Friday, November 10, 2017

Growth as Theft, Ch. 2

The previous item, reposted from December, 2011, addresses growth as theft. The subject also came up today in an item in The Guardian.

In the medieval legend made famous by the brothers Grimm, the German town of Hamelin is besieged by a plague of rats, until the mysterious pied piper appears and agrees, for a fee, to rid them of the infestation. The mayor then reneges on payment and the piper exacts a savage revenge on the town’s ingrates by luring away their children, who are never seen again.

The tale could also be an allegory for today’s grim intergenerational smash-and-grab – the global economy. As environmentalist Paul Hawken put it: “We have an economy where we steal the future, sell it in the present, and call it GDP.”

Like the hapless mayor of Hamelin, elected officials all over the world are today blindly pursuing growth-as-usual, while the gathering climate catastrophe rumbles ever closer. We adults may, if we’re lucky, get to die peacefully in our beds, but it’s our children who will be left to pay the ecological piper. 

Pope Francis, the first pontiff from the global south, weighed in powerfully on the moral arguments against the havoc to the biosphere wrought by neoliberalism: “The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenceless before the interests of a deified market.”

Geophysicist Dr Brad Werner made waves five years ago with the publication of his paper titled: Is Earth F**ked? (the asterisks are his). When pressed for an answer to his own question, he ventured: “more or less”. In his analysis, the system itself is incapable of internally responding to the deepening ecological crises that encircle civilisation. The only possible hope, he suggested, lay in active resistance. He identified this as “environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers and other activist groups”.

With politicians failing to step up to the climate challenge, what are the alternatives? One intriguing experiment in direct democracy has just concluded in Ireland, where a government-appointed Citizens’ Assembly composed of a nationally representative group of people selected at random heard detailed expert testimony on climate change from a range of experts. No lobbyists or politicians were allowed in the room.

The result: 13 recommendations for sharply enhanced climate action were overwhelmingly endorsed early this month, including citizens being personally prepared to pay more tax on high-carbon activities
. The recommendations will now be discussed in parliament.

Democracy may be dysfunctional, but rumours of its death have, perhaps, been exaggerated.

The Irish example suggests that, left to ourselves, the public, we will probably do the right thing where, when important problems are left to the system, our political caste, it persistently shows itself incapable of internally responding to the crises that encircle civilization. They can't get us out from under neoliberalism. They embrace neoliberalism. And you'll never find effective responses to climate change by entrusting the problem to neoliberals.

1 comment:

Toby said...

Not all growth is bad. It is just growth for its own sake, growth as a goal in itself that is bad. We have words for it. Excessive growth is called obesity. Uncontrolled growth is called cancer. Those terms apply to cities, nations, the world every bit as much as to our bodies.