RealClimate: Unforced variations: Sep 2022

I would contend that inequity will *always* tend to promote environmental degradation, including for the foreseeable future at least, climate damage. Why? Because inequity always has a political dimension. It is precisely that dimension which allows for the environmental devastation we see (or choose not to look at) in Lousiana’s ‘Cancer Alley.’ Or in the lands Dominion Energy is trying to expropriate for an unnecessary natgas pipeline in North Carolina. Or around Midland, TX, which last time I went through conjured the name “Mordor” in my once Tolkien-addled brain. Or Canada’s Tar Sands. Or the Niger Delta, which has been called “one of the most polluted places on earth.”

The point is, you can’t really run an FF-based economy without a bunch of folks who are poor enough or powerless enough that they have no better choice than to put up with the pollution. (Or at least, nobody has managed to do so up ’til today.)

So equity isn’t quite such a “crude attempt at diversion” at all. And it does provide a clear answer to a question you’ve asked twice now at least–to wit, how can climate be protected without resorting to “totalitarian” measures. That answer? Provide a clear vision of sustainability which promises *and delivers* a more satisfying and secure life–one less marked by a worship of profit and power, and more marked by valuing people, and life generally. Do that, and the polity will support sane policies.

Above I alluded to the need for 3 large-scale changes:

1) End the culture of disposability/”convenience”
2) End the culture of endless growth, replacing it with a culture of enough/satisfaction
3) Seek a balance of community and individual (recognizing that radical individualism is toxic, and truly healthy individuals only exist in community)

I’d note at this point that the first 2 go directly to both equity and avoiding a totalitarian society. Why? Because if you look dispassionately at typical American behavior today, most of us are constantly subjecting ourselves to messaging directed at making us feel needy, frightened and insecure. At the same time, our political elite work (much of the time) to ensure that we have rational grounds for feeling just that way, by ensuring that the private sector is always privileged to supply needs–or simulacra of them, at least–and by curtailing our power to assert greater control over our own economic lives.

The socially approved cure for these feelings is, of course, “retail therapy.” The system is calculated to drive profits, which means maximizing consumption, which, of course, entails minimizing satisfaction. To that extent, it also entails maximizing throughput and hence environmental cost. (That’s not to say that there’s no place for pollution abatement–that too, after all, is a product to be sold. But the expectation is that it’ll be sold in ever-increasing quantity–on the face of it, both unrealistic and unsustainable.)

So far, I’ve spoken mostly of the ‘carrot’–the latte, or the spa afternoon, or the vehicle/garment/device/experience/toy/service glittering for us in the agora. But there’s a stick, too–it might be the health insurance that mandates a third job (or maybe keeping the toxic one); it might be the fear of deportation in the hearts of the undocumented, keeping them from unionizing, or accessing even services to which they are legally entitled, or from reporting crimes against them; it might be various forms of implicit taxes on the poor, such as incarceration as an alternative to financial penalty. (For instance, the guy I met whose car quit on a restricted-access freeway, with the result of a 30-day jail term, and the loss of his job, and then the stranded vehicle which of course he then couldn’t redeem from impound without any income.)

I’d like to see a good deal less of both in society, and a great deal more sociability–meeting our social needs less from what we own, and more from whom we hang out with. That’s what we evolved with and for, and I think we’d be a lot happier–and a *whole* lot less prone to fall for the blandishments of faux populists and demagogues. And we’ll have a lower carbon footprint, too.

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