Monday, May 17, 2010

blame the rich for unsustainability


George has composed several excellent polemics on this issue. I think the real problem, as with most issues, is a synergism between the two issues: increasing overconsumption by rich societies and their continued growth.


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  2. Not sure why you bother, Duff. You couldn't conduct an evidence-based argument if you tried so I'm completely uninterested in engaging with you. Plus you're a disugustingly inhuman little gobshite who's banned from this blog.

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  4. There are some problems with this analysis, punkscience.

    I should start though, by pointing out it's indisputable that the wealthy nations (and beyond that, the wealthy individuals within those nations) are responsible for the majority of unsustainable consumption of non-renewable resources. However, total population simply can't be ignored in -- what I'd have to say -- is the rather cavalier fashion of Mr. Monbiot.

    Right now huge numbers of people, globally, are living below what you and I would consider "acceptable levels" (viz-a-viz access to food and energy resources). Anyone, therefore, with a commitment to social justice (again, as I assume is true, in principle, of you and I) is faced with a dilemma... because given a world where the capacity to produce food is entering decline, even massive reductions in consumption by the wealthy (given their relatively small number) is unlikely to allow the adequate provision of resources to the 9 billion human beings expected on this planet within 40 years. And attempts to do so will likely accelerate eclogical degradation significantly.

    Secondly, when one takes the "it's wealthy people consuming at an unsustainable rate that cause the problem" argument to the logical conclusion, one is left -- rather embarrassingly -- at an anti-immigration position.

    Until we have established some kind of radical reduction in the consumption patterns of industrial / technological societies, the importation of labour from poverty-stricken areas (or even the granting of asylum to people from those areas) is guaranteed to increase overall resource consumption.

    For example, a refugee from Darfur who gets admitted to a European nation will immediately begin consuming more food and energy (despite the fact that they will be consuming less than the average member of that society). Furthermore, within a generation or two, their offspring may well be consuming at the average rate for their adopted society.

    This is a great problem for those of us who take sustainability seriously, though one we tend to ignore. At some point our natural inclination towards social justice runs up against our desire to see a reduction in global consumption patterns to a sustainable level. And perhaps, so long as there are numerous issues that require tackling which are more politically acceptable (shall we say), we can relegate this problem to a lower priority. All the same, it's dangerous to simply ignore it and should probably give it serious thought. Even though doing so can sometimes feel like you're playing into the hands to The Daily Mail.

  5. Hi Jim, and thanks for the eloquent comment. I entirely agree with you! I should point out that I am not fundamentally anti-immigration, I just think that Western Nations should charge wholeheartedly towards sustainability of their existing population. I should also observe that many refugees are created by Western foreign policy designed to limit development and industrialisation in developing countries and ensure Western proxies can enjoy unrestricted access to "our" natural resources (that just happen to be located in some filthy foreigner's country!). Social justice should obviously apply to foreign as well as domestic policy.

    If Western nations, with all their technical know-how and enormous financial resources chose to prioritise sustainable development over growth then it wouldn't take more than a decade to achieve, is given sufficient priority. The same technology could then be shared with the developing countries in return for the natural resources required to produce them (a good example is the rare earth metals). The extent to which development can be decoupled from economic growth is debatable. Ecological Economic literature tends towards "not very much". However, by allowing developing countries to actually develop Western nations can not only benefit from fewer economic migrants and asylum seekers but those countries will also move towards stable populations more quickly.

    So I hope I've persuaded you that I haven't forgottn about social justice. I'm quite happy to admit that my theory is utterly unrealistic due to the considerable cultural obstacles that stand in the way of sustainability- the ongoing geopolitical shitstorm, religious fuckwittism and corporate sociopathy. This is why I get so uptight about electoral reform. Nothing will happen unless a country- any country- leads by example and constructs a sustainable utopia revealing neoliberalism and neoclassical economics to be the sociopathic ideologies they are. For a time I thought that country could be the UK. Sadly, I've come to realise that that's just not going to happen. My money's on Latin America now. Costa Rica's doing pretty well, I think.

    Ho hum, I'm drifting now so I'll give it a rest. Thanks again for the comment.

  6. Don't blame the rich, blame me.


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