Where There Were No Doors

Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before - Joseph Campbell

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Still little to say

Well you can't say you weren't warned. The days pass and still I'm bereft of inspiration. Adrift on an ocean of something-or-other.

The world keeps turning. Hurtling towards all manner of very scary and inconveniently scheduled disasters. But the seething rage that best inspires polemical wittering (sometimes known, quaintly, as "political blogging") is currently absent without leave as I suffer a bout of post-Catholic Understanding.

The rage did flare briefly with the Brian Eno thing, which frankly I still find appalling... there's just no need for it. But that was merely a spark as the capitalist breeze blew across some banked-down coals. Lately I've found myself watching Question Time, and where I should be filling with the fire of righteous retribution and storming the Houses of Parliament baying for "the head of Tony Blair" or demanding that "the streets run red with the blood of our leaders" (the normal, rational and perfectly justifiable response to modern politics) I instead succumb to an involuntary attack of empathy.

Is it not possible, I wonder, that our leaders may actually be fools and fuck-ups instead of evil scum? We're all just a bunch of cursed monkeys after all... maybe there's just no other way for it to go down. The fuck-ups at the top are just as trapped in a system programmed to self-destruct as those right at the bottom. And in return for their material comforts they'll be forced to watch in horror as they're blamed for the whole mess.

Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.
- Albert Einstein
The world is going to hell in a handbasket. War, famine, pestilence and death are riding their monstrous steeds roughshod over the face of our battered planet. Earthquakes that "wipe out a generation", hurricanes that rip the beating heart from the most powerful nation on earth and tsunamis that obliterate the coastline of half a continent. Tsunamis for crying out loud! Tell you what... if I was living next to a volcano, I'd be feeling pretty damn twitchy right about now.

Most of this stuff is avoidable though... those four horsemen are only metaphors for human failing and not the literal and physical embodiment of the apocalypse as a certain US president would have you believe. No, I don't mean the tsunamis and hurricanes are crafted by human hand (though, with a greater danger of climate-change-related sea-level rises, it probably makes sense for us to begin the methodical evacuation of particularly vulnerable areas). But the famine and the war and the pestilence are - theoretically at least - within the power of humanity to control and eliminate. The fact that we are not, and are not likely to do so, can be primarily attributed to a crisis of leadership.

But this crisis of leadership is itself a product of modern political culture. Our combination of neo-liberal consumerism and representative democracy has created a society that is pathologically short-termist. It is to Tony Blair's credit (and it's not often you'll find me opening a sentence with those words) that he recognises and publicly acknowledges this fact. Earlier this year, in a speech to the World Economic Forum on the subject of climate change, Blair stated:
if we put forward, as a solution to climate change, something which involves drastic cuts in growth or standards of living, it matters not how justified it is, it simply won't be agreed to.
- Tony Blair (27/01/2005)
And he recently reiterated this in a speech to a conference in New York (organised by Bill Clinton) on the subject of "global challenges" when he pointed out:
The truth is, no country is going to cut its growth or consumption substantially in the light of a long-term environmental problem.
- Tony Blair (25/09/2005)
Blair accepts that climate change is one of the most important (if not the most important) of the global challenges facing us today. This is a view echoed by the overwhelming majority of climate scientists and informed commentators. Mind you, the author of Jurassic Park and Congo thinks otherwise, as do numerous pro-fossil fuel, oil-company-financed lobbying groups... so it would be wrong to imply a complete consensus of opinion.

But, ignoring the silly paranoia of writers of bad fiction and those with a vested financial interest in selling as much fossil fuel as possible; everyone agrees that we need to address the issue of anthropogenic climate change in some fashion. There are - broadly speaking - two approaches to addressing the issue.

Approach #1: Efforts are begun right now to massively reduce our carbon emissions. This would not be done in cases where such reduction would actively endanger human life. However, while we would clearly seek to minimise economic disruption where possible; the fate of the planet will be considered a higher priority than present economic growth. Therefore, until a practical alternative to this course of action is demonstrated, economic growth will be sacrificed in order to minimise the danger that anthropogenic climate change poses to future generations.

Approach #2: We continue roughly as we have done. Obviously the gratuitous addition of carbon to the atmosphere will be discouraged (using market forces, not political intervention) but individuals and companies will remain free to burn fossil fuels if they can afford to do so. However, economic incentives will be introduced to encourage cleaner technologies and alternative methods of dealing with waste carbon.

The first of these (active intervention to reduce carbon emissions) requires sacrifice on the part of the wealthy nations and is primarily a decision based upon ethics. We decide that our immediate wealth and personal gratification are less important, from a moral perspective, than the well-being of generations as yet unborn. This in turn can only be secured by strong political leadership, and given that type of leadership... someone who can demonstrate the value of making this economic sacrifice... then Approach #1 has a high chance of reducing human impact on the climate as well as setting us upon the road to a more sustainable future.

The second of these, however, requires neither sacrifice nor strong political leadership. It assumes that carbon emissions can be reduced while maintaining economic growth. It assumes that someone else will deal with the problem at some point in the future and aims to place market mechanisms in place to increase the likelihood of this occurring. So there is simply no way - barring the invention of a time machine - to assess the chances that Approach #2 has of reducing human impact on the climate. It is a matter of faith.

The two statements made by Blair must therefore be viewed as an acknowledgement that he is incapable of providing the political leadership required to implement Approach #1. That despite his belief that climate change is a very serious issue, he will nonetheless choose Approach #2 - placing the safety of future generations (his own children) - in the hands of an act of faith.

Which should inspire at least enough ire to warrant a lambasting, right? Except it doesn't. At least not right now (though these bouts of serene acceptance rarely last very long). Right now it seems to me that Blair's attitude towards Climate Change, and his statements on the issue, are no more than confirmation of that dark truth spoken by Einstein.


Blogger Larry Teabag said...

I'm bereft of inspiration...
How about parts 2 & 3 of your peak oil thing at The Sharpener?

Still I agree with your analysis of the current leadership-crisis, itself just a manifestation of our pathologically short-termist culture.

That's the problem with the free-market's ability to deal with crises - it doesn't do anything until their right on top of you, and it's very possibly too late. Up until that point it just sells people blindfolds and ear-plugs, and self-hypnosis tapes, and other charlatan nonsense, thereby enabling people to make themselves happier by believing that it's not that big a deal really.

31/10/05 15:16  
Blogger Larry Teabag said...

"their right on top of you" = "they're right on top of you"

31/10/05 15:17  
Blogger L said...

well, MOST political leaders are just fools and fuck-ups, but some are definitely Evil Scum

4/11/05 13:10  
Blogger merrick said...

Well, just cos you're quiet doesn't mean you're not having effect. I've taken your last coupla posts and run with them.

The Blair climate change thingy became this, and the Eno thing was the spark that made me write this.

I hope that when I have my next dry period as a writer, I remember that my work is still doing good out there.

6/11/05 13:17  

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