Monday, April 23, 2012

Wishful Thinking

Ah, Earth Day, with what I believe is mostly wishful thinking dominating the subject. There are interesting articles or comments by many writers, not the least of which include Representative John D. Dingell, Jennifer Granholm, Edward Norton, and the much maligned but absolutely correct Al Gore on climate change. These articles variously discuss the progress that has been made in recent years, following the brilliant early work of Rachel Carson that gave us her eye-opening book, Silent Spring, the important precursor to the present environmental movement.

There have been improvements to be sure, especially in air and water quality, and people in general are far more aware of environmental problems than ever before. In addition to discussing these improvements most authors make the point that of course we need to do much more, especially in the way of preventing environmental degradation, preserving species, and global warming, noting that what has been done is far from adequate and we should all pitch in and work harder to “Tend to the Planet” and reverse whatever damage we can. Most end on a note of optimism that this is possible if we just have the will to do it and cooperate. Basically, most see this as a matter of increasing regulations, those very same regulations that many (mostly Republicans) see as the problem holding back the economy. In its most extreme form this anti-regulation mania would see no restrictions on what might be done to the environment in the constant need for “growth.” That is, the earth and its resources should be sacrificed for the benefit of humans, jobs, unending growth and“progress,” more and more material comforts, and planned obsolescence, to say nothing, of course, of “profits.”

I think probably the best of the articles I saw today is one by Gar Alperovitz that appeared on Alternet, “Environmental Movement at a Crossroads.” Professor Alperovitz is a Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland. He sums up most of the progress that has been made on improving the environment to date, but then reviews the current situation that is far from satisfactory. He discusses not only the serious problems that still face us, but also the corporate and business communities’ resistance to change. He concludes that further regulations, while desperately needed, cannot by themselves solve the serious long term needs. The economic system itself, he says, must change. Quoting James Gultave Speith, he suggests: “For the most part, we have worked within this current system of political economy, but working within the system will not succeed in the end whens what is needed is transformative change in the system itself.” Although Alperovitz and Speith agree that the system itself must change, they carefully avoid suggesting just what kinds of changes might be necessary. I believe this is because the change requires reference to the term that dare not be uttered in the United States.

I believe it is merely wishful thinking to believe that as long as private and corporate profits motivate and drive our economy any meaningful change can occur. It is the never ending quest for profits, especially completely unlimited profits, that is at the heart of resistance to the desirable and important changes required to preserve the environment and, indeed, the planet itself. Wishful thinking seems to prevail even when the facts are clear and the needed action is urgent. Take the case of nuclear energy, for example. Chernobyl, Three Mile, Fukushima, and other meltdowns that have been covered up should have by now made it as clear as it can be made that nuclear energy is far too dangerous to the planet and the creatures that depend on it to be allowed to continue. I am certain that the true facts of Fukushima have not been made public and are far worse and far more widespread than we have been told. I have been told that the situation at Fukushima is so precarious that if another earthquake struck it would spell a disaster of unimaginable proportions. It is true that Japan, Germany, and Switzerland have announced they will attempt to phase out their nuclear energy, but at the same time those in the nuclear energy are still promoting the construction of further plants, lobbying for more governmental funds, and so on. Such funds were actually allocated after the disaster as if it were merely a minor setback that would soon pass. President Obama apparently still believes nuclear energy is necessary for our “clean energy” demands. I understand these funds are being held up at the moment but until they are denied and the nuclear energy programs around the world are forced to end no one should breath easy.

The same thing is true, perhaps even more true, when it comes to oil and drilling offshore. In spite of the horrible disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, only a few months passed before new permits for the same kind of deep water drilling were awarded. From the standpoint of the environment and the health of the planet this is, plain and simply, insane. Again, it is as if it were must a minor blip in the system and we were led to believe it could be cleaned up and the Gulf restored. This is nonsense, the damage continues, is far worse than they claimed, and probably will leave permanent damage. The oil giants will resist any efforts to curb their excesses.

As long as our political economy is one of free-market capitalism it is simply wishful thinking to believe in meaningful change. In order for any culture to survive and flourish people have to want to do what they have to do in order to bring about that result. As long as our government is in the hands of corporations and the obscenely wealthy, that feed us constant lies and propaganda about the greatness and benefits of capitalism, I fear we will never want to do what we have to do. Regulations help but not much.

We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.
Franklin D. Roosevelt

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