As I Please

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day 2010

Today is not only Earth Day but the fortieth anniversary of the first Earth Day declared in the US at a time when progressive forces were considerably stronger in that country than they are now. The first Earth Day was in effect the prototype for all subsequent Earth Day celebrations, an occasion for consciousness raising and education of the public regarding environmental concerns and how human beings should cope with them. Back in 1970 the concerns were with pollution and the loss of habitat for wildlife and extinction of select species. Back then the greenhouse effect in Earth's atmosphere and consequent global warming were just theoretical projections instead of the reality they are today. Not even so-called climate change sceptics deny that global climate change is happening after having for so long denied that it was. But as the weight of evidence has gone against them they have moved the goalposts and now assert that while climate change is happening, it is entirely natural, not caused by human action, not allowing for the possibility that even if this is true human action could increase it. But in writing of Earth Day I am not concerned so much with these people even though I think they are wrong. Rather I am concerned with those many well-meaning people who think that in undertaking "acts of green" e.g. recycling, adopting less polluting lifestyles etc. they are helping to "save the planet". But are they?
On the whole the lifestyle changes that Earth Day commemorates are little different from those advocated on the first Earth Day and have been summed up in the three Rs of waste management: reduce, reuse, recycle. What difference there is consists in adding to the first R not only reducing waste but also reducing activities that produce the greenhouse gases that have resulted in global warming or as it is also called climate change. But the evidence we see around the world indicates a phenomenon so vast and far-reaching that doing things like recycling paper, glass, and plastic products and buying fluorescent light bulbs while laudable in themselves as actions to reduce waste and therefore pollution of the land, water, and air, will do little to deal with the altering of the world's climate with all the attendant changes such as rising sea levels, increasing drought and desertification.
The threat of terrible harm to human beings and other sentient life from climate change appears to be momentous and yet what we are doing to cope with it seems to me comparable to coping with the threat of fascism in the 1940s by only rationing and collecting scrap. It may well be that the only way to stave off the worst effects of climate change will be a wholesale mobilization of our material and intellectual resources comparable to those which defeated Germany and Japan, only in this case we would not have war but what my favourite philosopher William James called in his essay of the same name "the moral equivalent of war", only it would not be so much to engender the martial virtues of "
fidelity, cohesiveness, tenacity, heroism, conscience, education, inventiveness, economy, wealth, physical health and vigor" which he advocated as it would be to save humankind from catastrophe or rather a series of catastrophes resulting from climate change, and it would not only be the moral equivalent of war but the moral equivalent of total war


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