Spark from Bookchin

Submitted by naught101 on Thu, 08/16/2007 - 21:17

This is something I started that was going to be the first post on this blog, about 6 months ago. As you'll see though, I got lost, and I have never really made it back to it, having gotten lost in many other things in the intervening period. I thought I'd post it anyway. It might inspire me to come back and add stuff to it (doubtful), or, with a few comments, it might set off that train of thought, and inspire me to write some kind of conclusion. So go ahead, criticise, wonder, ramble, insult. See what happens.

– work in progress, 14th December, 2006 –
“In trying to find a low common denominator that would “mobilize” virtually everyone, the new “anti-nuke establishment” really educated no-one. It was Three-Mile Island that did much of the education, and often public understanding of the issue goes no further than problems of technology, rather than problems of society” - Murray Bookchin, “the Power to Create, the Power to Destroy”, 1979, p. 50, (in “Toward an Ecological Society”)

Bloody hell. Not much has changed has it? seems like, 27 years later, the environment movement is still struggling in two directions - firstly to get people active, often through short, punchy catch phrases and shocking images, and secondly to educate, which obviously require a longer attention span, and more in-depth analysis of the issues. It’s a pity that these two objectives sometimes seem almost mutually exclusive.

Of course they’re not, it just seems that way, but I get the feeling that not many are particularly consciously aware of the relationship between them, myself included.

The problem, I’d guess, isn’t so much that they have to act in opposite direction, more that that’s just the way that they are used. Let me take climate change as an example. We (the enviro movement) want people to understand the dangers of climate change, to do this, we really have to go into the complete science, inclusive of the bits that are still being worked out, and the bits about natural cycles, and solar forcings, and a whole bunch of other stuff (which I really have no idea about myself, but would love to learn). to most people, everyone not already interested in climate science, this stuff can get incredibly boring, which really destroys the ability of the information of mobilise people (direction one).

To counteract this, the enviro movement generally packages little bits of the over all picture as bite-sized chunks, which can easily be fed to a public who wants to know a little bit, but doesn’t want to be suffocated by the science. You know the chunks I mean; “air conditioners kill the climate”, “stop flying planes/driving cars”, “buy green energy”. And these things are important, and do make a difference. But how much difference? and they do, to some extent, lead to the rest of the scientific education that needs to happen, if people are open to it. But is that far enough?

Which leads to Bookchin’s next point. That the science isn’t enough. or at least, the technological side of things isn’t enough. we can know all we want about how to cut down our energy consumption, reduce our emissions, use less water or resources, what ever. But is it really going to make a difference if we are just doing it to save ourselves? To save our own arses? No.

What we need to stop climate change, and all other environmental disasters isn’t a know-how of cause-and-effect. We don’t need to know that using recycled paper reduces clear felling of old-growth forests, we don’t need to know that fishing outside of breeding zones lessens impact on fish stocks, we don’t need to know that walking instead of driving saves the climate from almost-certain disaster. It certainly helps to know those things, but they aren’t the cause.

The real problem is that we only come to these conclusions almost in retrospect. We’re only willing to save our arses when we see that we’re at the edge of the cliff. What we need isn’t a technical knowledge of the science of environmentalism. What we need is a complete shift in methods. We need to be looking out for the cliffs while we’re still on the flats. We need the precautionary principle. We need even more than that. But first we need to be in touch with our environment. Something that we definitely aren’t at the moment.

We need to move away from the west’s view of “the environment and I”, or even “me against the environment” to a simple “I”. the human cannot live without the society. The society cannot live without the environment.

I don’t know where this is going. I’m well and truly lost. I think I’ll come back to it some time soon though.