In my final post in the Holiday Smorgasbord series, I want to share two articles that are each directed at (and finding fault with) different ends of the political spectrum. I don’t think the point of either of these articles is to demonize individuals who embrace either conservatism or liberalism, but rather to point out that in general we are not being served by the mainstream political discourse from either perspective. I find these articles by Michael Klare and Erik Lindberg to bring an appropriate balance to one another. I close with the alternative offered by Peter Pogany.
Michael Klare’s latest post offers his take what the latest U.S. election results portends for the immediate future:
Pop the champagne corks in Washington! It’s party time for Big Energy. In the wake of the midterm elections, Republican energy hawks are ascendant, having taken the Senate and House by storm. They are preparing to put pressure on a president already presiding over a largely drill-baby-drill administration to take the last constraints off the development of North American fossil fuel reserves.The new Republican majority is certain to push their agenda on a variety of key issues, including tax reform and immigration. None of their initiatives, however, will have as catastrophic an impact as their coming drive to ensure that fossil fuels will dominate the nation’s energy landscape into the distant future, long after climate change has wrecked the planet and ruined the lives of millions of Americans.
Myth #1: Liberals Are Not In Denial
“We will not apologize for our way of life” –Barack Obama
The conservative denial of the very fact of climate change looms large in the minds of many liberals. How, we ask, could people ignore so much solid and unrefuted evidence? Will they deny the existence of fire as Rome burns once again? With so much at stake, this denial is maddening, indeed. But almost never discussed is an unfortunate side-effect of this denial: it has all but insured that any national debate in America will occur in a place where most liberals are not required to challenge any of their own beliefs. The question has been reduced to a two-sided affair—is it happening or is it not—and liberals are obviously on the right side of that.
If we broadened the debate just a little bit, however, we would see that most liberals have just moved a giant boat-load of denial down-stream, and that this denial is as harmful as that of conservatives. While the various aspects of liberal denial are my main overall topic, here, and will be addressed in our following five sections, they add up to the belief that we can avoid the most catastrophic levels of climate disruption without changing our fundamental way of life. This is myth is based on errors that are as profound and basic as the conservative denial of climate change itself.
Rethinking the World
Now, if this is the situation we find ourselves in with mainstream political discourse, with its unwillingness to consider options other than continued growth (about which see yesterday’s post here) – is there hope for meaningful action? If folks want to explore this further, consider the work of Peter Pogany, whom I’ve been reading lately. Pogany has pointed out that we currently live in a “world order” or “global system” (since approximately 1945) that is basically not capable of voluntarily moving beyond the paradigm of economic growth; therefore a chaotic transition to a new global system will be required :
“The current world order cannot deliver long-term sustainability on a planetary scale. By design, it is incapable of recognizing humanity’s thermodynamic reality. A new form of global self-organization is needed and it is probably waiting in the wings.” (http://blog.gebser.net/)
Pogany doesn’t mean there’s something all set up that we can easily and seamlessly transition to. On the contrary, he sees world history as a “thermodynamic process of self-organization,” which “precludes smooth transition from one relative, globally valid steady state to the next.” (quoted from his 2006 book Rethinking the World).
But he does see, based on his own work, as well as that of Jean Gebser (The Ever Present Origin) that after a period of chaotic transition, we will move “toward a new form of self-organization that would recognize limits to demographic-economic expansion. What will it take to go from the current hostile disgust with the dystopia of tightened modes of multilateral governance to people around the world on their knees begging for a planetary guild? It will take nothing less than a mutation in consciousness, as outlined in the oeuvre of Jean Gebser (1905-1973).” (quoted from his 2013 paper on Thermodynamic Isolation and the New World Order).
This is no fairy tale, and yes, human agency is definitely involved. Pogany’s approach is a systems thinking approach with a the laws of thermodynamics as a foundation, and built around his own expertise as an economist; he calls his approach new historical materialism.
“Only Cassandra may know whether the “best” (a quick global transformation), the “historically conditioned expectation,” or the worst (no global transformation, not even in the wake of an ecological disaster) is in the womb of time.”
Too woo-woo? Only if you consider previous transformations to be woo-woo. Pogany sees the French revolution as a chaotic transition to Global System 1, characterized as “laissez faire/metal money,” and two world wars and the Great Depression as the transition to the current Global System 2, characterized as “mixed economy/weak multilateralism.” What will it take to transform into a radically new Global System 3, which he expects to be characterized as “two-level economy/strong multilateralism,” and which, he says “will favor cooperation over competition; acquiescence over indifference; responsible sociability over isolation; integrative open-mindedness over stubborn, perspectival dogmatism, altruism over extrasomatic hedonism.”
Sadly, Peter Pogany passed away in May of this year. May he rest in peace.
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Two voices that I have been following off and on for the last decade, and who have both been warning about limits to growth, and more importantly what we as individuals can do about it: Nate Hagens and John Michael Greer.