March 22, 2009

David Suzuki, Thomas Hobbes, Going Green

Last week, during the few hours of night when I was asleep, some of Surrey’s finest members of society came by and dumped several bags of garbage on an empty lot across the street. Not the first time this happened. In fact, it was the third or fourth in about two months. Today, as I drove to Crescent Beach with my family, I saw large chunks of rolled up carpet, half-torn bags of residential garbage, fast food wrappers galore—all within twenty meters of an oversized puddle of water labeled a wildlife preserve by the municipality. Surrey-trash love living up to their namesake, but we’re not alone.

Recent studies show Ontario is perhaps the most environmentally ignorant province in all of Canada. The supposed hub of Canada, the true beacon of all things good and prosperous. My ass. Strange as it sounds, the rural towns are the bigger culprits. People with room to compost, to actually make an effort at reducing their ecological footprint, simply don’t. Why? Laziness perhaps. Political affiliation too. Remember Frank Luntz? He was the Republican spin-doctor in the U.S. who defied decades of science by falsely claiming:
“There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science [on global warming]. Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.”
This one phrase set American environmental policy back for several years, not because Luntz was speaking the truth (science definitively derails such stupidity), but because those people who wanted it to be true, most often for the sake of capitalism and a stubborn refusal to admit the need for change, found something they could latch on to. Namely, an out and out lie. Of course, I can’t blame Luntz for the fuckwits out here in Surrey, or in Ontario, or any province in between or beyond. What I can pass commentary on is human nature.

Thomas Hobbes, in his morality framework called the Social Contract Theory, outlines a “state of nature” for all humans. Were we not, as rational beings, to adhere to certain rules for the social wellbeing of all, this state of nature would be a premise for anarchy because of four factors: equality of power (no one person can dominate over others indefinitely), equality of need (we all require the same basic needs – food, shelter, water etc.), scarcity of resources (not enough basic needs to go around), and humans are at base self-centered. Hobbes wrote this in the 1600's, but the relevance, especially the last factor, is contextually sound. We are self-centered people.

Tying morality to the environment is a difficult and most-often convoluted task. For the most part, the best way to argue for a moral obligation to nature is from a utilitarian stand-point, where one should protect the environment because of the overall good it has for the maximum amount of people. I’m shrinking a heavy philosophical debate to four-lines, so there’s plenty more to be said about that. But assuming my premise is correct, what possible cogent argument could exist for a person to acknowledge but ignore the need to change the way they live?

The absolute worst argument I’ve heard to date came from a friend of mine who, amidst her passion for her religion, suggested it didn’t matter what we did to the environment, God could fix it with a snap of his fingers when “end times” came. Sometimes a sentence is so absurd, so void of intelligent thought you are left with nothing to say. No response required to show how blatantly self-serving this comment is. No one treats their finances that way. No one would dare approach human rights with such a framework. Yet when it comes to something as simple as separating your paper and cans from trash, or replacing light bulbs in your house, or starting a compost—somehow that fits in an entirely different paradigm.

I’ve been reading through David Suzuki’s Green Guide, a tidy little book that summarizes a lot of research into an accessible read for the layperson. Three-quarters of the way through and the simplicity of change is evident. His premise is going green is often cheaper, makes more sense, teaches us to connect with nature as opposed to find ways to distract ourselves from it, and often results in better overall health. But the real kicker is how it changes our mindset. In an earlier post about PETA and the meat industry, I mentioned how Western culture is inclined to consume products without considering their source, their impact, and their repercussions on the rest of the world. Judging by what I see around me today, I’d say we have a hell of a long way to go.


Janina said...

Well, where to start. the comment your friend said was right in my oppinion. It is ture that God can change the world's situations in a snap of the finger, we do still have free will. The choice is ours to make. Now saying that we do have a huge amount of work to do to keep our world beautiful and safe for the people who follow. I believe that it is our duty to do whatever we can within our mean to do this. I'm hoping that education the children of the world will start a new way of thiking regarding our environment and how "comfortable", healthy our furture will be. That's my two sence.:)

Janina said...

No comment on the spelling. LOL

Harry Tournemille said...

Well, since you are my sister, and I'm saying this so other people don't start taking pot-shots at you, I'll respond to each of your points. But I will suggest that you are absurdly wrong on the first comment and correct on the second.

First, no fingers for God, not now, not ever. He (or she) has nothing to snap.

Right, on a more serious note, if God exists and one wishes to correlate his existence with science's findings, we can only conclude that it has taken him billions of years to get the earth to the point it is at today. What could possibly give someone the idea that he could just "fart" it back to normal in the blink of an eye now? Absolutely no evidence for this. You're clutching at traditional thinking, which is silly in my opinion.

Further, that sort of thinking often breeds apathy. Even if God "could" fix the world, one could argue that he wouldn't, that he has left humanity to take responsibility of their own actions.

Free will is a huge issue that we can chat about over email, if you wish. Suffice it to say, I don't believe it exists in the context you do.

But you are correct that we need to be responsible about our actions and impact. I'll take it a step further and say it is a moral requirement that we do this, in every facet of our lives, not just to the extent of some benign comfort level.

Sam said...

Good weekend for sibling rivalry, eh?

You're right on the green issue. It takes so little effort. I try my best, but sometimes I catch myself throwing a tuna can in the garbage, etc. We simply have to do better.

Hobbes's Leviathon is sitting on my shelf waiting. I've read excerpts, and he is the man. Suzuki's pretty cool, too.

As far as God goes--what do you really expect Eric Clapton to do?

Harry Tournemille said...

Eric who? Didn't he sell dairy products?

Janina said...

I have no issues if anyone wants to take "pot-shots" at me.
The snappping fingers was just an analogy. Of course no snapping fingers, just noting that I believe nothing is too big for God.
I have/ had a full understanding that you would return my comments with a argument/ discussion. That's why I wrote it. It's good to challenge ourselves.
It absolutly has taken God billions of years to get the world to the point where it is now. I have to problem with there not being all the scientific finding to prove everything that God has done and what the Bible says. It's what faith is all about. If there were no scientific findings at all regarding this then you would have a valad point. Life is full of misteries.
The other point that God may have the option to "fix" the world is true in a sence. God can "fix" the world if he haden't chosen to give us the option to make our own choices in life. He gave us this world to live in and take care of. It's our responcability to do what we want with it. (I use the word "he" to describe God because Jeses was a man and he is apart of God.)
In no way am I "clutching traditional thinking." I believe that the Bible is true. That's faith not tradional thinking. I was raised to believe in God but I also have a mind of my own and I can come to my own decisions on religion and where I stand on it as you do. I also think that the new form of traditional thinking is that all of a sudden the earth is in trouble. It's been going to pot for a long time now. It's just that we are more aware of it now in my opinion.
I know that you don't share the ideas I do on this and that's fine. You have to make your own decisions yourself. Are we not incharge of our own decision? I don't believe that our exsistance is just by chance, or that we came from gorillas/apes. Even some people who created theorys were Christian before they died. Right?
I'd love to chat about free will whenever you want, email is fine too.
So one thing is forsure. We agree on our responsibilities to take care of our world.
I've enjoyed debating this, and find other opinions intriguing. <3

Harry Tournemille said...

Yeah, the fingers thing was a joke---glad you caught that. Sheesh *chortle*.

I agree that life is full of mysteries. The problem is, most of the "mystery" you allude to in the Bible has been either explained through historical understanding of mythology (ie - many of the Bible's story are conveniently similar to Egyptian mythology, which was centuries before biblical time) or questioned to the point where a rational person could no longer accept what is being suggested as "truth".

I'm not saying the Bible doesn't contain elements of truth. In fact, Christ's understanding of the human condition is fascinating and humbling. And there are certain accuracies I imagine too, especially in regards to New Testament documentation. But I do not see how anyone can seriously think the Bible is "literally" true in all its facets, especially if you understand how the book came into being.

To me, your idea of "faith" is problematic (and completely traditional, by the is a part of tradition, not an exemption). Essentially, all you're saying (from what I can gather) is you're okay if evidence exists that suggests a concept in the Bible is false, because you have faith it is true anyways. That's horseshit, and I think you know it deep down.

In no other area of life would a person adhere to an older concept when a better explanation is provided. For example, up until the 50's, doctors performed surgeries on infants without anesthetizing them, claiming infants could not yet feel pain. A world of evidence now shows the exact opposite is true.

Can you imagine if people still did that now? What if they did so because they had "faith" that the old method was true?

Of course, this is all way off topic of the environment, so I shall return to that now.

You believe nothing is too big for God? Are you sure? Why are you sure of this? What would it mean for a person's faith if this were not true? Absolutely nothing.

Do you think God could create an object so heavy he couldn't lift it? Simple, even silly question, but the answer creates a scenario where regardless of your answer, there is something that He cannot do. Clearly, in order to have a coherent idea of God and his abilities, limitations are required...especially when trying to understand the huge problem of evil (one that cannot be answered, in my mind).

When it comes to the environment, the idea of God fixing everything instantly is simply a cop-out (especially the way my friend used it), and there's no way to get around this. It's an old, traditional way of thinking that releases the belief-holder of responsibility.

It really doesn't matter if He could or could not change the world instantly, if you ask me. What matters is people today treat the world around them as a "resource", rather than an entity that required respect and care.

The environmental movement was around long before you and I were born. I don't know too many people who think it's a new issue. What is new about it, is the alarming degree of trouble we, as a people, have gotten ourselves into

Colin said...

You gotta love it when people like your unnamed friend apply the "shoot everyone and let God sort 'em out" approach to the environment. I think that it reflects a general theology held by a good number of Christians that requires the deterioration of creation as a prerequisite for Christ's return. Once things get bad enough; when there are enough wars and famines, when Joe the Antichrist shows up, when everything from the "Left Behind" series happens, then we will reach a tipping point and God will step in and save the day.

In that case, let's all start littering! Leave your car engines running! Launch the nukes! Let's make it so Jesus comes back sooner!

Then you know what happens... Aaaaaawwww Snap!

All better.

Harry Tournemille said...

Precisely true, and not just in X'ian theology either. All religions that imply heavenly realms as the "true, important reality" run this risk. As soon as the temporal takes a back seat to the ethereal...frrrrt.

Sam said...

What if...we...are the world?
What if...we...are the children?

Harry Tournemille said...

*cupping one hand to ear a-la Bono*

There's a choice we're makiiiing.