’s all a hoax” Deniers. At least their nonsense is easy to expose in one straightforward argument.
Let’s begin with the assumption that ‘everyone’ has air conditioning; privileged much? Needless to say the majority of the world’s population does not, nor are they going to be able to access them. Even within the Denier’s belief system, ie that the problem is heat waves, this betrays a staggering lack of awareness of who is human and what is possible. If you ever needed a blatant example about how climate change is really the oppression of the marginalized by the privileged, this is it.
Our next problem is the profound ignorance of the natural world and how humans depend on it. The author of this sort of statement is clearly unaware of how food is produced, and what it requires to be grown. One needn’t have been raised on a farm to have noticed how often “drought”, “heat wave”, and “crop failure” go together in the news.
The fact is that climate change affects crops both directly and indirectly. Heat waves do not need to actually kill the crops outright. A heat shock during vulnerable times such as germination, flowering, or seed set is enough to ensure no harvestable crop. This is true even if the rest of the season is/was perfect growing conditions.
A less direct effect is that climate change affects rainfall. Crudely speaking, dry areas will get drier and wet areas will get wetter. Neither is good for growing food. I won’t belabour the details, but suffice to say that on our current course we expect to lose significant proportions of our food production capabilty over the next few decades, after which it will get much worse. For those who wish to understand why climate change means global famine (including North America) see Greenfyre’s.
The quick version to understanding the impacts of climate change goes like this: Too often people relate to climate change on the warmer than average winter day – mistake. Right now we are tracking for a global average warming of at least 4C (7.2F) this century. Warming is twice as much over land, so make that 8C (14.3F) to understand what we will actually experience. Now add that to the worst heat waves and droughts that you experience every year.
Consider the less common events such as the heat wave in 2006 that destroyed 50 percent to 90 percent of many crops in the American West, or the 2003 one in Europe that killed over 50,000 people. How about the now annual fire season in California and other regions of the west coast? Add 8C (14.3F) to those. Then add more because 4C is just the prediction for this century, and not even the worst case one. That’s climate change.
Yet another level of ignorance is the belief that some form of technology will save us. Here again this topic deserves far more explanation than I am going to give here, but the short version is that technological “solutions” typically only address one symptom. Our air conditioning example addresses only the effect of heat waves on the privileged. Various schemes to reflect sunlight don’t address ocean acidification, etc.
Even where technological schemes try to address “the problem”, such as carbon capture, they merely shift the nature of the problem. If we were to actually capture all of the carbon successfully, what would we do with it? How safe is “storage”? Or are we setting ourselves up for a sudden release of many years of accumulated carbon dioxide? Where are the resources to come from to build all of these capture and storage facilities?
The wish for technological solutions is very much like the alcoholic’s fantasy that if they could find just the right drink it would solve their addiction problems. White wine instead of red, or straight up instead of mixed drinks; all the little games pretending to change while actually changing nothing.
None of which should be news to anyone who understands the most basic ecological facts, which in our society is almost no one. The sad truth is that far more people know who won the Super Bowl or who may win the Oscars then where their food comes from and what it needs to be plentiful. Needless to say the former are utterly trivial, whereas the latter is essential to survival.
Which begs any number of questions.
Broadly speaking democracy is not about counting votes so much as it is about universal participation in the decision making process. It is about informed decision making by those affected by those decisions. Is democracy even a relevant concept when the populace is so naïve about their basic survival needs?
Daniel Goleman’s book “Ecological Intelligence: Do Humans Have What it Takes to Survive?” explores aspects of this question, and while he seeks to be hopeful the prognosis is not good. The fact is that we don’t know what we need to know, and we generally don’t want to know.
Another question would be “why don’t we know?” How did we get a society where your social status increases if you are knowledgeable about the trivial, decreases if you know and understand what is important?
The “they control us” perspective of power in society is comforting in that it pardons us individually of any responsibility for the various messes we are in. That is about all it is good for. It is true that there are extreme power differences in our societies, and that the powerholders are actively working to ensure that the mass of society is ignorant about what is in it’s own self interest. That is a given.
It is also true that most of the relevant information is not only freely available, there are in fact large segments of society that pour heart and soul into trying to educate the rest. Our collective ignorance is due, at least in part, to a collective desire to be ignorant. The relationship with the powerholders is not so much Master/Servant as that of a subservient, but nonetheless enabling co-dependent.
Part of the solution has to begin with our individually taking responsibility for our participation in this process. Empowerment cannot be done to us or for us. Nor is it about seizing power. It is the process of recognizing and acknowledging the power we already have and wielding it responsibly. “Democracy Now!” is not a demand on the system, it is a demand we make on ourselves.