I’ve been musing a bit on two different sorts of environmentalism, and I’ve recently come across two good exemplars.
First, in Orion, Curtis White argues that environmentalists are involved in a futile enterprise as long as they fight from within the system — as long as they use technoscientific, rationalist, bureaucratic language to fight problems that technoscientific, rationalist bureaucracies have wrought. We shouldn’t blame big bad corporations. We are the problem. Nothing will change until we change our fundamental worldview.
Next, over on Old Man in a Cave (an interesting new blog you should check out), Fergus Brown makes a different point:
The message here is simple: yes, the climate system is at risk of being changed for the worse because of CO2 emissions. No, it isn’t our fault – not us, the end-user, the taxpayer, the car driver or holidaymaker. The risk comes from energy production and industry. The fault lies with the infrastructure which lies at the heart of a developed economy, and with the investment and shareholding system which underlies our commerce and our comfort. It is not an easy thing to change the way in which we work, especially when the values which matter are purely economic and fiscal, and not ethical or social. It is not an easy thing to move the balance of power away from an inequitable hierarchy towards a more genuinely Democratic distribution of wealth, whilst avoiding spiralling inflation, recession or shifts in international power-dynamics. But, if there is any hope of actually preventing CO2 emissions from reaching levels which lead to the worst of the predicted outcomes in the next hundred years, then this is what will have to be done, somehow.
Though Brown cites ethical and social values, fundamentally he’s talking about tweaking the rules of modern capitalist democracies to make them work better and more equitably. And he’s specifically rejecting the notion that average citizens should feel guilty about their unavoidably destructive lives.
So which is it? Are we waiting for a fundamental spiritual awakening, or are we just trying to make our developed societies work better and more cleanly?