Thursday, December 16, 2010

The arrogance of Cancún

Gustavo Esteva in the Guardian has an  interesting comment. After another disappointing climate summit he draws a sobering conclusion:

To affirm or to deny climate change supposes that we understand our planet well, that we know how it reacts – both now and for the next hundred years – and that we have the appropriate technological fix. This is plain and simple nonsense, and intolerably arrogant.
To continue putting our trust and hope in institutions to put things right goes against all our experience and focuses our energy in the wrong place. Yes, we still need to fight some institutional battles. For example, we can celebrate the agreement just signed in Nagoya, where 193 UN member states created a de facto moratorium on geoengineering projects, condemning any attempt to manipulate the "planet thermostat". But we must do that without surrendering our will to the government administrators of capital, who will continue protecting the major players in environmental destruction.
All governments, even the most majestic, are composed of ordinary mortals, trapped in bureaucratic labyrinths and fighting vested interests that tie their hands, heads and wills. Even if Evo Morales governed the entire planet we would not be able to "fix" the current environmental problems.
He then offers a solution which counts upon civil society. He does not think that ordinary people, too, are trapped in ways of living which tie their hands, heads and wills.
We must look down and to the left, as the Zapatistas of Mexico say: to the people, and what we can do ourselves. For example, stop producing waste, rather than recycling it. This requires a lot of things, from rejecting plastic bags and packaging to radically abandoning the flush toilet – one of the world's most destructive habits, absorbing 40% of water available for domestic consumption and contaminating everything in its way. And instead of overusing polluting vehicles, let's reclaim auto-mobility, on foot or bikes. Just as we strive to eat and drink sensibly, let us live our whole lives in a different way.
 The challenge is certainly bigger than he imagines and his rejection of "institutions" and "technology" is not warrenated. But the call for a re-orientation is worth noting. For too long "environmentalists have been co-opted and policies and actions taken in the name of ecology were in fact very damaging for the environment".

5 comments:

Werner Krauss said...

I just followed the Zapatista link which is highlighted in the text. It displays a great photo of subcomandante Marcos and an interesting manifesto obviously inspired by him:
“The corporations and governments of the so-called ‘developed’ countries, in complicity with a segment of the scientific community, have led us to discuss climate change as a problem limited to the rise in temperature without questioning the cause, which is the capitalist system.”

Just like our subcommandante Hans, they find individual action useless:
"Probably the most commonly asked question of people just arriving at a deep concern for the ecological crisis is, “What can I, as an individual, do to make things better?” The simple answer, which I learned from living among Zapatista villagers, is nothing; (...) the Earth won't be affected by our individual actions, only our collective impact."

But in the way to act, the subcommandantes differ: Hans wants technology, simple and pure, while Marcos wants poetry. He quotes the great poet Gary Snyder, who says the best way to protect the environment is to stay home. Which is exactly what the Zapatistas are fighting for: to call the place where they live home.
In consequence, for "them", the earth is not a technological management problem, but a place to inhabit and to live in.
I consider this an interesting difference. I wonder whether there is much dialog possible.

By the way, gringo Reiner, you behave like a typical first worlder: you correct the indigenous statement ("The challenge is certainly bigger than he imagines..."). That's what we do: know things better. I doubt that the Zapatistas agree.

Reiner Grundmann said...

Of course, Werner, and you know better than me, as you have just corrected me, you super gringo ;-)

Subcommandante Hans has expressed doubts about cycling your way out of climate crisis.

Maybe the paramilitary lexis does not carry very far.

Björn said...

To read

To affirm or to deny climate change supposes that we understand our planet well, that we know how it reacts – both now and for the next hundred years – and that we have the appropriate technological fix. This is plain and simple nonsense, and intolerably arrogant.


confuses me, to be honest. Is Gustavo Esteva a sceptics who doubts the Greenhouse theory and the impact of CO2 on global warming? On the other hand, he considers Kyoto a "timid step in the right direction".

On another note: "changing the system", is this that very old-fashioned leftist notion of telling us "changing human species", that has so dramatically and mortally failed wherever it has been tried?

Werner Krauss said...

@ Björn
the key term is dignity (if you follow the Zapatistas link):

"Rather than manage the climate catastrophe, as the neoliberal establishment is attempting to do, the climate justice movement chooses to use the crisis as an opportunity — perhaps the last opportunity — to construct dignity."

This is a different symbolic universe. Dignity implies a social relationship; it is not only about reducing CO2 emissions or feed the poor and needy; it is about equity between North and South and about respect for people and nature or climate.
In this view, science is not negated, but it is under suspicion of collaborating with capitalism. There is no dignity and no respect in geo-engineering only or in management strategies. (The Zapatistas might know what they talk about, by the way.)

Left wing? For sure!

Stan said...

Whatever else he may believe, he certainly got this right -- "To affirm or to deny climate change supposes that we understand our planet well, that we know how it reacts – both now and for the next hundred years – and that we have the appropriate technological fix. This is plain and simple nonsense, and intolerably arrogant."

Two generations hence, our grandchildren will look at the hubris that infected so many and wonder how such foolishness became so rampant. They will shake their heads in disbelief and ask why normal processes of proof were suspended, why the scientific method was abandoned, and why scientific institutions were allowed to be hijacked by a political movement.