“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” John Muir
I posted a response recently to a paper posted by the [American based] Institute for Cultural Evolution on their website. The paper has to do with how to progress awareness on Climate Change in America. I found it somehow offensive and realised whilst I might have agreed with it many years ago, I could no longer relate to it. Admittedly by one of the founders the paper is at least four years old, but still they sent a link recently, I guess looking for some feedback. The paper is posted here. In a really brief summary, they argue that the environmental movement should really learn to appreciate the incredible gift that [Orange] business brings to the world, and they should play down their attacks on capitalism as they demand action and change.
My response follows. I’d be interested in any responses people have. There is much more nuance possible in my responses, but this is a starting place for my own exploration.
When Adam Werbach, then the youngest president of the Sierra Club, famously gave a talk titled “The Death of Environmentalism and the Birth of the Commons Movement” to the Commonwealth Club of California over two decades ago, he argued that environmentalists and conservationists hadn’t cottoned on yet to the inextricable connections between environmental and social issues – they were all human issues. In other language I’d paraphrase John Muir with this quote: “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” It’s impossible to speak of the ecological movement, or the economy, as somehow two distinct issues. Both are inherently related.
Do Americans GET Climate Change?
Personally I think it’s premature to even begin talking about climate change in America. Whilst some get it, the majority doesn’t. What is IT? To me climate change isn’t about reducing CO2. It’s not a goal to meet or a project we can engineer ourselves out of. It’s a different way of looking at our selves, the projection of ‘other’, our very relationship to nature and the world. It’s a realisation that can’t be forced on anyone. We can plainly see the incredible racial polarity in America as an example. How can you begin to face ecological problems whilst the civil war continues in the social fabric of a nation? Or the ongoing philosophical tensions between Adams and Jefferson as they continue to inflame debate between big government vs self-determination and autonomy?
Instead I would concentrate their efforts on promoting and invigorating healthy and ethical businesses, and helping hold them as examples to critique unhealthy orange-meme companies.
Where Does Change Come From?
I’ve often wondered where the conscience comes from for a CEO to suddenly wake up and radically shift their business. Look at Ray Andersen from Interface Carpets, or Visa, or perhaps Cradle to Cradle companies. What makes the companies notice that they urgently HAVE to do business differently? The new book on Rethinking Organisations by Frederic Laloux gives many emergent examples.
I’m also interested in their paper that the authors speak of the positive side of globalisation, as if it were just economic benefits. Actually I think that the Green Movement, and post-modernism, is empowered by globalisation – though on a social and environmental and relational level. We suddenly have a greater awareness of our shared humanity, so much so that global moves to prevent sweat shops and deforestation as well as promote human rights have increased in countries most of us have never physically been. Green’s empathy has greatly increased. The shadow side of global capitalism is immensely evident nowadays due to technology, and it makes me wonder if Orange has actually realised the philosophical importance of globalisation (beyond profits and potential for growth) in order to let in the interconnectedness they have themselves helped create?
A Different Perspective
I have three further thoughts. One is the images seen from our space pioneers of our fragile planet. Has Orange begun to let in the spiritual or religious revelatory nature of those images? At the end of Al Gore’s famous film, he says that what we need now is a spiritual shift, and its so true in my own experience; having been an environmental campaigner for more than 2 decades, I recognised that taking a hard and fixed position was preventing me from actually engaging with people about matters that concern us all on a deeply human level. I also discovered the incredible joy in letting go of what I thought I know in order to re-examine and discuss with others assumptions about reality and where we go next. Einstein’s quote that we cant fix a problem from the same mentality that created it in the first place applies very much in the ecological arena, as scientists and people like Stewart Brand advocate geo-engineering technologies.
Secondly I return to their paper where they uphold the economy as being pretty much paramount – almost as if business and the economy is synonymous with democracy, freedom and liberation of the individual. On reflection, and rather naively I admit, I see that trade used to be in servitude to social relationships; between people, families, tribes. Increasingly it seems to be that trade (and business) has become about rights to exploit. Trade deals are set up to colonise and exploit emerging nations in the name of increasing ‘democracy’ and development. I would argue again that without a healthy mature perspective that expansion of Orange is doing more harm than good. We can look to Iraq and the middle east to see the fallout from the West’s economic (and political) foreign policy.
Third and lastly their paper admittedly is American-centric. As an expat living abroad for two decades I see there are many cultural assumptions made in the paper. Rightly or wrongly I’d point out that untethered optimism that is so rich in the US (and so lacking here in the UK) also prevents humility and deep reflection, let alone compromise. It’s a double edged sword that needs to be used carefully and with increasing maturity. Progress and the thrill and freedom in abandoning the past leads also to severing vital connections and knowledge that are also an essential part of who we are. They have stated [in the paper] that growth is good, and I’d challenge that basic assumption. I’d say reflection is good right now.