Sustainability: Choosing the Right Crisis
I think Heinberg and Hopkins are right (see previous blog): sustainability activists should focus on resource scarcity, rather than climate change. It’s just too damned hard to persuade large numbers of people to undertake major lifestyle changes around something they can’t directly experience. Except for extreme weather events, it’s virtually impossible for lay people to observe the effects of global warming. The whole notion of CO2, which is invisible, causing a greenhouse effect that paradoxically produces more rain and colder winters, requires an enormous leap of faith (and confidence in the integrity of scientific experts). Especially given 50-100 year time line required before we see the benefit of our energy saving sacrifices.
In fact, it doesn’t surprise me a bit, given the profound distrust of science, technology and educated liberals embedded in working class culture, that a new conspiracy theory has arisen (with a lot of help from Big Coal according to Climate Wars author Gwynne Dyer) about Climategate being a hoax that George Soros, the New World Order and a bunch of liberal yuppies are using to impose new limits on individual freedoms.
Engaging the Working Class
Resource scarcity, on the other hand, is a daily reality – especially for low income workers and the unemployed – as the cost of gasoline, home heating, and food goes through the roof. Moreover fossil fuel depletion will continue to hit the working class harder than the rest of society, given the staggering income inequality found in all industrialized countries.
People already have experience preparing for resource scarcity, with the disaster kits they keep in their garage or basement. There’s already a whole (mainly blue collar) survivalist industry dedicated to the concept. Community and neighborhood focused survival has already had a dry run, through the Voluntary Simplicity Movement started by Vicki Robins’ book, Your Money or Your Life. The Voluntary Simplicity movement subsequently morphed into the Y2K movement, which arose around the concern that our computer-based infrastructure would collapse in the year 2000 because computers would read “00″ as “1900.”
Obviously millions of lines of code got rewritten in time, and civilization didn’t collapse in 2000. However the history of the Y2K movement is well-preserved, owing to the large number of Y2K websites that remain on the Internet. As a brief member of the Phinney Ridge Y2K group in Seattle, I distinctly recall the ah-ha moment when we all recognized the extent to which technology (thanks to cheap fossil fuels) had replaced mutual relationships with neighbors and the national environment.
The Breakdown in Civic Engagement
It was hard not to be dismayed at the wholesale disintegration of social ties that occurred around the time I entered adulthood – with people systematically disengaging from extended family and friends, as well as neighbors and community and civic groups (unions, granges, churches, and neighborhood and community centers and groups) that were central to American life prior to the 1970s. At the time we blamed the problem on our long work hours and the failure of wages to keep up with inflation.
It would be several years before I learned the role the National Association of Manufacturers and their brainchild – the massive American public relations industry – in this enormous social transformation. That transforming Americans’ identity from social involved, interdependent citizens to lonely, isolated, insecure, TV-addicted consumers had been a deliberate aim of US PR strategy – to increase sales of consumer goods (and profits).
It was only after coming to New Zealand in 2002 that I learned about the late Australian-born psychologist Alex Carey. Carey describes quite eloquently the deliberate crafting of a pro-corporate, consumption-driven American psyche – beginning as early as the 1930s with the Mohawk Valley Formula (see Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda vs. Freedom and Liberty - http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/25/006.html).
To be continued, with a discussion of our first major organizing success of the 21st century (the sustainability movement).