Saturday, August 14, 2010

Why climate change is not an environmental problem

An interesting article by David Roberts in which he argues that the association of climate change with a narrow and partisan interest group (at least in US politics) has framed the discussion in unhelpful ways, and has failed to communicate the true scope of the issue, which is bigger than the environmental lobby, bigger than the preservation of particular species or ecosystems, bigger even than climate change itself.
"Humanity has passed, or will soon pass, what we understand to be the safe boundary conditions of a number of global biophysical systems. Our trajectory amounts to an extraordinary, even existential roll of the dice. Can we survive in conditions that humanity has literally never faced? Can we bring our species in line with the long-term sustainable carrying capacity of the earth before earth does it for us? Can we make the shift while still growing in learning, prosperity, and freedom? The stakes could not be higher.

"If we meet the challenge of sustainability -- and it's a big if -- it will be a tidal shift in human history on par with the [rise of] agriculture, industrialization, or democracy itself.

"'Environmentalism' is simply not equipped to transform the basis of human culture. It grew up to address a specific, bounded set of issues."
Speaking of framing, I have said before that "environmentalism" is not the best choice of term for a movement concerned about ecological issues. It is not about an environment that is external to us and might be of interest to those who study biology or natural history, or who enjoy beautiful landscapes, bushwalking or birdwatching. Ecology is the logos of our oikos, the logic of our house. And as such it is intimately related to the economy, the nomos of our oikos, the human laws or management of our house. If we don't base our management on the underlying logic of the living systems in which we participate then we are fouling our own nest, destroying our own home and dismantling our own prosperity.


Sam Charles Norton said...

With a nod to the Archdruid, do you see CC as a problem or a predicament? I'm dubious that there is much we can do about it - beyond what a) we're going to be forced to do anyway, and b) what are the right things to be doing anyway.

byron smith said...

As I mentioned back here, much more a predicament than a problem. And if a problem, then a "wicked" one, for a range of interesting reasons.

That said, I'm perhaps slightly less dubious about what we can do (both in mitigation and adaptation) to somewhat reduce the scale of the damage. As you know, I agree that we will be "forced" to do some things that will help (reduction in transport generated emissions is likely), but that these unwanted (and largely unanticipated) emissions cuts may become the excuse for other actions that are equally bad or worse. And again, while I do agree that many of things that are helpful for mitigation are worth doing for other reasons (reducing consumption for spiritual reasons, for instance), not all the adaptive measures are necessarily the "right" things to be doing anyway. For example, decisions about investments in flood defences on the Thames (as I mentioned here) do not seem to belong in this category.

byron smith said...

David Roberts repeats his argument: climate change is not an environmental story, it is the background to a whole host of stories.