It seems the highest point in John Kerry’s political career was his impassioned testimony before congress expressing his experience of the absurdity of the Viet Nam war. After that came serial mediocrity in search of sustaining moderate upper-class rule. Never again would he to take a principled stand as he pursued his political path, grounded in the convenient assumptions of conventional thinking. He had quickly become, well, a politician.
So it is today. Joe Biden has made some major statements asserting some “Big Ideas” on climate crisis policies, among several others. Kerry, as his “climate Tzar,” is supposed to implement those big ideas. Yet, true to form, in an interview with a British journalist Andrew Marr on the BBC, Kerry hemmed and hawed when asked questions about specific ways the administration would achieve the fifty percent reduction in carbon emissions from a 2005 baseline by 2035 that it claims as its target. Never mind the fact that the real baseline ought to be carbon levels at the beginning of the industrial revolution.
Kerry’s answers in sum amounted to the espousal of the underlying invalid assumptions of the “ecomodernist” cult of industrial-consumer corporate interests who claim we can “decouple” continued economic growth from the ecological and climate destruction that it has and continues to cause.
Kerry claimed: 1) we need not suffer diminished “quality of life” (implicitly defined as today’s high levels of industrial consumption) in order to reduce carbon emissions enough to constrain climate change; 2) “50% of the reductions we have to make (to get to near zero emissions) by 2050 or 2045 are going to come from technologies we don’t yet have.” Carbon pollution was already bad enough to inflict plenty of ecological damage in 2005. We cannot afford to wait for the high-tech, high-priced “solutions” that Bill Gates and other techno-industrial pseudo-gurus promote. We have all the technology we need; what’s missing is the political will and cultural commitment to change the way we live.
Convenient Irrational Assumptions
It was almost as if it were Bill Gates talking. Kerry even cited Gates’ investments in development of technologies for new smaller scale nuclear power plants as a favorable development. Gates takes today’s energy gluttony as a given. Never mind that the radioactive waste from nuclear power generation remains an intractable problem—we don’t need to add to existing problems, we need to eliminate them.
Heaven forbid we change anything about the wasteful American consumer lifestyle or the compulsive production of more and more products for the empty amusement and distraction of the American people. Just invest the nation’s wealth in new more complex technologies of power production to keep feeding that unsustainable path to ecological/climate chaos. It’s hard to not be sarcastic.
Well, despite the illusions perpetuated by the financial/corporate/political elites, we do not live in a bubble, isolated and independent from the complex living system, Gaia, the complex Earth System upon which we depend for our survival, yet wantonly disturb and disrupt. Our bubble of immunity from the Laws of Nature is a grand social illusion.
Mother Nature Takes No Prisoners
For the last several hundred years, the human economic system has reaped great rewards from utilizing the laws of physics to produce great wealth and power. We have indiscriminately produced much for the power elites who rule what remains of the shell of our democracy. Yet most Americans think we can violate the Laws of Nature ( those expressed in physics, chemistry, biology, and atmospheric science among others) and escape the consequences by simply further exploiting Nature to produce new technologies to suppress the symptoms of the industrial-consumer disease.
Mother Nature will have none of it. Her laws are fixed and immutable, certainly unassailable by the predatory behavior by the likes of “Man.” Techno-industrial and consumer cultures have constructed an intellectual bubble, hiding within it as if the “outside world” of Nature were somehow irrelevant to the perpetual progress of economic expansion.
It is interesting to note that we still call the natural world “Mother Nature.” Remnants of an earlier, pre-modern civilization, way of life that was not hierarchical, not violent, not warlike, not misogynist. The goddesses symbolized life-giving and caring in harmony with Nature, unlike the male angry gods of the religions that emerged with the hierarchic violent forms of social organization that overran old Europe to become the dominant religions of today. Nature became a force to be conquered and exploited just like other peoples. That remains a primary illusion preventing any genuine effort to right the wrongs of industrial civilization.
Tradition or Tragedy: Can We Transform Society to Salvage Humanity?
We face a deep predicament in all this. The deep structures of social organization that support the extractive materialism that is severely disrupting the natural balances in our planetary ecosystems and physical environments are very difficult to change. Yet humanity is at such serious odds with our own habitat that if we do not transform our societies and our ways of living, we will drive ourselves to extinction.
Those few serious scientists and creative thinkers who know where we stand and what technically needs to be changed in the life ways built into the industrial-consumer culture, do not have any answers. Few are even willing to talk about this predicament. Vastly more creativity and innovation than has ever emerged from humans is needed to take control and transform society to once again fit into the natural world. Most fail to escape from the mental constraints of conventional culture. Yet that is exactly what we must do.
2 thoughts on “Unrealistic Assumptions Dodge Difficult Decisions”
Very insightful analysis of the seemingly unsolvable economic and political systems we are stuck in! As a fellow sociologist and colleague of Bob Christie, I lament the predicament we are in.
As a possible solution, I have conceived a new “ism” – Blended Decentralism. Unlike communism and socialism, that have been used as rationales for totalitarian dictatorships and capitalism that has evolved into monopolies controlled by a few billionaires, Blended Decentralism would have a combination of public and private entities. These organizations would be locally and democratically controlled in a more people oriented and much less consumption oriented social system.
This seems wonderful to me but horribly unrealistic! Thanks again Bob for your thoughtful analysis. I am anxious to read your unpublished book!!
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Thanks, Bill. Your Blended Decentralism sounds a bit like the concept of networked ecological communities I envision as both the societal and ecological solution to the overgrown Earth-System destroying global corporate political economy that will otherwise drive humanity to the brink of extinction, along with so many other species already well on their way.