08 July 2013

Environmental Patriotism

There was a very interesting discussion on Ian Masters's Background Briefing on July 4 (ianmasters.com) with Robert Jensen, author of a piece in YES! magazine called Get Apocalyptic: Why Radical is the New Normal. 

The thrust of Jensen's views, I think it's accurate to say, is that while the conventional wisdom in the United States is that there is a juxtaposition, or rather opposition, between "radical" and "realistic," but that, in reality, it is the conventional wisdom which is unrealistic, and radical solutions which are the only realistic path forward, given the environmental sustainability issues facing our civilization. Masters explored the question of whether real patriotism should not be seen as loyalty to a sane view of sustainability and even survival of our people, as opposed to knee-jerk jingoism. Generally, of course, I am very sympathetic to this overall worldview.

There is, however, one point that Jensen made more than once, and that seems to be a truism among people who take the kind of long-term, sustainability oriented view of our place in the world in the 21st century. Not only did he stress global climate change, loss of water and soil resources, loss of wild habitat, loss of stability of ecosystems, all of which I think is totally on point, but he kept saying we have to learn to live with less energy production and consumption.

Here, I question the assumptions and conclusion. Why, necessarily, should this follow? In fact, I believe that the Sun and the solar-driven natural processes such as wind and water, as well as chemical storage of energy ultimately derived from the sun, can and will eventually provide our civilization with all the energy it can possibly need, and that, in fact, abundant energy resources will be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Technology must adapt or die, but the solution to modification of a global civilization of seven to ten billion people, which is what we are surely looking at, so as to reverse our headlong rush to climate and ecological catastrophe, is not to all act like the Amish or prehistoric agriculturalists, because the fact is that there aren't enough land resources for that. We must adapt technologies to produce food hydroponically in artificial environments, produce energy that doesn't use fossil fuel, and set aside sufficient areas of our planet as "fallow," where natural systems are left unmolested, if we are to give our Earth a chance to recover from the insult it's been subjected to over the past hundreds (or even thousands) of years, and for human beings to find a way to live sustainably and indefinitely on its surface.

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