Friday, July 17, 2009

Band wagons and climate change

I confess I'm feeling a bit uneasy these days with all of the advocacy initiatives around climate change. There are all kinds of quick and easy ways that we can pester our governments into at least making a show of understanding the urgency of political action on the environment portfolio. We can sign petitions, send letters, join demonstrations - the usual array of citizen tools for voicing our collective concern.

Some might say that these activities are needed in order to badger our politicians into effective policy decisions and that they are consequently worth the little bit of effort they require. The implicit argument is that our governments can't be trusted to act responsibly if we don't keep at them. Hm. I confess that as I write that statement, I realize that it may not actually be that far-fetched! Others might have less confidence in the effectiveness of these forms of advocacy but may adopt a "what can it hurt?" attitude. But - let's think this through...

Here are some basic assumptions that I'm working from:

1. Climate change is nothing new. I have no idea of all of the variables that may possibly impact on the climate of this planet, but I'm pretty sure there are TONS of them. I suspect that the climate fluctuates and changes daily but that there are also significant shifts and trends. I think I've heard that scientists can identify 7 distinct climate "ages" in the earth's known history.
2. We humans are part of the ecology of the earth. Our actions affect the planet and we, in turn, are affected by our environment.
3. I think James Lovelock (the guy who originally proposed Gaia Theory - for more on that see my post of June 2/09 entitled Gaia Theory: A CBC Interview with James Lovelock), is onto something really significant when he posits that the earth is a self-regulating organism with its own survival agenda and that we should perhaps be more concerned about saving ourselves than about saving the planet (since it will likely outlast us, at least from a scientific perspective). When push comes to shove Mother Earth may not be so much "nurturing" as vindictive!
4. Presuming that we are, in fact, the highest life form (and most intelligent), we ARE to be stewards and caretakers of the earth. In other words, we should know better than to pollute our nest or exploit resources for our short-term selfish gain. That sounds so self evident that it makes me wonder how we ever got where we are in terms of our very obvious abuses of a marvelously complex - but not infinitely forgiving - natural system. I suppose each little encroachment and denial of common sense and common courtesy seemed innocuous enough and it's only now sinking in that we have been crass and stupid as stewards.
5. No credit to us, but it does seem that the earth has been incredibly resilient, despite our short sightedness and bad manners. Doomsday forecasts have - at least in the past - tended to overstate the case and underestimate the earth's capacity to survive our assaults. This is not to presume that we can carry on as we have in the past.
6. If the current observations of climate change do, in fact, indicate a trend of global warming, the predictions of what will happen if the planet continues to heat and the ice caps and glaciers continue to melt, are VERY daunting and certainly SHOULD cause us to take the warnings of impending disaster very seriously.
7. This is much MORE than a simple environmental issue. After all, if we dig even a bit into the pit of explanations for WHY the climate is changing, we will discover that the impact of human activity has largely been fueled by a combination of greed, selfishness, a perhaps naive and uncritical embrace of technologies which have enticed us to forfeit sound judgment for comfort and convenience. Environmental issues cannot be neatly separated from political and economic issues. Therefore, we will not overcome environmental impacts of political and economic policies WITHOUT addressing the flaws in those political and economic policies.
8. It seems to me that a basic bottom line observation is that environmental advocacy will simply be a lot of hot air (pun intended!) if we are not willing to challenge the underlying systemic injustices of our international political and economic structures and assumptions.

All this to say that it may be that the band wagon of environmental activism is actually a diversion that is distracting us from the more critical issues. To the extent that we get drawn into the debates about climate change and how the actions of the G8 countries are addressing environmental issues (or not!), we run the serious danger of diverting attention away from the root CAUSES of both the current climate issues AND the injustices of globalization as it is currently managed.

The solution, I think, is not to ignore the monumental environmental challenges facing humanity, but to understand them in their broader context. And, to beware of simple environmental advocacy efforts which may contribute more to political smoke and mirror antics than to effective strategies for managing not only the environment, but global issues of social injustice as well.

Please be assured that my intention is NOT to discourage advocacy on these issues, but rather, to encourage us all to be a bit wary of a band wagon mentality that MAY oversimplify the issues in order to gain momentum. Let's keep checking our bearings and make sure that the band wagon is actually heading in the right direction before we hop on.

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