I got mighty annoyed with the intro eco article in the latest Wired. To quote:
Green-minded activists failed to move the broader public not because they were wrong about the problems, but because the solutions they offered were unappealing to most people. They called for tightening belts and curbing appetites, turning down the thermostat and living lower on the food chain. They rejected technology, business, and prosperity in favor of returning to a simpler way of life. No wonder the movement got so little traction. Asking people in the world's wealthiest, most advanced societies to turn their backs on the very forces that drove such abundance is naive at best.
And I saw this quote from The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure (via):
The rise of worktime was unexpected. For nearly a hundred years, hours had been declining. When this decline abruptly ended in the late 1940s, it marked the beginning of a new era in worktime.
Since 1948, the level of productivity of the U.S. worker has more than doubled. In other words, we could now produce our 1948 standard of living (measured in terms of marketed goods and services) in less than half the time it took in that year. We actually could have chosen the four-hour day. Or a working year of six months. Or, every worker in the United States could now be taking every other year off from work -- with pay.
How did this happen? Why has leisure been such a conspicuous casualty of prosperity?
And I can't help but think the green-minded activists were right all along, and not just because of global warming. The product-driven society we're building is inane. And Wired is right there in the middle of it, obsessed with its stupid gadgetry. I am so, so, so tired of gadgets.
But Wired isn't tired of gadgets, they just love consumerism, so they feel a need to criticize good people who are concerned with something other than the acquisition of status and wealth.
But that's not really my point. My point is that the environmentalists are still mostly right, and the technologists are still mostly wrong. The environmentalists aren't all right -- sometimes they can be reactionary luddites, or suggest solutions that are unreasonable because they are predicated on population contraction or other impossibilities. But when they speak of conservation, frugality, and conscientious consumption, they are right. They believe we have a duty to give more back to the world than we take; you aren't clever when you trick the system and take more than you give: you are repugnant.
What do the technologists offer? Tremendous potential, no doubt, and offers of real progress. But they are bound by this same economic force that the environmentalists wish they could escape. If you can't sell it, it isn't worth doing. Everything has to be monitized. Every transaction must be taxed, every benefit mitigated with a dollar cost, even if that cost is applied artificially... and if you can't monitize then it does not deserve attention.
And of course this drives us to consumption, even as it damages both the planet and our personal lives. And how to solve it? The technologists answer: more consumption, always more consumption...
The environmentalists were right then, and they are right now, and the consumerists are still wrong, and they've squandered too much of our technology and potential. There are many good things we've done in our modern society, and many things we've accomplished, but these have all been done for higher minded reasons than the acquisition of wealth.
Actually, Wired is true : we like so much overconsume that the advertisment was invented. That's not fantastic that we cannot walk ten meters in the street without seeing some ads telling us to not buy (not to say about tv, radio and press) ? hmmm ?# gyhelle
It seems to me that the Wired article is a combination of the usual breathless Wired rhetoric with someone who either has only just realised that environmentalism isn't about 1960s stereotypes, or that the best way to promote an agenda is to needlessly and inaccurately trash other people to make yourself look good. Of course, there are schools of thought that claim that economics can do a sufficient job of limiting mankind's impact on the environment; for example, as weather gets more severe, this affects the insurance business, which in turn affects anyone buying insurance, which can affect any number of things. But it's debatable as to whether the market can propagate the signals fast enough and to the necessary places to make the right decisions without governments stepping in and forcing people to change their ways.
And I think there's another school of thought that desperately clings on to the belief that we can enjoy a luxurious lifestyle of overconsumption forever if only we have the technology. That group doesn't seem to consider the very special combination of circumstances that have produced the late 20th century lifestyle: abundant stores of cheap energy (burning millions of years of stored energy in an instant), fortuitous control of disease using agents that may prove to be unsustainable, amongst other things. The problem is that if we do escape any disaster scenario, I imagine that some of these people will believe that environmental change was never a really serious threat, whereas if things get really bad, no-one will be in any doubt, but no-one will be able to do anything about it, either.
And I think there's another school of thought that desperately clings on to the belief that we can enjoy a luxurious lifestyle of overconsumption forever if only we have the technology.
I think this is actually a false choice. Or, at least, implies a choice between personal satisfaction and collective responsibility towards the environment. But I think restraining consumption can increase personal satisfaction, if we do it thoughtfully and not as slaves of the market. In the US everyone has a car or SUV and two televisions, but we also have a horrible healthcare system that shows off every disfunction of market based infrastructure. But we do nothing to fix that, because we have no idea how -- the idea of doing anything that isn't driven by the profit motive is beyond the conception of our institutions.
Which really is an optimistic way to think about it, because there's so much potential. We are squandering our wealth and our technology; but it's there if we want it.# Ian Bicking
I think this is actually a false choice. Or, at least, implies a choice between personal satisfaction and collective responsibility towards the environment.
Well, "personal satisfaction" isn't always the same as "overconsumption", of course.But I think restraining consumption can increase personal satisfaction, if we do it thoughtfully and not as slaves of the market.
I made references to the market to indicate that some people don't equate market behaviour with relentless exploitation of natural resources and of people.In the US everyone has a car or SUV and two televisions, but we also have a horrible healthcare system that shows off every disfunction of market based infrastructure. But we do nothing to fix that, because we have no idea how -- the idea of doing anything that isn't driven by the profit motive is beyond the conception of our institutions.
What's interesting is that there have been proposals to improve healthcare coverage which have been market-oriented and which have fairly obvious economic motivations: it's easier to prevent health problems amongst the uninsured than to provide emergency treatment later on. I can't see why, when both compassionate and financial justifications exist to improve healthcare coverage, that something decisive isn't done, but I guess that says quite a lot about the people dragging their feet on the matter.Which really is an optimistic way to think about it, because there's so much potential. We are squandering our wealth and our technology; but it's there if we want it.
Perhaps the most promising sources of "alternative" energy can be brought online on a viable basis soon enough to make energy something we never have to worry about again, but there's the question of whether we'll ever get a better shot than right now (or in the next few decades) at achieving such things. It's much harder to muster the effort for nuclear fusion research or for things like a space programme in a society without access to cheap and convenient energy.