Monday, March 30, 2015

state of the world I

The State of the World reports are the flagship publications of the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C. Founded by Lester R. Brown, and continued by Linda Starke, Eric Assadourian, Tom Prugh, Michael Renner and others, the SotW reports are in my view the best annual overviews of, well, the state of the world. Exemplary about these overviews is their consistent aspiration to synthesis and thus to the  methodological ideal that philosophical reflection on climate change needs to emulate. The SotW summaries proceed on a synthesis of empirical data guided by common sense. Philosophy of climate arises from the synthesis of empirical data, common sense, and the wisdom of the classics. Considering this, the continuously updated empirical summaries of the environmental studies are just as important as the systems approach in sustainability science in providing philosophy of climate a material platform. In the background of the philosophical articulation of this synthesis is Arne Naess's deep-ecological total-field image--the attempt to see the big picture of the energy flows among human beings, living beings, and the commons.

A seminar in climate philosophy would accordingly benefit from the State of the World summaries, and here I would like to suggest a selection. The SotW reports appear once every year, and each contains maybe 20 individual studies (21 in 2014, 34 in 2013, 17 in 2012, 15 in 2011, 26 in 2010, etc.). From the 1990s to the present--the 2015 volume has just come out (April)--there is quite a number of papers that suggest themselves. Making a narrow selection is not easy, especially since the articles are consistently of a high research quality. The criterion I use is, once again, synthesis. What follows in part II of this post is a list of the 'total-field image' articles, the 'big-picture'-studies that rigorously reflect the series title: the successive states of the world through the years.

Beginning with 2004, the SotW reports were topically arranged with a special focus each year. The focus for 2004 was the consumer society. For 2005, it was 'redefining global security'. In 2006, the focus was China & India. This was followed by 'our urban future' in 2007, 'innovations for a sustainable economy' in 2008, 'into a warming world' in 2009, 'transforming cultures from consumerism to sustainability' in 2010, 'innovations that nourish the planet' in 2011, and 'moving toward sustainable prosperity' in 2012. In 2013, the focus was a question: 'is sustainability still possible?' In 2014, the background for this question became evident; the volume's title is the neutral 'governing for sustainability,' but as soon as one opens the book, the tone darkens. The dedication to Lester Brown begins with a quote from his 2008 Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to save civilization:
We are in a race between tipping points in nature and our political systems.
The introduction, by project directors Michael Renner and Tom Prugh, is titled "failing governance, unsustainable planet," which kind of sums it up. Governance is failing through the regulatory capture by corporate interests, which has made the consistent implementation of sustainable policies to date largely impossible, especially in Anglophone countries such as the United States. The 2014 volume introduction, by David W. Orr, begins with the apt reminder that climate change is indeed the greatest market failure the world has ever seen--a market failure that persists by regulatory capture deepening into failing governance in liberal democracies enthralled by the dogma of market worship. To Brown's simile of a race, Orr adds that of a ship in a storm:
We are like a ship sailing into a storm and needing to trim sails, batten hatches, and jettison excess cargo. But how will we decide to do comparable things in the conduct of public business? (p. xxii) ... the twenty-first century and beyond is all-hands-on-deck time for humankind (p. xxiv). 
The solution to failing governance is not so much new agencies, but the cleansing of existing agencies from the corruption and ignorance that are particularly visible on the political right:
And this will require a rigorously enforced separation between money and the conduct of the public business. The struggle to separate money from policy making and law will, in time, come to be seen rather like historic battles against feudalism, monarchy, and slavery. (p. xxiii) 
All the evidence points to Orr being right. This will be the new liberation movement. But while past liberation movements largely served the goal of justice, this one will serve the goal of existence.

(to be continued in part II)

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