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Will Climate Change Saints Save the Earth?

This is Climate Change 17568

This is Climate Change

In writing my last diary on climate change, I was advised that “if you’re not working on solutions you’re just spinning wheels.” I am not going to name the author of this comment — this is not a call-out diary. But I will say that it is indeed important that we continue our work on climate change. Protests should continue, publicity needs to continue, and we should continue to sway the public and the political class. We no doubt continue in the tradition of Catholic (and other) philosophies with their emphasis upon good works.

We do, however, suffer from a rather poor spelling-out of the problem that is supposedly addressed by our good works. As I suggested in the previous diary:

all of the optimistic press releases about climate change now look like PR, we don’t seem to know what we’re doing with climate change, and the social change requirements for climate change mitigation appear quite daunting.

In light of this reality, being a climate change saint isn’t of much use to the world all by itself. If we don’t know what we’re doing, doing it more virtuously will be something we do for ourselves, not for the planet. The climate change itself will not be directly affected by our aspirations to sainthood.

Now, I periodically get responses from these diaries telling me, for instance, that more capitalism (regulated or whatever) will solve all of our climate change problems. We should just wait, then, for the capitalist system to take its “natural” course, and in time alternative energy will become so cheap that nobody will use fossil fuels anymore. The alternative energy entrepreneurs, then, will save us, as good climate change saints are wont to do, and make an earth-shaking profit in the business. Nobody promoting this line really has much to say, however, about the “natural” course of the capitalist system itself. Given that capitalist profit has become intensely more a matter of government-sponsored financial engineering while the growth rate is plummeting to zero (as the culmination of a four-decades-long trend), the economic survival of the system is not insured.

And never mind that the capitalist system hungrily devours the planet — as Fred Magdoff points out:

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Will climate change saints save the Earth?

This is Climate Change 17568

This is Climate Change

In writing my last diary on climate change, I was advised that “if you’re not working on solutions you’re just spinning wheels.” I am not going to name the author of this comment — this is not a call-out diary. But I will say that it is indeed important that we continue our work on climate change. Protests should continue, publicity needs to continue, and we should continue to sway the public and the political class. We no doubt continue in the tradition of Catholic (and other) philosophies with their emphasis upon good works.

We do, however, suffer from a rather poor spelling-out of the problem that is supposedly addressed by our good works. As I suggested in the previous diary:

all of the optimistic press releases about climate change now look like PR, we don’t seem to know what we’re doing with climate change, and the social change requirements for climate change mitigation appear quite daunting.

In light of this reality, being a climate change saint isn’t of much use to the world all by itself. If we don’t know what we’re doing, doing it more virtuously will be something we do for ourselves, not for the planet. The climate change itself will not be directly affected by our aspirations to sainthood.

Now, I periodically get responses from these diaries telling me, for instance, that more capitalism (regulated or whatever) will solve all of our climate change problems. We should just wait, then, for the capitalist system to take its “natural” course, and in time alternative energy will become so cheap that nobody will use fossil fuels anymore. The alternative energy entrepreneurs, then, will save us, as good climate change saints are wont to do, and make an earth-shaking profit in the business. Nobody promoting this line really has much to say, however, about the “natural” course of the capitalist system itself. Given that capitalist profit has become intensely more a matter of government-sponsored financial engineering while the growth rate is plummeting to zero (as the culmination of a four-decades-long trend), the economic survival of the system is not insured.

And never mind that the capitalist system hungrily devours the planet — as Fred Magdoff points out:

…resource problems—both renewable and nonrenewable—are real and are only going to get worse under the current political-economic system. Everywhere both renewable and nonrenewable resources are being used unsustainably by the above criteria. In some countries the high population relative to agricultural land and the lack of dependable quantities of exports to purchase food internationally creates a very precarious situation. However, the general resource depletion and ecological problems—at the global scale, as well as within most countries and regions—are primarily the result of the way capitalism functions and economic decisions are made.

And never mind the disastrous effects of climate change itself on the capitalist system, harsh even by conservative standards. Notwithstanding all these trends, the general “realist” assumption in this regard is that the capitalist system was, is, and will be more stable than the planet being transformed into a trash dump under capitalism. Does anyone else here see a problem with this sort of thinking?

I also get responses from people promising technical panacea solutions for global warming. We’re going to have machines which will suck the CO2 directly out of the atmosphere, they tell me. So far, however, I have no proof that any such machines will exist on anything more than either paper or pixels on a screen.

Here’s a heads up to the technophiles with aspirations of sainthood: please don’t tell me about your panacea fixes. If I’m the first person to hear that my concerns about global warming are much ado about nothing, then what of your solution? If you’re sitting in your workshops telling yourselves “hey I’ve got this great machine which will undo climate change! I think I’ll tell Cassiodorus,” then, really, how great is your solution? I’m so minor a blogger that I have to publish at DailyKos.com and Firedoglake.com to get an audience instead of having my own blog. If you’ve got something real, tell Bill McKibben and James Hansen. Or, better yet, tell Guy McPherson, who gives speeches like this:


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