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Monday, April 20, 2015

state of the world II

Among the studies that evoke 'total-field' images in the State of the World-collection, two essays stand out in the 2014 volume: (1) the "Foreword" by David Orr and (2) "Failing Governance, Unsustainable Planet" by Michael Renner and Tom Prugh. Both max out at ten on the awesome-meter. Timely is their contention that resolving the eco-crisis requires a critique of the political economy. Naomi Klein points her finger at the free market ideology as the root of unsustainability, and she's right; it really is "Capitalism vs. the Climate," as the subtitle of her 2014 book has it, and indeed, This Changes Everything, as the  title goes. The two 2014 SotW studies supply data in support of this claim. For philosophy, this changes everything too, since the upshot of these data is that climate change is not just a moral problem, and that a climate ethics, while valuable in its own right, inevitably falls short. An appropriate philosophical response must be more comprehensive: it must transcend ethics and engage with epistemology, phenomenology, and progressive and comparative approaches. The crisis is a a structural problem of the economic foundation of global culture, demanding a structural solution. Cognitively, such a solution will only come into view when we look at the events more holistically and synthetically. In philosophy, the crisis changes everything in that wisdom transforms from an ancient aspiration and lofty ideal into mundane survival gear. And the free market ideology is just not wise.

The 2013 volume contains two texts that are equally exemplary in their synthesis of information. The one is a theoretical argument for ecological economics and a disavowal of both the current economic model and the shallow, too-timid 'green economy: (3) "Building a Sustainable and Desirable Economy-in-Society-in-Nature" by Robert Costanza, Gar Aplerovitz, Herman Daly, Juliet Schor and many other leading environmental economists. The other is a bold and lucid essay that concludes the volume, entitled with a deliberately misleading question: (4) "Is It Too Late?" by the fabulous Sci-Fi writer Kim Stanley Robinson. Just consider this quote (print edition p. 377):
We never hear the current global system described as scientific capitalism. Maybe this is because the phrase sounds a bit oxymoronic, these two power centers being vaguely understood to be at cross-purposes. In fact, modern history could be understood as a struggle betweeen these conjoined twins for primary control of humanity's affairs. One view of their fight could portray capitalism as attempting to buy science's efforts and direct them to reinforce capitalist ownership, while science could be seen as attempting to reduce human suffering, repair damage, and dismantle injustice, all by its particular method of discovering and manipulating the world. ... We could say that capitalism is the residual of the feudal system while science is what we named the emergent next system long before we recognized it as the post-capitalism it has been from its very beginning.
In the 2012 volume, (5) "The Path to Degrowth in Overdeveloped Countries," by Eric Assadourian, is another total-field study. It ends with the following outlook (print ed. p. 37):
In the end, whether societal leaders accept it or not, the natural limits of Earth--brought into view by increasing numbers of a population of 7 billion striving to live as consumers--will shatter the myth of continued growth, most likely due to dramatic changes to the planet's systems. Thus degrowth is part of humanity's future. Will people pursue this agenda proactively? Or will Earth and its limits drive the contraction of the global economy?
In the 2011 volume, (6) "The Climate Crisis on our Plates," by Anna Lappe, is a succinct summary of the looming geopolitics of food insecurity. One terse conclusion (print ed. 95) is this:
If we are to continue to feed the planet--and feed it well--in the face of global climate chaos, we should be radically rethinking the industrial food system. We can start with what is on our plates.
Dealing with "the connection between productivity, hours, and ecological footprint," as a section title runs, the study (7) "Sustainable Work Schedules for All," by Juliet Schor, in the 2010 volume, is another heuristic step towards a comprehensive outlook. Challenging the high-gear pursuit of material affluence, the alternative suggested here is downshifting, and a word to remember, in this context, is time affluence. How this matters comes out in the 2009 volume aptly titled "Into a Warming World". For the purposes of a seminar in climate philosophy, the whole volume is useful, not only in terms of its individual studies, but also in terms of the terminology compiled and defined--an indispensable lexical tool for philosophers wishing to work and research in an interdisciplinary context. This tool is "Climate Change Reference Guide and Glossary" by Alice McKeown and Gary Gardner. The study, though, that connects the 2010 and 2009 volumes, is (8) "Shifting Values in Response to Climate Change," by Tim Kasser. A take-home quote (p. 124) from Kasser's essay is itself a quotation, from D. Rosnick's and M. Weisbrot's Are Shorter Work Hours Good for the Environment? A Comparison of U.S. and European Energy Consumption (Washington, DC: Center for Economic Policy and Research, 2006), p. 1:
If, by 2050, the world works as many hours as do Americans it could consume 15-30 percent more energy than it would following Europe. The additional carbon emissions could result in 1 to 2 degrees Celsius in extra global warming.
In this sense, climate change is ultimately a structural-cultural problem in need of a structural-cultural solution. Unless it will be forthcoming, we'd be dealing with what Christopher Flavin and Robert Engelman call, in their keynote essay of the 2009 volume, (9) "The Perfect Storm".

If I could add one more essay, to make it an even ten, from all the SotW volumes to date (excepting the just published 2015 volume), then I'd select (10) "The Acceleration of History," by Lester R. Brown, from the 1996 volume. The title is meant in reply to Francis Fukuyama's misguided Hegelian hope, so fashionable with the neocons at the turn of the millennium, that the so-called "free world" of free markets constitutes "The End of History". Oops, dude didn't factor in market failure of climate change! Brown's essay, by contrast, opens with a remark that, 20 years later, is truer then ever (p. 3):
The pace of change in our world is speeding up, accelerating to the point where it threatens to overwhelm the management capacity of political leaders.