Monday, May 2, 2011

Can Civilization Survive Industrialism?

An increasingly frequent and quite disturbing occurrence are the public pronouncements from people who should know better, such as climate scientists and environmentalists, that nuclear power can be a solution--temporary or otherwise--to our energy woes and quickly collapsing economy and environment.

NASA's Jim Hansen is the latest to join James Lovelock, George Monbiot and the other high-priests of the Church of the Techno-fetishist at the Rocky Mountain Institute in shilling for continued exploitive development with the myth of a need for green economic growth. Some people are pointing out that Bill McKibben seems to be not far behind. Even Lester Brown of all people has called for a need to protect and reinvigorate economic growth as long as it's done "greenly."

Why would otherwise intelligent people be advocating a return to the normal that brought us to the edge of this cliff, albeit with a fresh coat of green paint?

Is a green apocalypse (sustainable apocalypse, anyone?) really any better than what the captains of industry and their financiers have in store for us? The left likes to disparage religious fundamentalists, but the Green Divas' vision of a techno-rapture seems to be every bit as divorced from reality. They say their goal is to save civilization from the imminent collapse that is becoming harder to deny, but that's just a cover story. What they're really trying to protect is Industrialism, and it makes no difference whether the economic system at its base is capitalism or socialism.

Industrial civilization, which requires constant economic growth, which means continuing to regard Earth as both an endless supply of resources and a bottomless pit for waste, has become conflated with the concept of civilization. Intentionally destroying one's life-support system is just about the best definition of insanity I know of. It is anything but civilized.

Although, as we start discussing alternatives we must also keep in mind that civilization as we know it has some rather glaring shortcomings apart from Industrialism--just ask an Indian or any of the other peoples who have experienced genocide for land grabs. Or, open yourself to feel the suffering of other species and the planet itself from the onslaught of unrestrained growth, resource extraction, towering mountains of toxic waste, and festering pools of radioactivity just so a CEO somewhere can build yet another summer home in a protected wetlands.

One point I keep reiterating is that Industrialism is actually anathema to civilization, regardless of how Industrialism is powered--nukes, fossil fuels, or photovoltaics. It requires economic cannibalism in its single-minded drive to grow and subsume. Industrialism (not to be confused with technology) devalues both people and planet, and the underlying paradigm it emerges from--force based ranking hierarchies of domination and a pathological sense of the other--must be delegitimized and replaced.

Industrialism, however, is only one disease whose symptomology expresses in the wounds of empire. Others are spiritual transcendence, scientific reductionism, and various stripes of dualistic dichotomies that all assume a linear, mechanistic, disconnected universe that is unfriendly to life--at least in the here and now.

Yes, it is somewhat mind-boggling that Western minds claim this to be true--the latter point especially--while simultaneously insisting that they're rational.

Fortunately, there is a systemic alternative to all of this. It entails reconnecting with nature (our inner nature, each other, our communities, other species, and our living world--our planetary life support system) and relocalizing our communities and economies as a foundation for change. Reconnecting and relocalizing will improve quality of life for all life. This alternative is solidly based in the systems science of non-linear dynamics in an interconnected and interdependent universe, employs the principles of steady-state economics, and works with and benefits from the self-organizing tendencies of living systems to create mutually supportive relationships. Thus, it would require less energy and effort to make available more of what really matters in the human quest for progress and prosperity than the status quo of Industrialism can even dream of.

Which brings up the other point I keep repeating--we must realize that economic growth and increasing market share are not necessary for either progress or prosperity. We could quite rationally decide to shift our focus to becoming better instead of bigger. If we were to factor in all the waste in the current system, and add in planned and perceived obsolescence, the rational conclusion is that we don't actually need all the energy we're producing today, let alone additional capacity from nuclear power. Standard of living would hardly be affected, and quality of life would measurably improve.

Becoming sustainable does not necessitate moving back to the cave. Should we decide to keep our wits about us (I know, little historical precedence, but that doesn't mean it isn't possible) sustainability and technology could co-exist. We must start being intelligent instead of restrictive regarding family planning, and realize any industry deemed necessary in a sustainable future will have to be clean and zero waste to meet one of the basic tenets of sustainability: The ability to stay within the balance point among population, consumption, and waste assimilation so our life support system can recharge and regenerate.

The systemic alternative I'm advocating is perfectly in keeping with true human nature. It would allow the innovation of an inquisitive, intelligent species to truly blossom as it would no longer be shackled by the limiting, self-serving growth imperative. It would focus on creativity, compassion, and nurturance; it would seek to fulfill our senses of community, belonging, and acceptance instead of offering addictive substitutes and creating pharmaceuticals (or building more prisons) to deal with the pathologies that arise (greed, aggression, narcissism, etc.) from withholding natural expectations for fulfillment in order to further consolidate wealth and power in the hands of a self-selected elite.

This latter system is the one that we the people must exercise our power to withdraw the legitimacy we have granted it. We can, and must, start implementing a practical, affordable alternative that can rationally, emotionally and spiritually provide the fulfillment we seek in both expressing and achieving our potential.

3 comments:

vera said...

Hey, sure hope you will keep on writing. You are a voice of sanity all around. :-)

Mel Strawn said...

Basic point for me: the need to (even) imagine a different paradigm for human individual and community life. Once imagined, then imaged, somehow, given communicable form. Concrete creative responses are called for. They can even be rational and irrational at the same time.

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