Thursday, September 06, 2018

Monbiot - Let's Go to War

The Guardian's enviro-scribe, George Monbiot, argues it is time we went to war with the corporate sector or that part of it that enables today's throw-away consumerism.

Do you believe in miracles? If so, please form an orderly queue. Plenty of people imagine we can carry on as we are, as long as we substitute one material for another. Last month, a request to Starbucks and Costa to replace their plastic coffee cups with cups made from corn starch was retweeted 60,000 times, before it was deleted
Those who supported this call failed to ask themselves where the corn starch would come from, how much land would be needed to grow it, or how much food production it would displace. They overlooked the damage this cultivation would inflict: growing corn (maize) is notorious for causing soil erosion, and often requires heavy doses of pesticides and fertilisers. 
The problem is not just plastic: it is mass disposability. Or, to put it another way, the problem is pursuing, on the one planet known to harbour life, a four-planet lifestyle. Regardless of what we consume, the sheer volume of consumption is overwhelming the Earth’s living systems.
...But we cannot address our environmental crisis by swapping one overused resource for another. When I challenged that call, some people asked me, “So what should we use instead?” 
The right question is, “How should we live?” But systemic thinking is an endangered species.
Monbiot contends that too many well-intentioned people believe that a better form of consumerism can save the planet.
This perfectly represents the mistaken belief that a better form of consumerism will save the planet. The problems we face are structural: a political system captured by commercial interests, and an economic system that seeks endless growth. Of course we should try to minimise our own impacts, but we cannot confront these forces merely by “taking responsibility” for what we consume.
He argues that changing our consumption habits is a diversion. We must instead focus on political change.
In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the government massacred the Simple Lifers. This is generally unnecessary: today they can safely be marginalised, insulted and dismissed. The ideology of consumption is so prevalent that it has become invisible: it is the plastic soup in which we swim.

One-planet living means not only seeking to reduce our own consumption, but also mobilising against the system that promotes the great tide of junk. This means fighting corporate power, changing political outcomes and challenging the growth-based, world-consuming system we call capitalism. 
As last month’s Hothouse Earth paper, which warned of the danger of flipping the planet into a new, irreversible climatic state, concluded: “Incremental linear changes … are not enough to stabilise the Earth system. Widespread, rapid and fundamental transformations will likely be required to reduce the risk of crossing the threshold.” 
Disposable coffee cups made from new materials are not just a non-solution: they are a perpetuation of the problem. Defending the planet means changing the world.
What Monbiot champions, albeit obliquely, sounds a great deal like "steady state" economic theory. It is based on the notion that humankind and our global economy, now grown wildly beyond the carrying capacity of Earth's ecology, must be reined in and brought safely back inside. That, in turn, requires that we adopt steady state policies governing everything from our population to production and consumption.  It's not as dire as you may imagine but the alternative certainly is and that's where we're headed.


Toby said...

You mean we can't change our appliances when she who must be obeyed is bored with the colour?

The part of reason we know so much about our distant ancestors is from the junk they left behind. Of course, there weren't very many of them and most of their their junk wasn't really harmful to the environment. However, the urge to throw stuff out when finished with it seems to be part of our inner psych. Unfortunately, with our present numbers and the amount of trash we generate there really is no out.

Monbiot is right to suggest we fight this as a war. When I was little we saved everything. The Depression and WWII taught everyone that stuff had value. We balled up string and foil. We collected and baled newspapers and rags which we sold to junk dealers who sold the bales to pulp mills. We saved jars to use for canning produce. Cans were used for storing screws and nails that we straightened for reuse. Etc. The will to conserve was there. It took a lot of advertising to break the habit.

ffibs said...

It just might be getting to that point in time, that the best I may be able to do in trying to play, an even minor role in saving humanity, is to die as quickly as possible. Remarkably, something almost word for word that a young Cheryl Berry told me nearly fifty five years ago, after our first date. Oddly she never struck me as an environmentalist at that time.

The Mound of Sound said...

Toby, steady state theory suggests you can both change the appearance of those appliances and also upgrade them from time to time. Appliances and other equipment that now head to the scrap yard after five or seven years would have to be designed to be both robust and upgradable, capable of lasting at least four or five times what we experience today.

Growth, in the steady state model, is aimed not at "more" but "better." Growth is focused on knowledge aimed at improving quality of life, not quantity of consumption, i.e. GDP.

The Mound of Sound said...

Willy, you old bastard, we'll be dying off soon enough that hastening that result now won't make a pinch of difference. You've gone this far, you don't get to take your leave.

Anonymous said...

The longer we older folk live, the better it will be to fight the environmental war. Perhaps we could block the door to Parliament in our wheel chairs, crutches and scooters. &#9796

John B. said...

The Toastmaster that my parents bought when they set up house in 1949 still worked like in 1949 when mom either gave it or put it away in some obscure place about ten or twelve years ago, after somebody gave her the first of several two and four-slicers she's owned since then.

Ostensibly identical kitchen faucets (same manufacturer & model) purchased about six years apart beginning twenty years ago: the older one is on its original cartridge in a house where the lady operates the handle like the gearshift on a racecar; mine eats them up more than twice as often as the lady destroys the hinge assembly on hers, and the soldered aerator blew off five years ago. (I'm not mean. They say I'm frugal and unpretentious.)

Could it be that adherence to the principles of Market Law managed to achieve these feats all by itself? Sometimes application of the invisible hand-job must have effects on outcomes that aren't stipulated in the primer. Or an understanding of the meaning of market efficiencies might be restricted to cult members.

The Mound of Sound said...

The examples are endless, John, of shoddy design and manufacture of household equipment today. When I expressed my anger at a stove that had to be scrapped at 7 years because the electronic panels were no longer available, the sales manager just shrugged and said that was normal. The German government commissioned a study that found appliances today have a significantly shorter useful life than similar items made decades ago.