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Burning Desires

“Fire made us human; fossil fuels made us modern, wealthy, and dominant

Julie added,

 

“You know, not long ago, the pope himself put out an important church teaching in his encyclical about caring for the environment and the poor. He says that our planet is beginning to look more and more like an ‘immense pile of filth.’ Isn’t he telling us that it is our responsibility to care for the environment, Clara?”

 

Paul followed up,

 

“Yeah, Pope Francis’s words really rocked the boat for many Catholics. He’s saying that we have come to view ourselves as ultimate masters over the Earth — human supremacy — entitled to plunder her at will. And the sickness of our soils, our water, our air, our oceans is a direct reflection of the violence and dis-ease we have in our own hearts.”

 

Clara fired back,

 

“Who's to say what the pope's real agenda is here. Perhaps he is, wittingly or unwittingly, paving the way for a One-World tyrannical government that will surely take away all our God-given freedoms — and our guns! Or perhaps Satan himself has a hand in stirring up all of this environmental fear mongering.”

 

Jack could no longer stay silent,

 

“C'mon Clara, there is no devil, only willful ignorance. Anthropogenic climate change is being ridiculed … and denied … and violently opposed, just like what happened with the theory of gravity, the heliocentric solar system, the theory of relativity, quantum physics, … you name it. Sure enough, soon it will be described as obvious and ‘self-evident.’ We’ve been here many times before. The longer we keep lyin’ and delayin’ — thanks in large part to the well-funded disinformation campaigns of the real devils in our society — the worse our predicament is going to get.”

 

Jack had reminded everyone of a very relevant insight from philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer:

 

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

He pointed out how we are becoming ever more ‘productive’ at burning flammable fossils such as oil, coal, and natural gas to convert high-value natural resources into low-value waste in manic pursuit of continuous economic growth. By doing so, we are emitting over 50 billion tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year.

 

We pat ourselves on the back for our cleverness and ingenuity. But we are only moving ever closer, at an accelerating rate, toward a global ecological disaster. It’s collective insanity. This Great Burning has to end.

 

What we need are new zero-carbon ways to produce electricity, grow food, make things, keep our buildings at comfortable temperatures, and move people and goods around the world.

Tucker couldn’t resist the chance to sling some mud at the preachy treehugger, while schooling him on the realities of the ruthless corporate capitalist shark-tank world that Tucker swam in so effectively,

 

“Oh you’re just bitter because you Earth-huggin’ scientists will never make much money from the work you do. Society rewards that which it values most. Scaring people with disaster scenarios ain’t gonna change that. The reality is clear: Fire made us human; fossil fuels made us modern, wealthy, and dominant. It is the way it's meant to be. Deal with it, man!

 

Then Lua spoke out,

 

“Yes, Mister Tucker, but now we need a new ‘fire’ that keeps us — and future generations of all species on this Good Earth — safe, healthy, and secure. ‘Business As Usual’ — continuing to pursue the relentless growth paradigm that has dominated economic policy since the end of World War II, or a slightly more environmentally sensitive version of the model promising ‘green growth’ — will surely take us over an ecological cliff.”

 

Green growth will only move us along toward that ultimate fate at a more relaxed, feel-good pace, she claimed. Our management of energy resources has been based too much upon short-term market considerations and too little on the interests of future generations.

 

This ‘slow violence’ of intergenerational theft marches along with too little sensitivity to either intergenerational equity or intragenerational justiceWe must not let appetites for excessive material consumption today diminish our concerns for the conditions essential for moral and sustainable development.

 

Industrial technology has more than succeeded in addressing the core desires of what are proving to be insatiable human appetites for consumption. This process generates flows of materials and energy far in excess of the capacity of the Earth’s ecosystems to assimilate the outflows sustainably.

 

Brakes are needed, Lua asserted. Economic incentives must be applied to limit these flows and keep them at sustainable levels. And this means getting all of our collective greenhouse gas emissions down to zero by mid-century, or sooner.

 

Lua cited mounting evidence of the harmfulness and diminishing returns on well-being of high-consumption lifestyles. Happiness does not, in fact, increase appreciably with increasing income beyond a fairly low threshold. The added stress of high-income lifestyles erases many gains and even results, in some cases, in dramatically lower levels of overall health and well-being.

 

Material consumption beyond practical need is simply a ‘sugar high’ that only satisfies for the moment and ultimately leads to depression. It doesn’t take long for hedonic adaptation and social anxiety to kick in and erase any momentary gains in feelings of happiness, status, brand membership, or success.

 

In contrast, recent studies suggest well-being tends to correlate more strongly with health, level of education, family time, time in Nature, and engagement in community.

 

Lua believed that any new economic system must resurrect ancestral wisdom from the past and blend in the multidisciplinary systems sciences of today in order to provide the next generation with a realistic democratically generated shared vision and plan for a just, desirable, and sustainable future for all. But to envision effectively, it is necessary to first accurately identify genuine deep desires, not what we tend to settle for.

 

For example, we settle for a fancy car when what we really crave is greater self-esteem.

 

We use drugs when what we really desire is serenity and connection.

 

We take medicine when we really need is a healthy lifestyle.

 

And we strive for GDP growth when what society really needs is sustainable well-being.

 

What is particularly important is a strong values-based vision that acknowledges the very real biophysical constraints of a limited biosphere and seeks to bridge racial, ethnic, religious, and gender divides.

 

This vision must acknowledge the imbalance of the historical industrial emissions of nations of the Global North — 92% of climate-changing emissions from just 19% of the global population.

 

These nations owe a climate debt to the rest of the world, as they have appropriated the vast majority of the safe atmospheric commons and have contributed the vast majority of emissions in excess of the safe planetary boundary.

 

The vision must also acknowledge social injustices past and present, such as stolen Indigenous lands and stolen African people.

 

It must radically re-direct our efforts to begin the long process of healing the planet rather than perpetuating destabilizing wars and obscene outflows of life-choking industrial waste.

 

Any new economic system, Lua asserted, must offer navigational instruments and policies for Earth-Systems governance to achieve a balanced working of the human economy within Earth’s ecological capacities without destroying the global ecosystem — the complex life-rich system in which we are embedded, and on which we ultimately depend.

Denyin' and Delayin'

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