Sunday, September 18, 2011

Can You Feel Your Hide Thickening?

We're all going to get pretty thick skinned in the years and decades to come.  The more you want to cling to your way of life and the greater the global suffering that results, the thicker the skin you'll need.   Some already are quite well acclimated to the misery spreading throughout the world as a result of climate change and other man-made maladies.  "Inured" comes to mind, to accept something undesirable.

It's what psychologists would call a coping mechanism I suppose.   It comes naturally to us, adapting to suffering, particularly when it's others, well removed, doing the suffering.   Out of sight, out of mind.  It's that very technique that's required when we promote products and activities that magnify or accelerate the suffering of others, elsewhere.

It's a Dark Art mastered by every one of our political classes - Conservative, Liberal, NDP - who, for the sake of expedience or personal ambition, support the development and expansion of the Athabasca Tar Sands.   Make no mistake, that project is killing people only not so much right here at home.  It's killing people elsewhere and we're only just getting started.  But they're mainly brown people or black people and they don't have a lot of clout or money and they sure as hell don't have the sort of arsenals that might ever let them retaliate against us.   To all those Conservatives, Liberals and NDP who support the Tar Sands, those little people in their droves are insignificant, irrelevant, expendable.

Of course it's not just the Tar Sands although Athabasca is fairly the poster boy of global warming.  Sure, carbon emissions are the most obvious of our environmental depredations but there are others.  However, in relative terms, we in the West are the "haves" while just about everyone else is or will soon  be the "have nots."

For example, take "overshoot."   The term means any nation's consumption of resources contrasted to nature's ability to replenish those resources.   Resources are used in everything from direct consumption, as in food stocks, to natural filtering of our effluent and emissions.   We're now using our planet's natural resources at roughly 1.3 to 1.5 times the earth's replenishment capacity.  How can we use more resources than the earth provides?  That's easy.  Some forms of overshoot can be seen to the naked eye from space - spreading desertification and deforestation for example.   Other examples are the collapsing global fisheries.  It's called "eating one's seed corn."  We're not just eating this year's corn but we're also consuming next year's.

But we in the developed world aren't just eating our own seed corn, we're also buying up the seed corn from the "have not" world.   We have all sorts of vexatious means to screw with the have nots.  Land grabs are becoming very popular.   Instead of buying their crops at rapidly escalating market prices, why not just buy their farmland and cut out the middleman, the local farmer?   Wall Street is in on the act, exploiting global food shortages on the commodities markets.   And then there's the rest of us "haves" who just buy anything we want - because we can.  Of course the prices we take for granted are the prices that also beset the "have nots" and inflict on them and their governments and their societies what we now call "food insecurity."  The UN Food and Agriculture Organization recently reported that much of the Third World has now embarked on an era of permanent food insecurity.

It's bad enough that much of the Third World is going to have to deal with cyclical drought and flooding and other aspects of man-made climate change but they'll have to compete against our fat wallets with their empty purses for what is left.  Can you feel that skin growing thicker?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's climate change advisory board, the WBGU, keeps advocating for solutions that are at once both obvious and hopelessly unrealistic.  They want a global social contract, in essence the recognition of a global society, the idea that mankind is one.   Within this framework we would find answers to everything from carbon emissions to resource sharing.   For starters they would have the atmosphere declared a "commons" belonging to all.  In that sort of regime, any nation's right to emit carbon dioxide, for example, would be a function of its population.   For the major emitters that would mean severe cuts in overall emissions, something that would be especially felt by the major per capita emitters which group includes you and me.   In order to do our bit and share the remaining capacity of the atmosphere with everybody, we would have to almost completely decarbonize our societies and our economies within just a few years.   And along the way we'll have to jettison a culture that embraces gluttony and greed.  What are the chances?

What makes the WBGU studies so important is the dual realization that they're almost certainly right but that we will never do the right thing.   And we won't do the right thing because (a) it's really inconvenient and, (b), someone else gets to pay the price of our indifference.   We live in the northern part of the northern hemisphere which is about as good as it gets in terms of climate change impacts this century.  Better yet, we don't live in the less advantaged parts of the world where the impacts of our self-indulgent, gluttonous and greedy ways arrive soonest and hit hardest.   We revel in the feast, they get stuck with the tab which is increasingly being delivered by the Reaper.

What if we woke up one morning to learn that we'd been bombing orphans in Somalia for no good reason?   Would we rise up in outrage demanding that this be stopped immediately?  I'm guessing we would - in a heartbeat.   But what we do to them isn't that direct.  It's harder to see, easy to deny, even easier to ignore.   All we'll need to get through tomorrow is a slightly thicker skin.


Owen Gray said...

Nearly thirty years ago, my wife and I went to Haiti. My wife, who had worked in Africa, was not surprised by what we saw.

I was shocked. That kind of poverty has a stench which stays with you. Perhaps the antidote to a thick skin is a heightened sense of smell.

Unfortunately, most of us will never have that experience.

Anyong said...

When people can't think beyond being petty regarding another person sitting in a choir next to them, how is it possible to even think about trying to engage them in a conversation regarding the environment or starving people. We profess to be such a wonderful country and ready to send billions of dollars to help the starving in Africa (trying to give ourselves a wonderful name and recognition) however, won't recognize what is going on at home or if we do, do nothing to make our government do what is ethically, morally while using a few scruples implementing what is correct to do. People want their name in the paper from raising monies to help the poor in other countries but calling our own homeless, stupid people who want to be on the street. Back in the early 70's I was considered to be wackco by my family for reading about what chemicals in our food was doing to the population. Today, we are still having the same discussion...nothing has been done to stop the addition of additives in food that harm us. When people are so concerned about being better than the next person and their standing in the community, how can we possibly get past that and discuss what really matters.

Anyong said...

Is my hide becoming tougher.....I have to think about that one. I know if I were to insist on talking about what is happening at present to the environment, there would be someone who would try and declair me mad....but then, this is Southern Alberta where people live in an 80's vaccum.

Beijing York said...

Canada's official development aid has not kept up with promises made at the 2005 Glenneagles G8 summit. The delivery mechanism is CIDA and the scope of developing countries receiving Canadian aid has been shrinking as well.

So I find it insulting that the Harper government, who has failed to increase development aid (with no strings attached like that maternal care initiative), has called on Canadians to donate to charitable relief for Haiti and now Somalia with the "we will match" donations approach.

Not that western development aid has functioned very effectively over the past many decades since that aid was always tied to selfish economic goals, tying contributions to the purchase of western services and goods.

Ffibs said...

I disagree we could bomb babies in Somali and the story wouldn't last more than three days.