I received an e-mail from Joe Brewer of Culture2, who's currently working on a project called ClimateMeme with a couple of other folks. He asked for responses to the core question he posed in the e-mail to be posted on his blog --and here's basically how I responded to Joe's post and a few of the reader comments.
Why is global warming a buzz-kill? I don't think there's a single dominant reason, but there are a number of variables that consistently come into play for members of industrial civilization, with each being context dependent in its weighting factor.
First, we should get the order correct. Climate change is a symptom of global warming (a meme of amazing power that we would be foolish to discard--why hand a win to Frank Luntz and the right-wingnuts), which is a symptom of Industrialism, which can only emerge from a foundation of dominator hierarchies, disconnection from the natural world, and a pathological sense of the other. The first question we must ask ourselves is whether we're interested in putting out brushfires forever or in disabling the arsonist and building sustainable frameworks.
People are coming to realize that doing anything effective about global warming means coming to terms with:
* The end of lifestyles of entitlement;
* The end of rugged individualism;
* The end of the economic growth we've been lead to believe is necessary for progress and prosperity;
* The end of the dominator hierarchies that we've been lead to believe are natural and immutable, and that are ultimately responsible for the paradigm at the root of global warming;
* If our economic system goes away, and the assumption that it is the basis for our lives, livelihoods, and potential remains unquestioned and unexamined, people will tend to develop the feeling that there's nothing worthwhile left to strive for.
Another vector that interacts with all of the above--but the latter in particular--is the deep cultural myth that there is no alternative to the status quo. Related is the myth that Western Industrial Civilization represents the pinnacle of human evolution, and that our highest aspirations revolve around becoming more efficient economic actors. These combine to implicitly imply that any alternative to the status quo would make things worse; be barbaric; or even worse, communist.
Additionally, people are coming to realize that there is little that individual actions--necessary as they are--can do, but that a mass movement must come together to coherently and comprehensively systemically replace the jurisprudence that grounds our economic and political subsystems. What they don't yet have experience with is that this can occur through multi-issue coalitions that share a set of values based on the internationally vetted Earth Charter, and the common goal of a sustainable future. This would support the goals of activists involved in the movements for ecological integrity, social justice, economic equity, and participatory democracy for building the necessary critical mass.
I agree with other comments on this blog that we're well into the overshoot range of planetary carrying capacity. But we already know that we can voluntarily reduce birth-rates to below replenishment levels. On a healthy planet (which we don't currently have) we could have technologically advanced societies with a maximum of about 2 billion people if true sustainability were a guiding principle. And many cultures throughout time have discovered how to enjoy sex without producing babies. One current, rather large stumbling block is the religious-based repression of self and joy endemic to Western Civ.
And I agree that there's no "solution"; however, there is a realistic response, although the outcome remains uncertain, and becomes more dire with every passing day we stick with business as usual. The response is based on adhering to natural-systems principles and what they tell us about the tendency of life to increase diversity and self-organize into networks of mutual support and reciprocity. The energetic direction of life is to support more life. This provides my bottom line for discerning whether something belongs in the good or evil category. Does it support the web of life?
It seems to me that a concerted effort must be made to raise awareness that there is an alternative, and it's one that everyone can participate in and benefit from. The alternative I advocate is grounded in reconnecting with nature and relocalizing our economies. These can both be done in a manner that is thoroughly grounded in a systems-science framework that weaves together the latest findings from the physical, biological, and social sciences about how life actually works--as opposed to how Industrialism wished it would work to support dominator hierarchies, greed, and aggression. This alternative embraces steady-state economics, applied ecopsychology, and an Earth jurisprudence to ground its governance.
This alternative has the additional benefit of being congruent with Earth-centered indigenous wisdom in what can be called an eco-spirituality that can reintegrate the body-mind-spirit relationships that were torn asunder by Cartesian dualism and disconnected, reductionistic, Enlightenment thinking. However, it doesn't throw out or discount our accumulated knowledge when it is congruent with natural-systems principles.
If we do nothing, we'll end up where we're headed. But we could decide to make new choices. We could put feedback loops to work for us--habitat and ecosystem restoration, powering down, outlawing planned obsolescence, and remembering the benefits of sharing--for just a few quick examples in addition to the others mentioned above.