Toward a solution to global warming

Bob’s post, “Ecosocialism or collapse,” got me thinking about the challenge of global climate change in a new light. In the post, he quotes Richard A. Smith on “three principles for an ecosocialist economy to save us from collapse.” These can be summarized as (1) economy of stasis, (2) production for need (as opposed to excess), and (3) shift in focus toward the common good.

To these, Bob responds:

“Absolutely. But how do we get there? These three proposals all assume the existence of a powerful state (or international governing body) that can mandate such changes. We don’t have that now nor is there any real possibility of there being one.”

Which started my gears turning. Where have I seen such a complex and seemingly insurmountable problem before? Ah: the civil war in Sri Lanka. And the three categories of obstacles are much the same.

The challenge of global warming is not just economic, nor is it just political. Smith also brings up a third area of challenge that is neither economic nor political: “Replace the profit motive with concern for the common good.” This is a problem of thinking, or consciousness.

spheres.GIFIn seeking solutions to the Sri Lankan conflict, we found it useful to view the challenges as occurring in three overlapping spheres of Politics, Economics, and Consciousness. In order to be successful, a solution must address all three spheres. Any solution that addresses only one or two of the spheres is doomed to fail. And consciousness is key but easily overlooked: in the case of ending a conflict, there must be a transformation from viewing the other as enemy to viewing everyone as part of the same nation.

The problem of global climate change is similar. The discussion here on Polizeros has focused primarily on economic (socialist vs. capitalist) and political (enforcement vs. encouragement) solutions. There are of course technical challenges as well. But until Bob’s post, no one had yet brought up the problem of consciousness. How do we convince people to put the greater good above their own selfish desires?

One answer is through what is often referred to as a spiritual approach, though it might also be considered ethical for those not inclined toward spirituality. In Sri Lanka it meant not converting people from their current religion, but rethinking their current religion. Buddhist extremism, for example, is used as justification for killing non-Buddhists, while Hinduism is strongly associated with caste (and economic) stratification. Christians, who are in a unique position for mediation, instead keep to themselves. Yet all of these religions contain the teachings necessary to overcome self-centeredness and put aside violence.

Sri Lanka is a small country, yet an end to the war there remains elusive. On a global scale, the application of solutions in these three spheres would be even more complex. But they are necessary. If we are to find an answer to global warming (short of climate-imposed population and technological reduction), we must begin to think in terms of comprehensive approaches.

It may also be true that no single entity or organization can fully address more than one (or even one) of these spheres. That means cooperative thinking in a way humanity has been reluctant to undertake so far. Either-or, black-and-white approaches are easy to embrace and make it easy to spot our “enemy”— but these approaches, insofar as they prevent us from working together, may in fact be the enemy.

(A modified version of this post appears on

  • Joe Hartley

    A very interesting post which indicates the breadth of the environmental problem.

    I’d like to add three points that may help expand the discussion.

    First, changes in ethics or spiritual values DO occur. We can see the waves of religious revival that have swept through the US at regular intervals since the first Great Awakening in the 1740’s. On the secular side, we can see the changes in attitudes that the upper classes in Britain had following WWII when they realized how brutalized the working class had been under the system, which gave way for a more socialized approach to the economy, at least for 30 some years before Lady Thatcher came to power. There is therefore no reason to think that a a spiritual or ethical movement related to environmentalism could not coincide with one of the waves, particularly at a time when the population is generally exhausted by both parties. The tricky thing is how to get it going and steer it into productive results.

    Second, I see the environmental problem as independent of the economic system prevailing in a given country, assuming that we can agree on what system actually prevails. (I would argue that the US today is far more socialistic than Bob wants to admit; that major corporations are in fact subsidized and supported by government funds, and that the distribution of wealth and influence more resembles the USSR in its decrepitude, say, 1985 than a real capitalistic economy.) But economic problems facing a corporate honcho or a central planner in the capital are identical: to avoid environmental damage, production becomes more expensive, and many public assets (air and water at least, often land and minerals and wild growth like timber) have been deemed to be costless assets to be consumed. To arrive at an appropriate balance between economic development (i.e., work that provides jobs) and protecting the environment, some sort of cost-benefit analysis has to be performed that treats common and necessary assets (air and water, etc.) NOT as being free or without value. This should not be a remarkable or even argumentative proposition: the history of socialist economies in the 20th Century is no better than, and quite often worse, than the mixed economies of the west, where political pressure could be brought to bear to change the status quo. (I imagine most environmentalists in the USSR, eastern Europe, or China ended up in mental institutions, reeducation centers, or graveyards, since there was no political cost for disposing of them.)

    This observation leads to the third point, which is political and consitutional. If you are going to adopt some means of state control to enforce environmentalism, what are the appropriate limits on that power? Another way of approaching the question is to ask whether we believe that power does indeed corrupt, and, if so, what can we do to give the appropriate governmental authorities enough power to do their job effectively but not so much that they become abusive?

    This is not a trivial question, although it often becomes trivialized in discussion. Most people who argue in favor of socialism, in my experience, assume that THEY will be the ones at the top of the pyramid making good choices for the masses. Nothing in human history supports the conclusion that the good will end up at the top; one remembers Madison’s early observation in the Federalist Papers that if men were angels, no government would be necessary. It seems to me that most leftists dismiss the problem by assuming that men–and women, or at least THEIR men and women–are angels, and will not be tempted by the corruptions of power. There are some rare individuals in history who can resist the siren’s call of power–though the Roman general Cincinnatus is the only one I can think of offhand–but I have no reason to believe that 99.9999999999999 percent of humanity, including myself, would be able to furnish such resistance. It doesn’t seem to be in human nature. We need only look at how quickly the “free-market” Republicans of 1994 became the corrupt Whig-like Republicans of 1995 and the “K-Street Project” launched by Tom DeLay which was the antithesis of a free economic market. Indeed, as I mentioned above, I think an interesting case can be made that George Bush essentially follows a socialistic model of the economically decrepit USSR of the 1980’s in trying to establish a Republican nomenklatura through what are basically state-run businesses like Haliburton (can one imagine Haliburton surviving in a true capitalist economy?)

    I am not an enormous fan of capitalism as it has evolved in the US. Perhaps as a model it works best if a country is developing and has a relatively honest and open government (i.e., those who rule don’t insist on raking all governmental income off the top like a bunch of loan sharks or mobsters) that is trying to meet basic needs. Once basic needs of a country are met (or, on average, are met, even though there may be some who are not meeting their basic needs, which is another question altogether), perhaps the capitalist model fails to function as an efficient allocator of resources because it needs steadily increasing demand which can only be sustained by artificial “needs” for what amount to luxury goods, which in turn corrupts the culture of the country. It’s not an implausible argument, but the devil’s in the details, and such a theory would need at least 100,000 words to explore, not a brief posting like this one.

    But criticizing one system is not terribly helpful unless it gives us some insight into what can be done differently and more effectively in a reformed or altered system. And the problem of power in a socialist or closely-controlled economy and political system is considerable. I’m a great believer in John Rawl’s theory of justice, which is that a reasonably just system is one where someone on the top could trade places with someone on the bottom without a severe sense of the injustice of the situation. The standard of what would be considered just is that of a reasonable person, not of a right-wing lunatic like the Faux News talking heads, or an airhead like Paris Hilton.

    Anyway, that’s my grist for the mill.

  • Caught my attention with the Vin, nice to see you headlining DJ. I did a Vin to the third level (nine, any further requires three dimensional modeling and a mind that works like a computer) on the Y2K potential while with a law firm in Montana.* I don’t know why I didn’t think of it as an application to the problem at hand, damn. I’ll take your model to the ninth over the weekend and get back to you.

    *I’m actually thinking the Y2Kers were right – with the installation of Bush as Dictator in 2000ce, it did indeed mark the end of the world, and America, as we knew it.

  • > major corporations are in fact subsidized

    Well yeah, we do indeed have socialism for the rich. Why not have it for everyone too, instead of the theftocracy that we have now.

    The UN has said the planet has maybe a ten year window in which we can make changes, after that some of the effects of global warming will become irreversible. So we all need to act now,

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