Monday, December 14, 2009

The Decencies We Owe Others

The Decencies We Owe Others. That, according to Guardian environment pundit, George Monbiot, is what the "angry men" of the denialist community rail against in their war to derail the global warming campaign:

[Copenhagen] is a meeting about chemicals: the greenhouse gases insulating the atmosphere. But it is also a battle between two world views. The angry men who seek to derail this agreement, and all such limits on their self-fulfilment, have understood this better than we have. A new movement, most visible in North America and Australia, but now apparent everywhere, demands to trample on the lives of others as if this were a human right. It will not be constrained by taxes, gun laws, regulations, health and safety, especially by environmental restraints. It knows that fossil fuels have granted the universal ape amplification beyond its Palaeolithic dreams. For a moment, a marvellous, frontier moment, they allowed us to live in blissful mindlessness.

The angry men know that this golden age has gone; but they cannot find the words for the constraints they hate. Clutching their copies of Atlas Shrugged, they flail around, accusing those who would impede them of communism, fascism, religiosity, misanthropy, but knowing at heart that these restrictions are driven by something far more repulsive to the unrestrained man: the decencies we owe to other human beings.

Humanity is no longer split between conservatives and liberals, reactionaries and progressives, though both sides are informed by the older politics. Today the battle lines are drawn between expanders and restrainers; those who believe that there should be no impediments and those who believe that we must live within limits. The vicious battles we have seen so far between greens and climate change deniers, road safety campaigners and speed freaks, real grassroots groups and corporate-sponsored astroturfers are just the beginning. This war will become much uglier as people kick against the limits that decency demands.

I suspect that those who "get" the global warming crisis already have a sense of the undeclared war now quietly underway that Monbiot describes. I think we've felt its presence for some time even as most of us chose to dismiss the Denialists as simply uninformed, misguided on anthropogenic global warming.

The world has indeed reached a point where GHG emissions is but one of a number of vexing issues we're going to have to confront. For example, take fisheries and collapsing global fish stocks. More than three billion people rely on these fish stocks as their main or sole source of protein. Yet we're steadily fishing our way down the food chain and emptying large parts of our oceans. We bottom trawl, devastating the seabed on which so much marine life depends. We hunt species without regard to bycatch that is caught, killed and dumped over the side like so much garbage. And now we're acidifying the oceans so rapidly, especially the more absorbent northern oceans, that fish stocks essential to the marine food chain may soon be virtually eliminated. It's a chain. You break a link and it may be broken entirely.

The mentality the Denialists are showing, the war they're quietly and so effectively waging, will be refought on each of these secondary and collateral issues. Monbiot is right. This is a fight to define humanity and that's a fight we can't afford to lose. We have to uphold and respect the decencies we owe others.


LMA said...

As Monbiot says, this is the first great global battle to redefine humanity as something beyond a predatory species, bent on dominating the planet and all life upon it. I think in the end it will be the survival of the fittest as it always has been. Those who are bent on unlimited growth and consumption will self destruct. Those who can accept limits and live in balance with nature may evolve eventually into another species, just like the dinosaurs evolved into the birds.

In the meantime, it's kind of inspiring to watch the passion and commitment of protestors, activists and environmentalists at Copenhagen. It gives me hope for the future. I wish I were there to join them in the fight.

Oemissions said...

thanks for this!
the humanitarians vs the nonhumanitarians
the environmentalists vs the nonenvironmentalists
and the old war of good vs evil.
even the Pope decreed last year a new commandment: Thou shalt not pollute.
Commandments don't seem to work tho'!

The Mound of Sound said...

Put in the context described by Monbiot we've entered a period in which we are in a war for the future of mankind - a war we're not well prepared to fight, much less win - a war in which the other side is not your opponent but your enemy, just as we are seen by them as enemies to be defeated.

For the first time we don't have a comfortable buffer between the sides, a mushy zone where we can mask concession as "compromise." That's the hard reality of tipping points. It's not the carbon we put into the atmosphere that's going to wreak devastation. It's the carbon we put in the air that warms the planet enough to trigger natural feedback mechanisms releasing the delicately stored carbon and methane that earth itself has held since it created the conditions essential for modern life, for human life. It's the runaway heating from the loss of reflective sea ice, from the thawing of sea and lakebed methane hydrates, from the carbon dioxide still safely trapped in the peat bogs of the boreal forests and the Arctic tundra. It's the coal and oil and gas reserves where nature has safely sequestered masses of carbon deep underground since the age of the dinosaur; carbon that we insist on bringing to the surface and releasing into the atmosphere.

We are nothing more than the potential match to the fuze. We've lived as long as we have by not striking that match. For most of that time we weren't able to but now we're at the point where we might just strike that match out of indifference and recklessness.