Many thinkers, groups, activists, and academic disciplines are working to address the many environmental and cultural challenges we face. In the final analysis though, while these efforts surely are an essential part of addressing the various challenges, they are, at best, only a suppression of symptoms. Ultimately, the crises we face stem from the lack of an overarching vision for the future; at best, we are being led by a fragmented and obsolete vision that guided humanity through what Berry (1988) called the industrial age (p. 82). The current state of environmental affairs is a plethora of complex problems, which, in the still prevailing industrial view, we can only haphazardly address – academia is compartmentalized, professionalized (Wilshire, 1990, p. 99), and commercialized to the point of ineffectiveness; viewpoints on environmental issues, such as questions on the good or ill of income and development, are locked in wildly polarized dichotomies (Beckerman, 2006; Shiva, 2006); and even terminology to be used, such as sustainability (Fricker, 2006) or biodiversity (Escobar, 2006), cannot be agreed upon. We are completely without a holistic worldview that is appropriate for the contemporary environmental situation. Considering this lack of an overarching vision for the future of humanity’s relationship to, or place within, nature, it is painfully clear that there are no experts on the environmental crisis, only egos running dangerously wild and dragging the rest of the world down into their narrow fields of vision.
I guess I need to clean up my act. According to the Global Footprint Network’s calculator, my ecological footprint is 4 earths, and 17.7 global acres (Global Footprint Network, 2011). If I follow the suggestions offered by the calculator, my footprint would still be 3.6 earths (Global Footprint Network, 2011). This presents an obvious problem. The minor possible reduction and the fact that even if everyone reduced their footprint there would still be a major issue suggests that the problem is complex and must be thoughtfully and rationally engaged. If technology and the ability it provides to intensify agriculture and justify the use of the earth’s finite resources are to be a solution, as Ridley (2010) suggests, it certainly requires better than the pitiful argumentation that he has provided. I mean, is this guy for real? His total lack of philosophical reasoning would be amusing if it weren’t so dangerous. Even if technology can provide solutions, it does not preclude any benefits to be realized by the lowering of personal footprints.
Since developed countries did not face environmental regulation during their development, the question has been posed if these countries are imposing a double standard on developing countries such as China. Expecting China to meet the same environmental standards as developed countries seems unfair, and could limit its economic growth, as seen in the reduction of steel production after implementation of more stringent policies (Schmidt, 2004). To protect economic growth, it has been proposed that it is acceptable to develop now and clean-up the environment later. This idea is based on the concept of the Kuznet curve, but it seems optimistic to expect the desired results to be found in all times, situations, and historical periods. With population in China at levels not comparable to those in richer countries at the time of their development, the idea of a double standard is not appropriate. Due to rapid economic growth (and demands for continued growth) and large population, the potential damage to the environment is much greater in China. The gravity of the current problem, both globally and locally in China, makes the question of whether or not China should be held to the same standards as rich countries moot. Not only should China be held to the same standards, it must be held to the same, if not more stringent, standards.
(watch the film below)
The human desire for physical security and satisfaction of needs is self-evident. As the ability to meet these needs advances, the desire for physical security evolves into a quest for affluence. As there is an obvious relationship between affluence and the human ecological footprint, the question of how development should be pursued becomes paramount. White (2006) suggests that cultural development occurs through the harnessing of energy, either through the amount of energy that is harnessed, or through the efficiency with which it is transformed into work and products (p.143). With these points in mind, the question becomes how we can better utilize energy, while also caring for the environment, in a way which will lead to physical security and satisfaction of needs, and perhaps even affluence on a wider, more equitable scale. The ideas on development and environment offered by Beckerman (2006) and Fricker (2006) both have advantages and disadvantages, but the impression that they are diametrically opposed might lead to the assumption that one must be chosen over the other. Development will not cease, nor should it, as it is clear that it brings many advantages. What is needed is a new paradigm for pursuing development and affluence that offers a balanced approach between the self-satisfied mass consumption sanctioned by Ridley (2010), and the condemnation of all development as degradation as asserted by Shiva (2006). This paradigm should offer an efficient framework for harnessing and transforming energy on a broad scale, and lead to development that will benefit the earth and humanity in general.
For context, here is a summary of the film from IMDb:
The documentary, “The Power of Community – How Cuba Survived Peak Oil,” was inspired when Faith Morgan and Pat Murphy took a trip to Cuba through Global Exchange in August, 2003. That year Pat had begun studying and speaking about worldwide peak oil production. In May Pat and Faith attended the second meeting of The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas, a European group of oil geologists and scientists, which predicted that mankind was perilously close to having used up half of the world’s oil resources. When they learned that Cuba underwent the loss of over half of its oil imports and survived, after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990, the couple wanted to see for themselves how Cuba had done this.
Question: Is this the severe crisis that will cause the human population to make a significant change in regards to dealing with the environment? Do you see Peak Oil as a coming crisis we will face?