[OPE-L] Global warming

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Sun Oct 29 2006 - 12:00:49 EST


As far as I know, Marxist-Leninist modernisers have been among the biggest
eco-criminals of the world in the 20th century. Environmental concerns were
often regarded as a "petty-bourgeois deviation getting in the way of
progress" etc. But really I doubt whether the concept of "speciesism" can
stand up to careful philosophical scrutiny. Fact is that - for better or
worse - human beings cannot understand the world and act in it other than in
the way that human beings can, nor, as Marx mentions, can human beings as it
were "squat outside society". The chauvinism is really a chauvinism of some
human beings as against other human beings, or a conflict of human
aspirations/values. We could turn the argument around: precisely to
safeguard the future of the human species, good care of the biosphere is

I'm suggesting good stewardship of the natural and built environment as well
as the living organisms in it, as part of managing the Oikos, is not
incompatible with the idea that, as Marx argues, "human beings are the
supreme beings for human beings". Promoting such stewardship is also part of
humanization. And to the extent that we look after the animals properly and
don't make them suffer unnecessarily, we also respect the animal in

But these are only general arguments. Question is, what has priority -
animals, or people who are treated worse than animals? Can animals have
natural rights other than the rights people accord them? How would we know
that? Why should humans see themselves as no better than animals?
I can e.g. argue that certain plants and animals have a right to exist
irrespective of human concerns, but all I am really saying there is that
I want to live in a world where those animals and plants are there,
and that those plants and animals have a value for me.

The central question is really one of how we go about changing human
behavioural norms in such a way that good stewardship of the natural and
built environment results. But any idea that you can do that by denying the
real interests that people have, is purely utopian. Somehow it has to be
done so that people have a real interest in it, that they stand to gain from

If our environmentalism consists simply of placing restrictions on what
people may or may not do, or believe, or of panic mongering, it is unlikely
to succeed. I don't really believe that the issue is whether or not global
warming is a reality, as Al Gore or George Monbiot suggest. Nobody who is
serious really denies that it is a reality. The question is what you do
about it, given the real interests that people have.

Don't get me wrong, I was interested in environmental questions since
I was 11, and in 1989 I organised a course on it. People like Elmar Alvater,
Harry Rothman, Barry Commoner, Andre Gorz etc. were heroes of mine. One of
the things I did though was that I invited a health inspector to talk about
the workplace environment. The Greens never thought of such a thing, "what
do you mean, what do workplaces have to do with the environment?".
Afterwards one of the participants said to me "I didn't really understand
why you included this topic, but now I can see the point."

Sometimes I think we should let loose a few trained linguists to sort
through the language used about "the environment". Point is, the environment
is everywhere, and that is why the arguments often do not get beyond vague
rhetoric. The environment is more or less equivalent to "the world", and
indeed in German you say "Umwelt" literally meaning "the world enveloping
us". How can a linguist have anything to say about environmental issues?
Well I think a lot, because by sorting through the grammar and metaphors of
it, you can identify the assumptions being made, so that we can communicate
more clearly about it in a no-nonsense way.

The Blacksmith Institute was in the news here a while ago. It publishes a
list of the ten most polluted cities in the world.
Interestingly it puts in perspective that that the world's filthiest cities
are not in the capitalist heartlands. A lot of them are in China.
Why bring this  terrible subject up, for heavens sake? Well, the pollution
problem is also being worked on, and a lot can be done. A lot of pollution
is not irreversible. So before sinking into gloom and doom, it's worth
remembering that we can also clean up our act, so to speak.

Obviously it cost money, labour, time and effort, and if people didn't
pollute, there would be no problem. But there you straightaway get the
question of (1) who pays? Often it's through taxes and levies. If so, then
these costs are usually also passed on to producers and consumers. In that
sense Friends of the Earth must be correct, everyone ends up paying in some
way anyhow, even if we still can dispute how much and who pays what.  Just
exactly what principles you apply in all this is a huge question. (2) How to
create new behavioural norms that minimise environmental despoilation, what
works best. And there is a whole array of possibilities here, many of which
are already being taken up. It is also often a politically charged question,
insofar as it affects people's rights and duties.

I admit I have no specialist knowledge on this, only my personal experience
and reading, and that is why I rarely write about it, apart from all the
metaphorical allusions, but it seems to me that rather than go into a panic
about the despoilation of the world it's worth examining what can be done
and is done, the real facts, and that people can change the world for the
better. This may all sound like rhetoric also, but it is a bit of protest of
mine against pessimistic ruminations about a gloomy future for the human

All sorts of wild extrapolations can be made, but we can also factor in what
is being done and can be done. If there's no optimism at all, we might as
well be dead. But where there's life there's hope, and that hope is the
basis for a will to do something or not do it. If I get really pessimistic
and down about things, I don't do anything anymore, and I am just stuck with
the pollution and so forth. I personally see no future in smashing up
McDonald's stores. The most I can say about it that the burgers make me
fart, they don't seem to have figured out a burger yet that digests
efficiently, or at least my digestive tract does a protest.

Karl Marx wrote in Das Kapital about the pollution of the Thames, but point
is that the Thames was also cleaned up. Maybe it is never as clean as it
once was, but a very significant effort was made. I studied it a bit. So
anyway a lot of these problems are technically not irreversible. The real
problem is usually the political economy of it and the ethics of it.


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