Friday, October 24, 2008

Puzzles

Late Friday afternoon, still trying to bring some structure to my new article project on environmental citizenship theory. I remember writing the abstract at Fröken Olssons Kafé in Gothenburg, just before setting off to the Caucasus with Lina.

Since writing the abstract there in May, I have been thinking of situating the paper closer in relation to the discourse on post-ecologism. While its American strand has a more optimistic undertone, the European notion of post-ecology remains profoundly defeatist. Deprived of all transformative hopes, the mere act of existing in the late-capitalist society has become a source of enduring individual guilt. With apparent scientific certainty, different carbon calculators allow us to know exactly how far we are from being responsible “environmental citizens”.

Admittedly, I am treading a fine line here. While it is certainly laudable to try to live a less ecologically destructive life, the problem is that this focus on individual shortcoming deflects our attention away from our collective responsibilities. By offering an illusive route to sustainability (if only I spend my vacation at home instead of in Thailand...) it fails to address the root causes of our current predicament, and more importantly, it takes away the political pressure to seek more radical progressive action.

In retrospect, if all goes well that is, I think this will be one of the greatest puzzles for future scholars, why our inertia with regards to innovation was so overwhelming, why it took so long for our political leaders to recognize our shared planetary destiny, why we kept building nuclear weapons in a world of ever deeper interdependence?

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2 Comments:

Blogger Gabriel said...

No, I do not see how "this" (read the paragraph again) takes away the political pressure to seek more radical progressive action. Period. It's not either or, it might be that one thing leads to the other. These arguments seem, to me, more like a rationalization to justify an individual never-ending latte spree, but also, if I may wander off a bit: A pretext for keeping the oh-so unpredictable ordinary citizen out of the plan, and leave the solution to scientists and top politicians. While it may sound democratic to stress collective action, real democracy must aim to involve a person more than once a term, and that desired public action starts with individual thinking, in contact with others, in the society.

And, if you have been drinking organic beer, abstaining from vacations on the other side of the world and riding public transport for a while, would that make you less likely to for example donate to cold fusion research if presented with the possibility, or to oppose government spending on the military?

Maybe, even, the ”individual” guilt, (maybe sometimes felt by people drinking latte in remote continents and collecting air miles ;-) ) propels one to seek redemption by taking action in the public field, just as grand positive visions do?

This "doom and gloom" perspective that by your accounts seems so paramount in Green scholarly writing today is not what we see in mainstream media. And those fire and brimstone rants taking place in certain columns are not central to the overall debate. You don't have to address them. Going green is considered to be hip, trendy and modern, and is often combined with embracing new technology. We need to capitalize on that.

Let me just end by saying that (as you know) I agree with you on a basic level, that a positive outlook is definitely vital to "save the world", but, (and this is important) it is also crucial to involve not only elite scientists, policy makers and engineers in this endeavour.

8:51 pm  
Blogger Rasmus said...

First of all, thanks for a dense comment that gave me a lot to think about.

I agree that the “doom-and-gloom” rhetoric of green political thought may not be that prevalent in the mainstream media (with the possible exception of Karin Bojs that is). What is worrying to me is that, if we are to see dangerous and abrupt climate change within the next decades, people will “fall back” on these more radical conceptions of the “green life”, leading to a destabilization of the overall economic system and, with it, the very chance of articulating a progressive political response which would allow the rest of the world to enjoy a decent living standard.

Unlike maybe Johan Norberg, I am all in for organic beer and public transport. However, as I have argued before, such green consumerism remains unlikely to solve the long-term equation of sustainability. And though some Greens surely have embraced the notion of ecological modernization, I maintain that they have failed to see exactly how radical that innovation has to be if it is to meet the challenges ahead. Gradual improvements of wind turbine efficiency is one thing, high-energy physics something different (for an illustration, just witness the debate over the Large Hadron Collider at CERN).

But I will not try to get away this easy. I agree that I talk out of my own interest when I defend, or rationalize, latte drinking or international travel. The travelling may be the easy part - like Lonely Planet - I regard travel, on average, to be “a global benefit” as it opens up our minds and furthers the cosmopolitan cause. Carbon offsetting is then one way of lessening the environmental impact. But, as for the latte, I agree that it may be superficial at times. That however does not mean that it is any less legitimate in a pluralistic society than being say a punk-rocker, computer geek or indie-clubber. It is precisely this flourishing pluralism that is challenged by radical green thought. And do not worry, Starbucks just had to close 61 stores in Australia since the local coffee is so much better :-)

Finally, as for the participation versus elite-issue, I have to disagree with your reading of my text. I believe that wider participation is paramount for a democratic society. In fact, witnessing the massive roll-back of liberal freedom in Sweden (read Lex Orwell, IPRED1 and data retention) I wish nothing more than that ordinary citizens challenge the political establishment and stand up for their right to privacy.

3:49 am  

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