Planet Earth: In Conclusion on Climate Change and Global Warnings
In wrapping up my tripartite soliloquy on climate change—and I thank you for reading along—I want to focus on two very large questions we’ve barely touched upon in Parts One and Two:
- Why aren’t businesses and governments doing more to prevent ecological catastrophe?
- What can “regular citizens” do to help, and how much will it help?
This is going to be the longest segment of the piece by far, because these issues are more sensitive and more complex than the relatively straightforward understandings of what global warming is and how humankind is drastically accellerating it, which we discussed over the course of the first two parts. At times we will seem to have drifted miles from shore, but I assure you, we will never be more than two degrees of separation away from our topic. It is not my intention to be overly demanding of the reader, so I’ll forgive you for bookmarking and coming back a time or two. I have a life too, you know. ;-) It’s just that the nature of the beast requires careful dissection. While I try (with mixed results) to be lean in my verbiage, I must also be mindful to connect all dots. We’re only talking about the future of life on Earth, you know.
Also, at the bottom of the page, you will find links to nonpolitical, non-industrial information about climate change, sources of unbiased information which have been indispensible to me in learning more about the topic I’ve covered in these pages. I’m continually trying to learn more, so if you have anything to add in terms of scientific knowledge or otherwise, please jump right in.
Why aren’t businesses and governments doing more to prevent ecological catastrophe?
Ah, once again, a picture says a thousand words. I’m seriously tempted to hang up the keyboard, to leave it at this:
Well, of course, there are subtleties and complexities to the answer, but, as anyone familiar with Occam’s Razor will understand, the simplest explanation tends to be the correct one. Most of the little quirks and fuzzy situations cancel out one another upon close inspection.
One of the things that’s most frustrating for me in discussing politics with others is that I find that some people, at least in the humble opinion of yours truly, have only a very superficial understanding of why politicians and governments behave as they do. This is not because I’m smart and everyone else is dumb—in fact, my cat João will tell you I’m a right imbecile most of the time—but because many good, kind, busy people, particularly in the moneyed West, pay far too much attention to mainstream media and grade school history books and not enough to common sense. Noam Chomsky is fond of pointing out something I think you can recognize regardless of what you might think of his politics, which is that young children sometimes have a much clearer grasp on large issues than their adult parents. This is because children are naturally better at seeing big pictures and black-and-white contrasts. Their judgment may not be well-formed, but their worldviews are often crystalline in a way in which those of adults are not, because it takes a certain amount of “growing up” before children learn to construct complex systems of justification for their actions and beliefs and for those of others, actions and beliefs which sometimes don’t make a great deal of sense without the support of psychological constructions. In the West moreso than some other parts of the globe, we are just really, really adept at psycho-architecture.
When Al Gore released his book and film An Inconvenient Truth, I resolved quickly to ignore it. This is because I am highly allergic to activist ex-Vice Presidents. But a friend coerced me into sitting through the movie, and while I was annoyed by a lot of the schtick and the molasses-thick downhome goodness—particularly the misty creekside rêveries and the persistence of the Apple logo—I felt overall that Gore is really sincere about what he is doing, and I think the film contains a lot of good information from credible sources, even if it is seasoned with a dash of sensationalism à la manière de Michael Moore. I was able to suppress my nervous twitches, and I’d recommend the film to others with those caveats.
Gore is from eastern Tennessee, and I am from not very far away in northern Alabama. It’s a beautiful part of the country, though it keeps getting hotter there each year, like just about everywhere else. My high school history teacher’s family had a farm which directly abutted the Gore homestead, once upon a time. I’m giving you this background because, in his film, Gore uses a folksy example to illustrate popular attitudes about climate change, and the example he uses is an anecdote that my grandfather used to tell me when I was a little kid, to freak me out. It’s probably a regional thing, but maybe not. Who knows where Gorisms come from?
If you heat a pot of water to the point of boiling and a frog then jumps into it, the frog will immediately jump back out because it will sense that the water is very hot, and it will register something like pain which will cause it to dart away reflexively. But, if you take the same frog and put it in a pot of lukewarm water which you then bring to a boil with the frog submerged, it will calmly sit there until it cooks. Its receptors can sense the contrast between safe and deadly temperatures only when the contrast is stark and sudden. It’s part of being cold-blooded.
This is an apt metaphor to get us started in discussing why businesses, government, and even tons of ordinary people just aren’t concerned about climate change. It’s not because people are ignorant, because they don’t care about the planet, or because they don’t think it’s an important issue to begin with. When scientists tell us our habits are destroying the world, it’s frightening to us. But, when we get up on our day away from the job or from school and open the blinds to reveal a bright, sunny landscape, we instinctively want to make the most of that beautiful day and to put aside any larger concerns. We have daily lives to live, lives which are unique and important; we jump in that oil-burning car or truck, and off we go. Vrrrrrrrooooom! The fact that accellerated global warming is happening and is getting much worse by the year does not directly hinder our abilities to enjoy our free time, so we forgeddaboudit. It’s part of human nature. If rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere immediately caused escalating temperatures, it would be much harder to ignore the issue. But because there is a roughly century-long period of latency between an increase in atmospheric CO2 and the resulting rise in global mean temperatures, as we discussed in Parts One and Two, we don’t feel the immediate consequences of our pollution. We keep right on stewing in our own mess just as the frog sits tight in that pot, even as it is about to die from the heat it can’t sense.
There’s nothing wrong with living for the moment, so to speak, until we become willfully ignorant of the consequences of our actions, and this is where humanity as a whole now stands on the issue of climate change and pollution. We have more immediate problems to deal with. While I strongly disagree with the mainstream definitions of what terrorism is and is not, and while I find the average Western explanation for what terrorism is and why it exists to be positively stupid (please note—it’s not that Westerners are stupid, it’s that we’re force-fed manufactured information in much the same way ducks are force-fed raw grain to turn their livers into foie gras), nonetheless war and terrorism, which are really very much the same thing in terms of the ends they mean to accomplish, excepting that one’s for “winners” and the other for “losers,” are very real and visceral problems that are causing death and destruction right now. If you really want to know what terrorism is and what its causes and effects are in the real world, read the blogs of honest, hard-working Middle Easterners, Indians, Africans, El Salvadorians, or others in the “third world” who have to live with it every day of their lives, by no fault of their own. It isn’t the occasional catastrophic hijacking scheme or anthrax letter for them. It’s a daily fact of life, it’s being prodded with an assault rifle in the middle of the night, and portrayals of terrorism in the Western media make it hard for Americans, in particular, to understand this. As I write this and as you read this, people somewhere are dying in large numbers because of organized violence. So that’s real, and that’s immediate, and it deserves much more careful and concerted attention—and far less nationalist rhetoric and sensationalism—than it receives at present.
Hunger and disease are other serious problems with consequences that are immediately threatening. A widespread myth, particularly in Europe and America, is that starvation in our time results from overpopulation and a short food supply. Well, sociologists have long known that the quickest way to curb population growth is to raise the living standard—it’s like liquid magic, those essential amenities. Similarly, it is often said, quite incorrectly, that widespread disease results from a lack of medicines. In fact, the 40 million people on Earth who starved in 2003 alone did not die because the global food supply could not meet their needs; they died because the system of food distribution in their communities, countries, and in the world at large is unfair. In 2000 the planet Earth produced a surplus of food, not a shortage. For sociopolitical and economic reasons of varying sillinesses and complexities, those who starved did so because the food was available but could not reach them. The surplus was mostly consumed by Americans and Europeans while Africans and Asians starved to death. This is not because white people are greedy bastards, it’s because their corporations are. The reasons for the relative obesity of Westerners in relation to the rest of the world are hardly genetic in nature; but this unfairness of food distribution is as evident inside America as it is externally. There are people starving here, too.
While some deaths from disease and malnourishment do occur because of a simple lack of treatment, this is not because the treatment is unavailable. It’s because the treatment is produced and controlled by Western corporations that insist on making it too expensive for the people who need it most to afford. It seems nonsensical, because it is, but it’s an institutional reality for reasons we’ll get into below. This is why the Gates Foundation, with the help of Warren Buffett, is investing billions of dollars in treating disease in Africa and elsewhere—the cures don’t really cost that much in terms of materials, but pharmaceutical companies insist on charging out the whazoo for their products because, they lament with crocodile tears, the brilliant scientists who come up with the medicines (and sometimes the diseases, too) just wouldn’t be motivated to come to work each day if they weren’t making millions. I mean, they’d just lie there in bed all damn day. You know how it is, brother, sister.
Well-to-do Americans can often barely afford the medicines they need, since America remains the only highly industrialized nation without some form of universal health care, and these are by and large the same prices being charged to, say, the Sudanese. Many pharmaceutical companies in Europe and in the US have gone so far as to prevent companies in less developed countries from producing desperately needed, more affordable generic versions of their drugs, citing issues of patent and intellectual property. Their shareholders and directors see no conflict between these despicable practices and their stone-graven “corporate missions” to combat disease and improve quality of life for all. People as real as you and I are dying of entirely preventable diseases and ailments, in our own backyards as well as in the less developed world. It is not within the scope of this piece to discuss the slobbering, vile greed with which many of these same institutions and others are now racing to patent plant, animal, and human genomes for similar reasons. Don’t get me started on the “glorious benefits” of genetically modified crops. They are glorious for investors, cataclysmic for farmers, and, according to quickly progressing research, potentially very harmful for consumers. Genetically modified foods, some studies suggest, may lead to genetically modified eaters. Poimanently.
You’re probably saying, “Okay, buddy…I thought this was about climate change.” Well, I thank you for your continued patience, because I am making a point and a large one at that. We have spent a great deal of time enumerating some of the more immediate and pressing needs of global society, and have illustrated a few of the reasons why these problems continue to be bemoaned but not addressed. You can see with your own two eyes that corporate interests, in our time, have largely supplanted interests in the general welfare of humanity as anything other than customers and consumers. While Gore’s frog parable illustrates how human nature accounts for a lot of bad attitudes about the threat of climate change, the reasons governments and businesses have for overlooking this “debated” issue are more sinister and are a part of the same psychopathy which prevents the immensely influential and powerful corporate world from addressing even the most currently pressing matters in human welfare, much less such esoteric fare as the greenhouse effect. To understand why this is so, we must endure a brief history lesson beginning roughly with the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution. It’s quite instructive, or else I wouldn’t presume to put you through it.
Corporations as Citizens
The Fourteenth Amendment was scribbled down on June 13, 1866 and was ratified about three years later. Sitting Supreme Court Justice David Souter has called this amendment “the most significant structural provision” since the original drafting of the Constitution itself, although I’m not sure he went on to explain just why this is so. But he’s right, clearly.
This amendment was enacted in the wake of the American Civil War and of Emancipation. Its most momentous text, Section 1, reads as follows:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abuse the priveleges or immunities of citizens of the United States, nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Legislation had already provided for the citizenship of freed African-American slaves, and the Fourteenth Amendment was intended to provide equal protection under the law for all citizens of all states. However, between 1890 and 1910, only about twenty Fourteenth Amendment cases were brought before the judiciary on behalf of African-Americans. The other 288 cases were brought by corporations.
Corporations have existed, though in varying forms, since Roman times. The root of the word is the Latin CORPVS, meaning “body,” which indicates that the underlying idea of a corporation or of incorporation is that its members are brought together to form an identity, or body, above and apart from the identities of the members themselves. The development of the corporation in postclassical Europe parallels that of the Church as a body which exists perpetually regardless of individual membership. Early corporations were chartered by rulers and governments to accomplish purposes too risky or large for individual merchantmen to safely handle, particularly things like road building or large-scale construction or agricultural projects.
Corporations were the principal instruments of European colonialism, with companies like the Dutch East India Company or the Massachusetts Bay Company chartered by sovereigns to conduct the enterprise of foreign colonization. The rulers of European States, kissing cousins though they might have been, were too involved with warring amongst themselves on the Continent to invest military and logistical resources in these uncertain ventures abroad, so groups of investors were brought together to organize the exploitation of “savage” populations and their resources. Multiple investors were needed because these colonial companies often had to perform governmental functions such as war and civic governance. The unspeakable atrocities of European colonialism are an important part of the big picture I’m painting for you, but I don’t have time to address them here. I’m sure you’re aware of about as much of it as I am. The idea was to kill and to exploit as rapidly and mercilessly as possible, preferably on Biblical pretexts, and then to enslave the remaining heathen so as to build huge economies based on unpaid labor. For more on this, check out what Chomsky has to say about the sugar trade. I’ll try to find a link at some point soon.
In the early United States, the government chartered corporations to build railroads and to engage in the early enterprises of the Industrial Revolution. The difference between these early American corporations, built on the European model, and later corporations as we know them today, is this: historically, corporate charters were governed according to strict rules—namely, by rules which ensured that corporations served the public interest (as in infrastructural development) rather than private interests (as in unchecked profits.) This seems bizarre from our perspective on this side of the Fourteenth Amendment, does it not?
Not long after the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, corporate attorneys realized that the language of the legislation could be used to further the rights and priveleges of corporations. They argued in court that, since a corporation by definition maintained a separate identity unto itself, it should be awarded the same rights to citizenship, due process, and the pursuits of life, liberty, and property as the amendment granted to freed slaves and everyone else. The judiciary went along with this, agreeing that close governmental regulation of charters amounted to infraction of these “natural rights.” This is how corporations were enabled to own property, to own other corporations, and to negotiate wages with employees outside of the confines of regulation in the public interest. Through a series of court rulings, corporations became structured so that—by law, not merely by choice—their primary interests were in the wealth of their investors. They became engines of profit. Or engines of life, liberty, and property; however you want to look at it is fine. It doesn’t matter.
Now, this isn’t all sinister and bad. The ability of corporations to expand and to conduct business freely contributed immensely to worldwide industrialization, which produced definite benefits to society and still does. The immediate problems that arose from the new paradigm were mainly related to unfair labor practices—with federal regulation largely displaced, companies began to abuse their employees. It was a Jeffersonian nightmare, but some of this was corrected by the judiciary in later stages. The Big Kahuna, though, had to do with the application of a corporation’s Constitutional right to the pursuits of life, liberty, and property to the notion of economic externalization.
In the language of economics, an externality is a result of a transaction between two parties which is imposed upon a third party outside of this transaction. Externalities can be positive (beneficial) or negative (detrimental). If you own steel mills and I own a metalworking shop, and if I buy steel from you which you have to produce in order to sell to me, there are externalities involved in this transaction which are not evident at the surface. A positive externality might be that you’d have to hire new workers to produce steel for me. This creates jobs—your new workers aren’t explicitly part of the transaction, so this is a positive externality. But, to produce my steel, you must also produce pollution. This affects everyone in your community by degrading air or water quality, and, in contributing to the greenhouse effect, for instance, could be said in some small way to affect all of Earth. The fact that you are removing ore from the Earth to make the steel, considering that this ore is a finite resource (if it weren’t, you’d be making less money) is also a hidden externality.
The problem with granting corporations largely unabridged rights to life, liberty, and property is that, in subsequent legal decisions, it was determined that forcing a corporation to absorb the costs of negative externalities amounts to depriving it of these “inalienable rights.”
The individuals who own, manage, and work for corporations and for governments are not intrinsically amoral. They’re often some of the sweetest folks you’d ever hope to meet on a morning in May. I’ve worked for one of the largest financial service companies in the world; I felt like a bad person for pressing ‘Enter’ to foreclose on residential properties, but I wasn’t. The legal obligation of a corporation to ruthlessly pursue escalating profits at all costs turned corporations into externalizing machines. Corporations, as distinct from their memberships, are decisively amoral. Their only drive is profit—though it may appear in variously shaded manifestations, this is the only true “corporate agenda”: to make as much money as possible regardless of the consequences to anyone else. That includes the workers, the consumers, and everyone in the world who doesn’t own stock in the company. It is really that plain. It is no simplification, because the structure requires none—it is the epitome of brutal efficiency.
In the theory of capital, while this motivation may seem a little…selfish, it creates incentive for businesses to produce goods and services, for profit, which in turn benefit the communities in which these businesses operate. Reagan’s speechwriters would say that the goodness sort of, you know, trickles down. This is all well and good, and no one would argue that corporations have not benefitted society in this way; they certainly have. The glaring problem is that an industrial corporation’s ability to externalize economic intangibles was established before it was publicly realized or debated that one of these intangibles is the destruction of Earth’s atmosphere and the degradation of its biosphere in general, through pollution. This next gem is only educated speculation on my part without historical documentation: given the synergistic timing of the genesis of American corporate law and the Industrial Revolution, I would say it’s entirely possible that the modern corporation was created specifically in anticipation of this realization, at least partially. Corporate lawyers from the Victorian Period might not have known much about ecology, but they had likely read Darwin and they probably knew mercury waste when they saw it. Or smelled it. Regardless of my little theory, since corporations are required by law to pursue their own life, liberty, and property to the exclusion of the interests of anyone else, it is not only perfectly legal but is built into the structure of the corporation itself to account for this pollution as a regrettable but necessary externality for which someone else must and surely will pay.
Now that modern science has conclusively proven that industrial pollution is a serious problem, to the point of threatening the extinction of life on Earth, one would expect that a corporation might say to itself: “Gee, if I don’t stop killing everything, there won’t be anyone to buy my products and I’ll go broke.” This is sound logic, but, alas, it is unconstitutional. Since the fossil fuel industry makes its living from selling pollution, halting that pollution would mean halting the associated profit. This is not allowed under the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment. I mean this quite seriously and I am not smiling: ridculous as it is, your demand for a habitable Earth for your grandchildren is an infringement of a corporation’s right to life, liberty, and property.
You might say, “Well, why don’t the oil companies just go ahead and switch to clean energy? They’ll make money. Why keep on keeping on?” Many people do not realize that some of the most important patents on renewable energy mechanisms are in fact already owned by fossil fuel industries, and have been for decades. These were maneuvers to prevent serious competition. Again we see the amorality of the notion of intellectual property. These companies have developed huge, expensive, self-perpetuating infrastructures based on dirty energy; so converting to clean energy means a drop in short-term profit in terms of reorganization alone, apart from various other considerations. You can’t force a corporation to give up short-term profit, not even for the sake of life itself. So saith the federal and state judiciaries of circa 1900.
Another problem lies in the weakness of renewable energy as a vehicle for profit simply because it is renewable. How do you charge for sunlight? How do supply and demand work? To you and me the answers might be “not a whole lot” and “it doesn’t matter,” but to corporations driven Constitutionally by profit, these are huge issues.
Hopefully I have adequately demonstrated the psychopathy of the corporate structure; this idea is explored in more fascinating detail in the book The Corporation, made into a film by Mark Akbar et al., a film which I highly recommend. Please see my previous post on Ray C. Anderson of Interface, Inc. for a truly moving example of an exception to the rule, an example which I fear will not be widely emulated as long as oil remains the lifeblood of our economy. This brings us to the role of government in ecological negligence.
What Uncle Sam Really Wants
The title is that of a book by Noam Chomsky (I don’t mean to harp on Noam, but he’s so darned logical about these things. Arguing with Chomsky is much like sparring with a glacier, at least within his realms of expertise. It can be done, but it hurts.) If somewhat dry, it’s a supremely enlightening read that covers much of what I haven’t space for here. The text is available in full online in the ‘Books’ section of his website.Like the members of a corporation, the members of our government leadership are not intrinsically evil people. Stop laughing, I’m serious! Just look at Donald Rumsfeld…all he really wants is to show you around his barn. Tony Blair would be glad to walk you through the Cromwell Collection at Chequers, and Bush just wants you to drop by the ranch sometime, but you’ll have to leave Cindy Sheehan in town. Vladimir Putin has more Fabergé eggs than you can possibly eat for breakfast, and Junichiro Koizumi would love to croon some Elvis for you under the archway at his favorite relaxation spot, the Japanese shrine to the war heroes of Tojo’s Imperial Army. That never fails to irk Shanghai and Honolulu.
We can make this explanation much simpler now that we’ve discussed the legalese behind corporate law, because our governments, at the federal and state levels, are merely puppets of corporate enterprise. That is all there is to it: it’s called lobbyism, and it’s been around awhile. If you need to see how lobbying is done by the real pros, please feel free to visit the man who gets my vote, at least in one of my brasher moments, for being the lowest form of scum on the Earth, Steven Milloy of junkscience.com (see Part Two of this piece.)
Did you ever notice that, while we get to vote for our government leaders, we don’t get to directly choose who runs in the first place? Why do we have electoral colleges in the Information Age? You’d think we could have highly precise referenda in our countries these days, what with Morse code, telegraphs, telephones and wireless Internet. Did you ever notice the absurdity of our electoral systems, like maybe when you were in the second grade? Why do you suppose that is? Is it because it just “has to be like that?” That’s what my junior high school social studies teacher told me once to shut me up, no lie. I want to know, though. As a “citizen” of a “democracy,” I really, truly do. Is it because we don’t know who’s qualified? Because all we, like sheep, have gone astray, sometime before 1776?
Let’s jump in the old time machine and tune in to see what James Madison, that venerable, rosy-hued founding father, had to say about it during the Constitutional Debates of 1787. He might not have known it was being written down:
When the number of landholders shall be comparatively small, will not the landed interest be overbalanced in future elections, and, unless widely provided against, what will become of your government? If these observations be just, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The senate, therefore, ought to be this body; and to answer these purposes, they ought to have permanency and stability.
Allow me translate. I’m sure you already get the gist, and it’s not my intention to insult your intelligence in any way; it’s just that, for my own smug satisfaction, I really feel the need to break this down so that even my cat could nod along:
Now, look here, boys. We’re all filthy rich, and while we’re in this dark smoky room hovering over this Constitution, we need to make by God sure that people with money get to keep it forever. If you wussies try to turn this into a real democracy, then we rich people won’t be the majority and we’ll be voted right out of our sprawling estates. So we’d better set up a senate that’s a whole lot like King George’s House of Lords if we’re gonna make this thing work and hang onto our slaves.
Madison knew perfectly well what he was saying, and he was in good company. He knew it was on the record. Virtually everyone in the room agreed with him: the only real argument, which was principally waged between Jefferson and Hamilton, was over how thin the façade needed to be in order to remain intact. I am sorry to burst any bubbles, people, but democracy in America and in the world at large was never about equal rights for all. It was never about God, and it certainly was never about the greater well-being of the people and the planet.
That being said, this doesn’t mean it can’t be about those things in the future. Indeed, it must be about those things in the future if we are to survive.
I love this cartoon…it’s from an astronomy website, parodying an astronomer running for Congress. The really disturbing thing is that it’s meant to be funny by being serious, and thus is seriously funny.
Madison didn’t get his way, specifically. It was decided, probably over good-natured chuckles, that an American peerage and House of Lords might be a little too…feudal. But, still, in the grand design of the new government, his point was well taken.
Think about it: how is America a democracy? How is any other country a democracy? Why isn’t the technology used by the media to blast information at us pointed in the other direction, so that the centers of power hear what we have to say? The answer is simple: the opulent minority must be protected.
It doesn’t matter if a politician calls himself liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican: he serves the opulent minority. America has no conservative tradition. If it did, conservatives would be ecologists, every one. Those politicians who call themselves conservatives are in fact radical reactionary nationalists; those politicans who claim to be liberal are preemptive economic exploiters. Without the backing of lots of money, political candidates wouldn’t be able to get on television or in print, because that takes money. This is a built-in guarantee of their corporate servility, and has been since at least the time of William Randolph Hearst. No matter what superficial, unimportant, and exhausted issues Candidate X debates with Candidate Y, their stance is always essentially the same: they serve the opulent minority. They argue the issues that are the most divisive but least consequential. Consequential issues do not enter the arena of discussion, because corporate interests have already decided them. That is what is called democracy here and in the rest of the “Free World.” The American people exercise their democratic control through the ballot box; they make their choices based on advertisements in the media, often in the guise of political dialogue or debate, but never really either in fact; and the people who design this advertising are the same people who make toothpaste tube blurbs and Toyota commercials. That is literally true. That is how democracy works. That is why the middle class is disappearing, it is why wars are raging and why people are flying planes into buildings on purpose, it is why millions are starving and rotting from disease, it is why animal and plant species are going extinct faster than boy bands, and it is why future generations are going to inherit a hell instead of a planet if things do not change: because of this ridiculous and myopic idea that the opulent minority must be protected, an idea whose origins can be traced back not merely to the European or Ottoman capitals but to the earliest cities of 10,000 years ago, when man first took it upon himself to decide what was his and what was not, would could live and what could die. He has been running from the consequences ever since. His shelter has been his money. In Madison’s day, the wealth of man was invested in the land that he owned. In our time, personal wealth has been transferred into unaccountable, perfectly legal, profiteering tyrannies called corporations. That’s the law. And that’s the story. Period. When people are afraid they consume, and when people consume, wealthier people make money. When people are concerned about the state of the world around them, and are not afraid to say so, they stop consuming and start reacting. Wealthy people then lose money. This is why modern democracy is, unless we reclaim it, a perpetual farce. It could. Not. Be. Clearer.
In response to criticisms on handling of the greenhouse gas problem, the governments of the world might say: “We have policies and regulations in place, young man. You shush.” They fawn and flock over the Kyoto Protocol—while it is a positive step, it is a farcical one without the US and China fully on board. Here are the projected results of their post-Kyoto CO2 policies, courtesy of the Energy Information Administration:
In response to criticisms on handling of oceanic pollution and wildlife abuse, the governments of the world might say: “We have policies and regulations in place, young man. You shush.” Here are the results of these policies:
In response to criticisms on handling of massive deforestation and habitat destruction, in response to criticisms on handling of global economic policy, in response to accusations of organized crimes of high treason and mass murder of humans, animals, plants, and cultures through utter, willful callousness and carelessness, the governments of the world might say: “We have policies and regulations in place, young man. You go away. You work and pay taxes. You do not speak.” Here are the results of these policies:
“Only when the last tree is withered,
and the last fish caught,
and the last river poisoned,
will the white man realize he cannot eat money.”
–Cree Nation Proverb
Let’s prove them wrong with respect to people of all colors, faiths, and nations, shall we?
What can regular citizens do to help, and how much will it help?
Unfortunately, this most important aspect of the issue is often the least discussed. Perhaps that’s because it’s the one that requires doing something.
The first step in the formulation and analysis of tactics through which to deal with the ecological crisis facing us is to understand the architecture and protocol of the system which has brought about the crisis in the first place. That is why Part Three of this piece has been so dreadfully long. ;-)
However egalitarian the system is trumpeted to be, it is clearly in fact highly hierarchical and pyramidical. Wealthy industrialists, investors, and government leaders are at the top, and consumers and citizens are at the bottom. The good news is that this hierarchy, through strong in construction, is exceedingly weak in principle because it neither reflects nor projects the hierarchy of human needs and must be in constant opposition with them in order to endure. It can be easily broken and molded into something more wholesome. Persistence and cooperation are all that is required.
The idea is not to sabotage nor to wreck the system, because we need an economy to survive. The most common myth peddled by the servile agents of dirty industry, and espoused by their many passive, but usually well-meaning denizens is that the choice is all or nothing: we either maintain an economy of which pollution and destruction are the watchwords, or we do not have one at all. This lie is broadcast throughout all media, again, because the opulent minority and their self-serving ideals must be protected.
In the real world in which we must live, sequestered safely, if barely, from the noxious ethers of ideologies of consumption and fear, the solution will require a slow but progressively intensifying nibbling away from both ends of this structure. Consumers must be compelled to consume more responsibly, and producers must be compelled to produce more responsibly. Legislators cannot be compelled to legislate more responsibly without pressures from both consumers and industrialists. The means through which these ends can be accomplished need not resort to violence or hysterics of any kind. This is another myth carted around by those who worship golden idols—that environmental awareness and responsibility constitute some sort of pseudomystical, neopagan religious cult.
Do not fall prey to the notion that all CEOs and senators are monstrous beings who will resist change at all costs. This description fits many of them, at least in terms of their actions, but certainly not all of them. There are those, few and far between but increasing in their ranks, whom have realized the error of their ways and are making progress in the right direction. The corner from which the most resistance can be expected, obviously, is the one occupied our good buddies in the petrochemical boardrooms and their political action committees. But they, too, are human; they, too, give birth; they can avert the message, but they cannot refuse it.
It is crucial to never, in anything other than your fleeting frustrations, think of the road ahead as a battle or struggle of “us” against “them.” Centers of power are intelligent enough not to employ this psychology in their dealings with the subject, at least most of the time; so should be those who would seek to impact change in the world. To seek to defeat an enemy is to impose one’s very self upon another, and it is largely this culturally adolescent attitude which has placed us in this unfortunate position to begin with. Humanity is not evil; we are simply errant and no longer innocent. This is the first Industrial Revolution we’ve been through, after all. We are entitled to a mistake, as long as we live to learn from it. It was bound to happen, as the Ecological Revolution is bound to happen. The adulthood of our species is upon us.
We said earlier that the people who make up corporations and institutions of power are not in themselves vicious or cruel, with a few notable exceptions—it is the impersonal institutions they serve which are vicious and cruel. It thereby follows that, to put an end to the greedy and irresponsible practices of governments and corporations, we must attempt to reach those in control and those that they control—and they are many—as people and not as cogs in the industrial machine. They need air and water and food, too. They are human and they are aware of their humanity as much as anyone else. It is only the momentum of the institutional procedures of which they are a part which allows them to live in continual denial of the gravity of their errors.
In your daily interactions with people from all walks of life, be they corporate executives or subsistence farmers, children or the elderly, appeal to them on the grounds of the good of future generations. Inform them of your beliefs about ecology, sustainability, and justice with regards to the needs of their grandchildren’s grandchildren, not merely their own needs. Remind them that the study of ecology is simply the study of love. That is all that it is. It is not test tubes and graphs, it is not focus groups and activist organizations. It is simply love. It is the awareness of one’s self and one’s progeny as a part of a continuum in which all are entitled to share and which none are entitled to break. Ecology is the science of the Golden Rule. It is the message of Christ, of the Buddha, of Brahma, of Allah, of Yahweh, of Zen, of Ahura Mazda, of the Tao, of Chac, and of the eternal spirit of every atom of existence, extended beyond the rigid confines of the self and through the entirety of human knowledge, practice, and understanding. It is the realization that without a problem, there can be no solution. Ecology is the transition in the collective consciousness of humanity from I to we. It is the acceptance that we are not lords and conquerors. We are caretakers. If this is a cult, I am part of it. But it is no cult. It is life.
If your life is a continuous attempt to spread this message through your words and your actions, in whatever way you choose to express it and by whatever means are available, no matter how meek or how great, and always with your own uniquely beautiful signature of imperfection, then your life shall be rich and full of moments of grace and of everlasting reward. You will not keep the reward; it will pass from your hands into those of another, and another, and another, for it is only through this passage that it shall remain eternal. This is the promise that is given not by me, and not by any of the billions of those greater and wiser than I. It is the promise that was whispered in the wind between the stars, deposited of its own accord and none other by a tiny kiss blown upon the seas of a painfully average planet shuddering alone in the vastest, coldest wilderness of all. The sulfurous eruptions of the deep and lonely Earth rose up to meet this kiss and the sky and all that depend on it were born in their times. It is this promise which the owl knows instinctively when it hoots, but at which man must arrive only through the long and arduous taming of his own wild and precocious nature, whereby he will find that the company of the owl is worth more than its feathers. This is the meaning of ecology and of life upon the Earth. Take that message with you, and you will transform the world one mind at a time. The test of the purity of the message is whether or not it can be resisted—if it is pure and solemn and joyous and good, there is no one who can stop it from travelling where it wills to go.
Damage has been done that cannot be undone, and more will follow. But there is only one solution, and it is heartwrenching in its utter simplicity: spread the promise of which we have known since before our births, but did not know we knew. Begin to rebuild the pyramid of society from the bottom, and you will be amazed to find that those at the top will stretch their arms to help you up and in so doing the pyramid will become a sphere, a globe with all points on the surface equidistant from the same burning center. I have seen it in my travels and I know it to be true. I have seen and felt the radiant power of what this gift can do, and so have you.
While we work, others will starve. While we give our love, others will die. We must, then, spend the essence of our lives as they surely would, could they be granted another chance. When the promise is expired from the lungs of those who succumb in anguish under the wrath of that which man once was but can be no more, it is passed along to you and to me. As man learns to live in harmony with his planet, hunger, disease, poverty, and strife will fade away as the unpleasant dreams of a stormy afternoon. The bounty and the means are in place—it is only the awareness and the will that are missing. Until that day, not in our lifetimes but in those of coming seasons, there is enough work for all to do at every turn.
Like the members of the mightiest corporation on the Earth, the keepers of the promise are but the means of that greater body which is the promise itself; its ends exist entirely alone and continue forever and ever. All of society is but a pale and trembling spectre of the glorious reality which lies ahead, always out of reach and yet ever closer. For all its horrors and all its woes, this is the most exciting time in which any one of us could hope to be alive. Let us turn our heads neither to the left nor to the right. Let us refuse no hand that is outstretched. In this way we shall save the Earth one rippling stream of consciousness at a time. Drastic times may seem to call for drastic measures, and illusions of anger and hopelessness lurk everywhere. All will dance under the sway of the promise, and there will be no more birds soaked with the black blood of human ignorance; no more forests burning with the fires of man’s contempt for himself; no more clouds of carelessness to trap man within his own private laboratory of destruction, to enable his vain notion that he is somehow shielded from the penetrating eye of God. No longer shall men and women fear their destinies, no further shall they carry the weight of imaginary burdens.
One day at a time. One word at a time. One creature at a time. One blade of grass and one grain of sand at a time. One embrace at a time. This is not empty prophecy; it is how the world was made, and it is how it will be saved if it is saved at all. Until the opulent minority joyfuly abolishes the very idea of itself of its own will, as it eventually must, we must do most of the work. It is the only work worth doing, and so we are supremely priveleged in this respect. If you blog, blog about it; if you sing, sing about it; if you think, think about it; if you garden, garden about it. None of us are perfect; only the promise is perfect. The best we can do is live about it. Thus we will lead by example, until humanity is as sustainable as the promise to which it owes its life.
“Every day of my life, tomorrow’s child has spoken to me…I was a plunderer of the Earth. This is not a legacy I wanted to leave behind. Not a drop of oil will go into Interface products in the future.”
—Ray C. Anderson
Chief Executive Officer, Interface Textiles, world’s largest textile conglomerate
Revenues: ca. $1 billion/ann.
Ecological sustainability: 100% projected by 2020
Dependence on Fossil Fuels: ca. 20% in 2005
US Net Energy Dependence on Fossil Fuels: ca. 85% in 2005
Just then a Fawn came wandering by: it looked at Alice with its large gentle eyes, but didn’t seem at all frightened. ‘Here then! Here then!’ Alice said, as she held out her hand and tried to stroke it; but it only started back a little, and then stood looking at her again.
‘What do you call yourself?’ the Fawn said at last. Such a soft sweet voice it had!
‘I wish I knew!’ thought poor Alice. She answered, rather sadly, ‘Nothing, just now.’
‘Think again,’ it said. ‘That won’t do.’
Alice thought, but nothing came of it. ‘Please, would you tell me what YOU call yourself?’ she said timidly. ‘I think that might help a little.’
‘I’ll tell you, if you’ll move a little further on,’ the Fawn said. ‘I can’t remember here.’
So they walked on together through the wood, Alice with her arms clasped lovingly round the soft neck of the Fawn, till they came out into another open field, and here the Fawn gave a sudden bound into the air, and shook itself free from Alice’s arms. ‘I’m a Fawn!’ it cried out in a voice of delight, ‘and, dear me, you’re a human child!’ A sudden look of alarm came into its beautiful brown eyes, and in another moment it had darted away at full speed.
Alice stood looking after it, almost ready to cry with vexation at having lost her dear little fellow-traveler so suddenly. ‘However, I know my name now,’ she said. ‘That’s SOME comfort. Alice—Alice—I won’t forget it again. And now, which of these finger-posts ought I to follow, I wonder?’
—Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass
Yahoo! Ecology Directory
Ray Anderson: 2005 address, St. Xavier University, Nova Scotia (corporate sustainability)
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