Looking Reality in the Face

Much closer to what I wanted to read from Naomi Klein, albeit briefer (and hence easier to write, obviously)

Rebecca Solnit in Grist:
The climate in 2015: Everything’s coming together while everything falls apart

“Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings,” says Ursula K. Le Guin. And she’s right, even if it’s the hardest work we could ever do. Now, everything depends on it.

Nafeez Ahmed at Motherboard, a bit to the left of where I feel comfortable rhetorically, but with many very salient points:

The End of Endless Growth: Part 1


Part 2

The old and new paradigms can be clearly related to two quite different value systems. The first paradigm, which is currently in decline, is that of egoism, crude materialism, and selfish consumerism. It is a value system that, we now know from our best scientific minds, is on course to potentially lead to an uninhabitable planet, and thus, perhaps even species extinction (with many scientists arguing we appear to be at the dawn of the planet’s six​th mass extinction event). This suggests that this value system is actually dislocated from human nature, our biophysical environment, and the relationship between them.

In contrast, a value system associated with the emerging paradigm is also supremely commensurate with what most of us recognize as ‘good’: love, justice, compassion, generosity. This has the revolutionary implication that ethics, often viewed as ‘subjective’, in fact have a perfectly objective and utilitarian function in the fundamental evolutionary goal of species survival. In some sense, ethics provide us a value-driven benchmark to recognize the flaws in the old paradigm, and glimpse the opportunities for better social forms.

This isn’t going to be easy. Success is hardly guaranteed. But that which cannot be sustained eventually ends, one way or another. I hope we manage to be smart about it.


  1. Thanks for this, very clear. Ahmed seems simplistic to me. There has always been a tension between the sociopathic element of the survival of the "fittest" and the fitness of morality and sharing. One of the problems seems to me the size of our population, that allows groups to ignore masses of other humans without noticing the effects of behavior that may not seem selfish to those with a limited point of view.

  2. So, reading through Ahmed's piece, he goes with the infinite resources of a finite planet argument. Which is true in many ways, except that we already have probes on the edge of the solar system, explorer robots on Mars, and people planning asteroid and moon mining.
    These endeavours aren't being run as anarchist co-operatives, but as state, corporate and entrepreneurial ventures - with venture capital going into them and economic growth as the envisioned end result. Am I wrong ?
    You'd have to be severely pessimistic to say these are going to be fruitless activities - so why is this left out of the conversation on what resources there are for humans, and why the repetition of our finite resources when we're on the cusp of going past the bounds of Earth ?
    And where does this leave ideas of a new way of post-growth, post-capitalist, self governing life ?

  3. ...and, reading through Ahmed's piece, there's the oft cited decline of biodiversity which I don't doubt is both real and serious but which I doubt is a permanent trend.

    I doubt this because of things like this



    Didn't the Venter team just add 1 to the biodiversity count, and isn't that count going to grow in the future, possibly exponentially (like the genomic decoding work) ?

    So, call me naive but aren't two of the major planks of Ahmed's outlook - reliance of growth on a single planet, and inevitably falling biodiversity - somewhat tenuous ?

    Which isn't to say there isn't trouble ahead, but that some pretty important things are being cut out of the picture (?).

    Or are my doubts unfounded ?

  4. The "space cadet" argument allows for an infinitely growing human economy but not for an infinitely growing economy on this planet.

    Anyway the time scale is wrong. Extraterrestrial humanity is unlikely to be an important population in the next few centuries, and we have to continue to prosper over that period if we are ever to support the first steps of expanding into space.

    But even in the space colonization scenario, the biosphere remains unique and at least a primary responsibility of humankind, if not THE primary responsibility. I think it's the latter even in a space colonization universe - the biodiversity will come from earth for a very very very long time.

  5. I think biodiversity is a valuable metric of ecosystem health, but taken as the sole valuation, like other oversimplified metrics (wealth, GDP, population) is likely to lead to dire outcomes.

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