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Environmentalism in the 21st century

Environmentalism in the 21st century

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Published by Kyle Bailey
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Published by: Kyle Bailey on Oct 21, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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This world might very well self-destruct (at least for human well-being) without drastic action.Nic Stern has told us that climate chaos will be worse than war and vulnerable peoples all overthe world have spoken out against both environmental damage and the unfairness of theirsituations. Natural scientists have warned us that the anthropocene has vastly altered our naturalworld, causing mass extinction events . It has been suggested that our own species is in danger aswell . At the same time, our rate of technological change has reached unprecedented levels, andinterconnectedness among the peoples of the world is truly astonishing. In this world of increasing interdependencies and environmental danger, long-standing problems of poverty,inequity and war continue onwards with no end in sight. Environmentalists have been preachingthe dangers posed by environmental problems for thirty years or so, while activists have beenfighting social justice for hundreds of years. Unfortunately they are often shouting with smallvoices on separate soapboxes, instead of united with powerful moral authority on the worldstage. Considering that humanity has been altering its environment with important ramificationsfor human wellbeing for thousands of years , it is surprising that environmental thought is oftentreated separately from other pressing problems. Given the scope of the problem, it is alsosurprising that many environmentalists have resorted to reprimands grounded in negativity, andhave yet to exploit the communicative power of modern technology.Environmentalism can only achieve its aim by inspiring people to be part of a broader socialmovement that will overcome many challenges faced by our society. In order to resonate withinpeople all over the world, environmentalism must rouse people with rhetoric that in previoustimes has only been used for national crises. The nature of environmental problems, particularlythose that permeate all through Gaia, are such that they can only be addressed by populist
support from citizens all over the world, united by an extremely powerful motive such as justiceor survival. In order to achieve this rather ambitious goal, environmentalists must recognize thestrength of some key ideas: online populist networks; the lessons and spirit that fought for peace,civil rights, feminism and democracy throughout the 60s and 70s and the incredible sacrificeswhen inspired under arduous conditions, such as during world wars. Furthermore,environmentalists must embrace the technological revolution in communications instead of shirking from it, and build support across global virtual networks.
Environmentalists cannot achieve their goals working in isolation
Environmental problems are pervasive.
Environmental problems run from the microbes deep beneath the ocean to the ozone layer miles
above the soil. The degradation of the atmosphere is a prime example of the ‗tragedy of thecommons,‘ but the fact that the commons is shared by every organism on the earth shows the
scope of the problem.
Another example is biodiversity: the idea of ‗inherent value‘ of other 
species has been confined to narrow streams of environmental thought. However, the problem of biodiversity loss, ecosystem resilience and genetic information loss is a problem for all
the lossof ecosystem services will affect every human on the planet in many different sectors of humanactivity . The problem of environmental change is pervasive, and affects all human activities, therecent consensus of world scientists on climate change illustrates this with foreboding . Forexample, water availability for food production, electricity generation, natural water filtration,shipping and recreational uses could all be affected by climate change causing a change inseasonality of evapotranspiration .
There are many competing interests for human attention, and environmentalists cannotsimply shut-out other problems.
Although there has been some fantastic thinking done by pioneers of ecological economics ,standard, well known, commonly accepted economic thought usually concerns itself with theallocation of scarce resources so as to continue to provide growing material wealth to people. Inanother vein, social justice, particularly in countries that have poor economic health, badgovernance or both, is almost always a pressing concern that permeates politics on every level.From the decisions of a family as to where they can get clean water to international negotiations
there are always other pressing concerns to consider, that often outweigh so-calledenvironmental issues. In this context, many people argue that there is a conflict betweeneconomics and the environment.No one disputes that we have scarce resources to distribute among many competing interests.Normally, societies use economics (the study of how to distribute scarce resources) to decidetheir course of action, especially the free-market system to allocate production and consumption.Unfortunately, ideas about nature and economics have evolved in very different directions duringthe latter half of the twentieth century, to the detriment of both of these fields and exacerbating
many of our environmental problems. Williams recognizes that ―it will be ironic if one of the last
forms of the separation between abstracted Man and abstracted Nature is an intellectual
separation between economics and ecology,‖ within a more broad discussion of 
anthropocentricism in formulating ideas about nature . The very different ideas that both fieldshave about how to treat future generations value illustrates how the two fields have moved invery different directions.Hutton has postulated that markets, and human behaviour, automatically value the future less
than its true value; ―no one can be counted on to be rational about the future. One of the most
 robust laws of experimental psychology is that individuals are wildly inconsistent in the waythey rank rewards over time, and place a heavy emphasis on rewards in the present. Rewards inthe future have to be much higher than is rational in order to persuade individuals to accept them.
This is as true for men in suits as it of rats and pigeons.‖ . Nicholas Georgescu
-Roegen alsooffers an articulate explanation for how our economic system, based (though not explicitly!) onthe natural short term behaviours of our species, fails to account for the interests of future
generations: ― in order to establish a
price for any resource according to the above principle

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