At the Agonist, Sean-Paul Kelley’s excellent essay asks: what happens if everyone in the world aspires to and achieves a material life similar to that of upper middle class United States citizens today?
The rub, as suggested by Sean-Paul, is that the Earth lacks the material resources to sustain such an event, ie. sufficient fossil fuels, and the pollution from attempting to burn what fossil fuels exist in order to try to do this will via global warming wreak havoc on the same respiratory system that keeps alive life as we know it on Earth.
I agree with him. More importantly, the laws of physics and chemistry agree with him. See www.realclimate.org.
Sean-Paul then asks, who are “we” (ie. living it up in the Big Top in the U.S.) to tell someone from China or Mali or Malaysia they are forbidden from living exactly as many of us do in the U.S., with 2.4 monstrous cars in a monstrous suburban subdivision, consuming scads and scads of finite fossil-fueled power ?
I agree with Sean. Marines, for example, lead by example. Isn’t that tell-tale “tut tut” sound just hypocrisy mixed with condescension ? Is this the glass house homeowners’ society trying to outlaw stones ?
We in the U.S. need to clean up the trash in our own yards before worrying too much about the trash that might blow over the fence from the folks next door.
And in the area of using our energy and technology intelligently, we have a lot of trash to pick up. We are a supremely wasteful society. Waste is considered a virtue, a badge of honor, a sign of making it, a manly manly thing. To conserve is to surrender, to capitulate, to not live the good life, to be somehow cowering and cringeful. Real men leave all the lights on, the windows open and the thermostat at whatever. These are the values we are consciously and subliminally pummeled with from birth in America. Sexual politics plays a great role. Men select autos as phallic symbols. Small car = small penis. Small engine = small penis. Small car = small bank balance = small penis. Just watch any car advertisement.
Part of this, I believe, is because the United States as a whole has no tradition of stewardship or of rootedness. The U.S. is a weird amalgam of recent immigrants, former slaves of those immigrants and the indigenous people whose land was stolen by the immigrants. Any review of U.S. history shows that the need to “conserve” was always outvoted by the prospect of new and fresh lands to conquer as the immigrants moved westward. Why buy the cow when you can milk the next one for free?
The psychological fabric of the U.S. States has long been profoundly alien to the concept of stewardship, of limits and of the inherent value of using resources carefully and wisely.
But at the same time, the same observer will notice that the modern concept of natural resource conservation was also born in the United States, particularly in the mind of Henry Thoreau, who rejected the whole kit and kaboodle by saying, among other things,”It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants,” and having the nerve to suggest a 500 year old forest might be worth more alive than reduced into endless boxes of disposable toothpicks.
Our native wisdom is dying in the United States. It is not trivial that the sodium lights of strip malls and suburbs and metro-cities prevent us even from showing our children the constellations in the sky. It is not trivial when we cannot even name or show any degree of familiarity or knowledge of the trees, plants and animals that live near us — or used to. Who living along the Atlantic coast has ever seen an American shad or knows what it is ? A great deal of introspection on our part — today — will vastly increase the value of anything we might have to say to the people of China or Ethiopia or Malaysia today. But for right now, I think we Americans should shut up and clean up our own yard. Beneath all the trash, it is still a beautiful place.
Just a thought.