Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Isn't It Time for Brutal Honesty?

Isn't it time we called a spade a spade? That thought ran through my mind while perusing the morning online papers. An article in today's Guardian caught my eye, an op-ed about "environmental vandalism."

Those two words are such a powerful catch-all for what we're doing to Earth. It is vandalism. Anyone who claims to be progressive, of any political stripe, should recoil at the name.

Progressives are about protecting the environment, leaving the Earth better than they found it. That's a fundamental tenet of progressivism, one that's now honoured far more in the breach.

The father of modern conservatism, the 18th century Irish-Anglo theorist, Edmund Burke, was explicit on this point. Consider this morsel: “Never, no, never did Nature say one thing and Wisdom another.” Take a minute to let that soak in. That is brutal honesty as true in the 21st century as it ever was in the 18th.

Burke wrote of humanity, succumbing to greed,  becoming "the flies of summer."
But one of the first and most leading principles on which the commonwealth and the laws are consecrated, is lest the temporary possessors and life-renters in it, unmindful of what they have received from their ancestors, or of what is due to their posterity, should act as if they were the entire masters; that they should not think it among their rights to cut off the entail, or commit waste on the inheritance, by destroying at their pleasure the whole original fabric of their society; hazarding to leave to those who come after them a ruin instead of an habitation—and teaching these successors as little to respect their contrivances, as they had themselves respected the institutions of their forefathers. By this unprincipled facility of changing the state as often, and as much, and in as many ways, as there are floating fancies or fashions, the whole chain and continuity of the commonwealth would be broken. No one generation could link with the other. Men would become little better than the flies of a summer.
"Hazarding to leave to those who come after them a ruin instead of a habitation." Doesn't that neatly sum up what we're doing today?

Fast forward a century and a half to Theodore Roosevelt who, espousing the progressive cause, expressed a similar sentiment. Consider this from Roosevelt's seventh annual address to Congress in 1907:
As a nation we not only enjoy a wonderful measure of present prosperity but if this prosperity is used aright it is an earnest of future success such as no other nation will have. The reward of foresight for this nation is great and easily foretold. But there must be the look ahead, there must be a realization of the fact that to waste, to destroy, our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed.  
And again in his address to a gathering of farmers in Osawatomie, Kansas in 1910:
Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us. I ask nothing of the nation except that it so behave as each farmer here behaves with reference to his own children. That farmer is a poor creature who skins the land and leaves it worthless to his children. The farmer is a good farmer who, having enabled the land to support himself and to provide for the education of his children, leaves it to them a little better than he found it himself. I believe the same thing of a nation.
Burke, Roosevelt and the great Progressive thinkers would judge us pretty harshly for yielding to greed and leaving those who come after us 'a ruin instead of a habitation,' and 'for skinning and exhausting the land.' Yet to argue Burke's and Roosevelt's case today would be loudly denounced as radical, even heretical.

The Guardian article asks whether our environmental predations violate the rights of those yet to be born? If you're progressive, you don't need the wisdom of Burke or Roosevelt to answer that. You know the answer.
The youth lawsuits and school strikes dramatise a crucial aspect of the threat to democracy posed by climate emergency: the question of intergenerational responsibilities and ethical duties across decades and centuries
To put it another way: what is the relationship of democracy to time? This question may seem abstract but is actually foundational. We are all born into a world we did not make, subject to customs and conditions established by prior generations, and then we leave a legacy for others to inherit. The project of self-government invariably requires navigating the tension between short- and long-term thinking, our immediate circumstances and what is to come, the present and the future. Nothing illustrates this more profoundly than the problem of climate crisis, which calls into question the very future of a habitable planet. 
When individuals like me take multiple flights a year and buy food imported from halfway around the world, we can rest assured that we won’t meet the people who will, down the road, be most gravely affected by our carbon-intensive lifestyle. But don’t we have democratic obligations to them regardless? If we expect justice from our predecessors, don’t we owe this debt to future generations? Right now the world’s relatively affluent are on the way to being bad ancestors, the kind who think only of themselves in the here and now.
...Take climate breakdown. On one level, we all have a long-term interest in greenhouse gases being reduced, particularly those who have children or grandchildren they would like to see thrive, or just survive. If the world were a more equitable place, perhaps we could find a relatively painless resolution, because at least the sacrifice demanded of everyone would be more or less the same. As things stand, though, people in wealthy countries appear unprepared to make anything resembling the sort of sacrifice required for climate justice – especially not if citizens of other relatively affluent countries or communities are going to keep the coal fires burning. (And burn they do: coal remains one of the main fuels powering the global economy, with an estimated 1,600 new plants in the works worldwide.)
...A proposal for curbing emissions from the developed world so that the billion individuals who live without electricity can enjoy its benefits would probably pass in a landslide in a world referendum, but it would likely fail if the vote were limited to people in the wealthiest countries.
The case against Scheer, Kenney, Moe, Horgan and Ford. Oh yeah, Trudeau is part of this too.
Still, an overwhelming majority of people in those affluent countries believe the climate crisis is an urgent threat that must be addressed. Going against the grain, one contingent of citizens, largely disconnected from the repercussions of their actions, sees environmentalism as the real threat and takes solace in denialism. If it is too hard to face the fact that one’s way of life will lead to planetary catastrophe, disavowal is a way to alleviate the cognitive dissonance: the experts are untrustworthy, the scientific research an elaborate hoax, the whole thing a conspiracy cooked up by liberals. Denial, though sometimes the result of ignorance, can also be an act of self-protection, a last-ditch defence of social privileges.
We can't even claim naivete as an excuse.
...two pioneering climate scientists issued the following statement in a 1957 coauthored paper, bolstering Marsh’s case for urgent action with carefully marshalled evidence: “Human beings are now carrying out a large-scale geophysical experiment of a kind that could not have happened in the past nor be reproduced in the future. Within a few centuries we are returning to the atmosphere and oceans the concentrated organic carbon stored in sedimentary rocks over hundreds of millions of years.”
And it is precisely that 'concentrated organic carbon', amassed over hundreds of millions of years and safely sequestered in the Tar Pits of Athabasca that our petro-state wants thrown back into the atmosphere knowing, full well, that it will take countless lives and inflict dislocation and suffering on a scale heretofore unknown to humanity. We know. We've known this for decades and yet those who ask for your vote want to massively ramp up this devastation.
The fossil fuel and finance industries, alongside the public officials they’ve bought off, will fight to the death to maintain the status quo, but our economic and political arrangements don’t have to function the way they do. 
With climate calamity upon us, liberal democracies are in a bind.

...The fact is, we’re up against ecological limits, not monetary shortages; we are constrained by a carbon budget not a federal one, and we need to remake our economy to reflect this reality. Ample wealth exists to be reclaimed for collective benefit, and bringing finance under democratic control will mean that money will finally serve people, instead of the other way around. Nationalisation and other forms of community ownership of energy suppliers and infrastructure will be crucial but must also involve genuine public oversight and control. This is the radically democratic, equitable and sustainable vision at the heart of the best and boldest proposals for a Green New Deal.
We must decide where our country is going. We must decide nothing less than whether we will allow our youngest generations some measure of a viable future.
Thousands of years ago, the Athenian statesman Pericles defined democracy as providing for the many, not the few. Inspired by the young climate strikers and their allies, the challenge ahead involves expanding “the many” to somehow acknowledge and account for future generations, adding a new temporal dimension to our concept of social inclusion. 
Towards this end, our democratic movements must be guided by a deceptively simple question: what kind of ancestors do we want to be? With every action or inaction, we help decide how the future will unfold. What principles and commitments do we want to adopt for a democracy that doesn’t yet exist? How will we cast our votes for a society we won’t live to see?
This year you must think like a progressive. Heed the wisdom of the past for, without it, there may be no future. It's time to abandon regressive leadership that promises so much yet delivers next to nothing. Let's stop the environmental vandals beginning with our own House of Commons.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Mound. Sadly, I don't hear any of our political leaders promising to leave the tar in the ground. This means the environmental vandals can't be stopped through the ballot box.


the salamander said...

.. eloquent post.. no surprise
and I may comment several times.. ideally on point
I hate many things.. asking where the Ontario corn, and not the Mexican corn is in a grocery store in August and September & getting a quizical look. Damned if I can find Ontario 'new potatoes' either.. though a little island in our Maritimes always delivers, same re lettuce.. I want to support and eat local.. and have never set foot in a Costo, but no fear ranging in the neighborhood to fine Alberta beef, wild caught salmon. I often ask fish departments where the salmon on sale comes from. They point to the 'Atlantic Salmon' on the packaging & I point out that could mean BC or Chile.. as its the absolute dominant farmed Species. I could go on.. but Suzuki and family impress by eating seasonally. We do 'Steak Fest' at Allen's annually.. almost all steaks are range fed, no antibiotics and their feed supplemented of course, all Canadian, as are all wines. We have enjoyed PEI potato 'finished' with baked local potato, Holland Marsh greens.. and more and more we are a fearsome foursome there, the Boss, my daughter in law & my ravenous tall son. Our fave pasta joint is a family run marvel simply called Paul's Spagetti.. which is a larf.. the seafood linguine is fresh local pasta and all Canadian maritime seafood.. 5 minute stroll for us. The car, a Mini Cooper rolls Saturday only, for a local grocery run and a 'plonk' (table wine) run as well. We break our rule re local, but also prioritize local - Prince Edward County, Niagara, and one down St Thomas way when we want to splurge. My son and his wife have just inherited a nice sport utility from his late Grandfather.. but at 35 though licenced walks, bikes, blades, TTC's everywhere. His wife walks 3 minutes to a small boutique ad agency.. is back at noon to check on the 3 adopted dogs.. no need to lock their doors.. I often wish I was in big mountain country & cross country wonderland - Banff.. or our big western island across from Vancouver.. but the Boss is a no go. Keep an eye for Lake Erie white perch Mound, a treat, pan fried and with local stewed spinach or kale.. that costs less than a Big Mac Meal for two, I tell disbelieving friends.. we do want to find the prawns you mentioned quite a ways back.. presumably BC local.. I know the local BC shellfish well from living and working out there.. Rodney's.. a Toronto fixture always stocks them.. and the shuckers are astonishing fast. This comment is aimed re 'sustainability' .. and the opportunity to 'buy local' as possible. I have high hopes one day soon we will find tomatoes, carrots, lettuce stating 'locally grown, urban agriculture' and that you can too.. seems a great starting place and to supplement home gardens

Lorne said...

Our short-term and selfish vision has particularly dire consequences today. We just can't seem to break out of this blinkered thinking, Mound, or at least not in large enough numbers to make a real difference in our collective plight.

The Mound of Sound said...

Our best hope today is a Liberal minority with the Greens, not the NDP but the Greens, holding the balance of power.

Justin Trudeau is not entirely spineless but close enough to cause no end of damage. Whoever has a boot to his neck wins and, right now, that's the black energy lobby. Our luck we wound up with the boy who is all Margaret and no Pierre.

Northern PoV said...

Our best hope today is a Liberal minority


My personal fantasy would see Greens and NDP with a joint balance of power ... to keep both their politicos focused on outcomes (like 1963-68, 72-74) rather than lusting power and provoking an early election (2006).

Meanwhile, I think we'd all better get ready to accept that the BLOC will more likely have the balance of power than the Green or NDP. (If we are so lucky as to get a minority.)

Let's hope the media doesn't get away with the demonization that worked so well in 2008 when Dion, St. Jack and what's his name all appeared together to announce the end of Harper. (A little more stealth next time, pls)