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carlos rojas


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« What Goes Around | Main | Obscene Images (3) »

June 29, 2006

Comments

roger

What a lovely comparison -- the Ledgers of Merit and Demerit!

I really liked Gore's flic. But - though I thought it was good and dramatic and I can see how it functions -- I don't at all buy Gore's account of the beginning of the environmental movement. Rather, that movement began as a response to the invisible, not the visible. The invisible was killing the birds. The invisible was killing the fish, and creating cancer. The invisible was the fallout, the DDT, and the whole petro-chemical grid that had been pressed over "nature." What was visible was the effect -- the polluted stream, which was polluted by a thousand runoffs from fertilized fields. Or the smog, from a thousand seemingly dissipating smokestacks. Now, there was obviously a reference point to the whole visible system -- the earth - but Gore's description rather obliterates the dialectical core of the environmental movement, with its idea that putting materials into nature wasn't a neutral process. It not only destroyed or fertilized, gave employment or destroyed property value -- it became wrapped up in the whole sequence of natural selection, which operates on the periphery of vision, as it were. This point is actually still the most difficult to get across today -- how many right wing sites write about Carson's banning of DDT as being the cause of the malaria boom? Yet, of course, the malaria boom preceded the banning, happened in the slaphappy midst of DDT spraying programs, and was predicted by Carson on the obvious basis that those resistances in mosquito populations were being selected for if DDT eradication wasn't -- as it couldn't be -100 percent effective. But if you don't understand natural selection, or, worse, you reject it as ungodly, this will never get into your thinking. And it seems to be peculiarly hard to diagram.

2. Gore's solutions are plainly lame. But I don't think he means for them to be solutions of the systematic problem. I think he means for them to become portals into finding the problem involving -- which is definitely the first step in creating the political will to do much more than carbon taxing. The problem with such liberal solutions - and I am a liberal, I don't use the term as an insult - is that they create a first step beyond which all becomes infinite hesitation. The historic moment in which the Great Society programs were developed was pretty much a two year period -all the basic civil rights and social welfare structures were laid down then -- but ever since, liberal politicians have been afraid of making similar leaps. In terms of their own success within the political system, they have good cause - embedding these liberal structures allows for political freeriding, in which the greatest beneficiary of the structures can use that benefit -- the well being and security - to vote against the liberal politican as the bringer of cultural dissolution.

crojas

Roger,

Many thanks once again for your wonderful comments. This time (atypically), I think I would disagree with you on a couple of points.

In your first point, I think you are confusing underlying cause with immediate catalyst. To borrow your own terminology, if a truly effective movement develops to combat global warming in this country, we will be able to say that the underlying cause was the "invisible" accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere, but the immediate catalyst will almost certainly something much more "visible" (e.g., the sorts of images we see in Gore's slide-show, or perhaps even An Inconvenient Truth itself).

Second, I disagree with your apologia, in your second point, that Gore is intending his provisional "solutions" to serve as "portals into finding the problem involving--which is definitely the first step in creating the political will to do much more than carbon taxing." First of all, I think that the approach that the film proposes creates a pernicious false sense of complancy--creating a feeling of crisis, but then reassuring readers that they can assuage their carbon guilt by donating pocket change to the environmental cause of their choice. For instance, Gore's own book wears its "carbon neutrality" as a badge of honor when, in reality (unless I fundamentally misunderstand the economics involved), that "neutrality" is grounded on monetary figures (i.e., the amount of money Gore's publisher donated to "offset" the carbon emissions involved in publishing the book itself) which are completely meaningless.

I do, however, agree with your point about the politics of "infinite hesitation." The only problem here is that the phenomenon of global warming is one which may very well not allow that sort of hesitation. If carbon emissions continue at anything close to the present rate, at some point in the relatively immedidiate future it is likely that we will reach a global tipping point after which even a complete elimination of carbon emissions would not halt or reverse the process.

roger

Carlos, certainly you are right to be hyper-critical of what I am tamely calling portals, and what could also be called meaningless compromises.

But I think that is the point. One wants both those moderate steps and the immediate criticism that those steps are meaningless. I think your criticism of consumerism-lite is completely valid -- but I also think that Gore's movie, which goes soft on solutions, is strong enough in its presentation of what has ensued from the treadmill of production to create dissatisfaction with consumer-lite solutions. There is a bet, here, that is that this is the way to radicalize the response to the systematic production of pollution. But maybe this is the wrong strategy, and this is simply dickering with codicils instead of attacking the whole system when you have a chance. I don't know.

As for the visible/invisible thing - here, I simply think the idea that a movement was catalyzed by the picture of the earth is wrong. Silent Spring was a bestseller six or seven years before that pic. Rather than one striking visible image, I think the visible dimension in the history of environmentalism is actually about the accumulation of visible effects - not one photograph, but millions of ocular experiences - and the dread of invisible causes. This is the problem of the Horla -- that invisible creature in the Maupassant story whose visible presence was a matter of inference --the narrator looking at his own image in the mirror suddenly sees the image clouded, and then eclipsed, which is how he knows something is in front of him which he can't see.


crojas

Thanks Roger,
Just to clarify, my point about the "portals" and the ridiculous carbon-offset business is not so much that it represents a missed opportunity, but rather that it explicitly encourages a dangerous complacency (falsely reassuring viewers that, for mere pocket change a month, they are canceling the environmentally harmful effects of their actions and lifestyle), and furthermore that it reinforces a sense of first-world entitlement (that we can buy our way out of the problems we create simply because we can).

Regarding the issue of the Earth Rising photograph, I liked your example of the Maupassant story so much that I’m almost tempted to concede the point. Your point about Silent Spring is a good one, and clearly there were several other major controversies during the 1960s which helped to raise consciousness about environmental issues (including the Grand Canyon dam controversy, and the Santa Barbara oil spill), nevertheless I continue to find it striking that so many important firsts (founding of the Environmental Protection Agency, first Earth Day, etc.) came so close on the heels of the Apollo 8 mission). Was the photograph a crucial catalyst for what followed, or did it simply coincide with a movement which was already underway. I may be hard to know for sure, but I do find it inherently plausible that a single image can galvanize unprecedented public awareness and concern about an issue.

At any rate, we should hope that Gore is correct about the Earth Rise photograph, because that is essentially the role he hopes his film (together with the photographs contained therein) will play with respect to the current global warming crisis.

s0metim3s

Carlos, I haven't seen the film, and I'm not going to remark on the environmental aspects as such - but this discussion has me thinking about a fragment in Nancy's Sense of the World.

As you might know, he discusses the 'end of a certain sense of the world', and mentions, in passing, a proviso - of the world in a cosmological sense.

Being currently steeped in reading Lucretius, for whom (crudely put) the world is finite but the universe infinite, I'm struck here, in your post, by the relation you draw between these two senses as constituted by that cosmonautical image/perspective.

Might it not be that the very finiteness of the world can only be conceived in the space of the infiniteness of the universe? In other words, I think you're onto something here, and thanks.

crojas

Angela,
Thanks a lot for this. I need to think more about how Nancy's argument fits into this, but I am struck by the question of the geneology of the concepts of world vs. cosmos/cosmological (vis-à-vis concepts of finiteness and infiniteness), given that, in a pre-modern context, the cosmos was arguably that which could be conceived and therefore was perhaps, in some non-trivial way, conceptually "finite."

Sebastian

It is true that carbon offsets might be used by comparatively rich western middle class citizens (most of us here, I guess) as a simple and cheap way to buy themselves a calm consciousness and so avoid any further effort about revisioning and reflecting their lifetyle - Nevertheless I will continue buying them, because they are a step into the right direction, even if not perfect:

What is better: Driving 2000 km to the sea and back (just for holiday fun) or driving 2000 km to the sea and back (just for holiday fun) and buying carbon offsets? - For me, clearly the latter!

By buying offsets eg. from "climate care", UK, (my) money is transferred to developing countries to fund projects on renewable energy, reforestation and energy efficiency (details on their homepage).

And this is clearly a good thing, because non-sustainable practices are substituted by (more) sustainable ones. If this happened on a large scale, and finally in western countries as well, a lot of capital would be flowing into the right direction: sustainable energy production and use, plus the positive side-effects of these projects (eg reforestation: biodiversity...).

Herman Daly, economist on sustainable economic frameworks and institutions defined sustainability as following:

1. "Emission" of any kind of garbage must not excede nature's capacity to crack it down to harmless substances, resp. the capacity of the sinks.

2. Use of renewable ressources must not excede natural recreation of these ressources. Eg, you must not catch more fish in a time span than grow in the same time span.

3. You must not use more fossile ressources per time than you can provide substitution for in the same time span.

By buying carbon offsets I contribute to:

1. the reduction of overall emissions of the harmful substance CO2 resp. the recreation of formerly-destroyed CO2-sinks (trees).

2. to the substitution of fossile energy sources through renewable ones.

And these are clearly steps toward a more sustainable society - our vision.

I admit that "CO2-neutral" is a difficult and somewhat confusing term but I think buying these offsets from a reliable company is still a good thing, of course not sufficient for building a sustainable society.

P.S. Check www.globalmarshallplan.org

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