Monday 13 May 2019

Advantages of Ecological Socialism

Image courtesy of Clariant. 
Today, companies like the speciality chemicals company
Clariant say that they are working to reposition
themselves as sustainable solutions providers

Posted by Andrew Porter*

Today, there is much greater awareness of the threat of Climate Change. Yet species loss, disruption of planetary systems, and widespread environmental degradation are allowed to continue. Over millennia, we have been very good at developing ways to respond to the environment; now the imperative is to develop the sharpness and capacity to respond to ourselves.

Surely it is apparent now that modern industrial overreach needs to be scaled back significantly. A number of systems might be devised for remedy, but the only ones that have any real chance of success revolve around human ecology and sustainability. Can large swathes of society rally around a call to protect ecologies and promote sustainability? Because underlining such a solution is the question ‘What's in it for us?’ I think that this question itself must be transformed by a new ecological attitude, what we might call an 'inner ecology.'

One ‘system’ that might guide a large set of cultural and societal factors toward a much better relationship between humankind and the Earth is what I call ‘ecological socialism’. It would require a re-orientation of society towards an integration of human needs and what is necessary to afford the natural world its sustainability. The ‘socialism’ of the idea means equal possession of the opportunities and limitations inherent in living within the governance of natural principles. It is both ethical and ecological to distribute limitations and opportunities equally: who could argue otherwise?

An integration of the planet’s health (preservation of biodiversity and habitat, clean water and air, soil conservation, and respect for the earth's climate mechanisms) and people’s lives maximises care of one for the other. Nature has its goals and man has his; unless they are integrated, sustainability will remain out of reach. Two primary principles that we might work into to guide and animate environmental preservation are:

1) Streams, trees, bays, animals, mountains, oceans, and so on, should have standing as holders of legal rights because they have moral rights in our mind. We are in this together, nature and man, and if we are a lame and destructive partner, this joint venture remains unviable.

2) Natural systems maintain health and balance as a core feature, and should become a core feature of our lives. This involves development and implementation of human ecology models. The process as well as the result is – rather than a frittering away of human capacity – a kind of wholeness.

Surely the present is the crucial time to address this. George Monbiot makes the point well in a March 15, 2019 article in The Guardian newspaper entitled ‘Capitalism is Destroying the Earth. We Need a New Human Right for Future Generations’.
‘At the heart of capitalism is a vast and scarcely examined assumption: you are entitled to as great a share of the world’s resources as your money can buy. You can purchase as much land, as much atmospheric space, as many minerals, as much meat and fish as you can afford, regardless of who might be deprived. If you can pay for them, you can own entire mountain ranges and fertile plains. You can burn as much fuel as you like. Every pound or dollar secures a certain right over the world’s natural wealth.’
Ecological socialism—moving away from current assumptions and forms of exploitation—seeks the sustainability of the natural world and also aims to sustain man, in some form, within this. A principal standard of ecological socialism is that human burdens on the planet are kept well below the Earth's carrying capacity for them.

Ecological socialism attempts to genuinely represent all life forms and natural systems as equals in its sphere of obligation, caring, and set of rights. Ecological socialism models human governance and society on the appreciation of ecological balance and advantages. It seeks to make organic goodness human as well as natural. Ecological socialism recognises that humans must be integral with natural ways for both humans and the Earth to thrive.

Some specific choices are clear. Industrial society must be phased out. Strategies must be found to bring human numbers down and encourage small-scale simplicity. I believe that ecology-centred education, with good assistance from the humanities, helps pave the way. The belief that the individual and society are supported best by harmony with and not antagonism with nature is the vital one.

The exploitive way of life, denying costs, is over. Ecological socialism integrates man and ecologies, making the human path forward one of integrity itself. This is a value worth crafting human life around. Currently, culture and societies seem not to mind demise. But ecological socialism aims to help people understand that a citizen is not a citizen unless responsible to oneself and to the Earth.

Citizenship is best defined as this dual responsibility—to help oneself and one’s circle thrive, and also to bolster the optimal flourishing of the ecosystems and planetary systems of Earth through non-interference. Ecological socialism is the best way to ensure this.

Andrew Porter is a philosopher and educator who lives near Boston in the United States


Thomas O. Scarborough said...

Thank you, Andrew, for an interesting post. John Broome of Oxford considers that we may get around our counter-productive capitalism by founding a World Climate Bank. In his view, the only possible solution. Any comment on this?

Keith said...

I believe your essay touches a vital chord, Andrew. Environmental concerns need all the airtime they can get. Your post effectively echoes the warnings in the highly detailed report released by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The term ‘existential risk’ is fitting, I offer, with repercussions to the future livability of our planet being ever more menacing. The UN report’s disquieting rhetoric is appropriate; the urgency is justified; and the climate (environmental) clock is ticking louder and louder.

I suggest, however, that the Paris Climate Accord does not rise to meet such conditions — an accord that dispiritingly requires participating nations merely to subscribe to what it calls ‘nationally determined contributions’. (Orwell would be pleased.) To me, these ‘contributions’ are unconvincingly aspirational; feel-good nostrums aren’t enough. There continues, I believe, a potentially calamitous discontinuity between climate alarm bells, humankind’s well-being teetering on a razor’s edge, and the underwhelming global response both to adapt to and to mitigate hazards. (The follow-on Climate Change Conference held in Katowice a few months ago didn’t, I suggest, do anywhere nearly enough to remedy those issues around ‘contributions’.)

The model of ‘contributions’ is, arguably, naïve. I suspect that, by definition, the model allows (unintentionally) for some nations to contribute either little or nothing to the efforts of globally partnering nations to reduce pollutants like CO2. That is, some countries may well violate the accord while counting on others to shoulder the load. In other words, piggybacking. Or put still another way, an example of the ‘tragedy of the commons’ — whereby these nations may favour what they shortsightedly construe as their own self-interest (economic or otherwise), in the process risking spoiling shared environmental resources rather than communally fostering the common good that your essay appropriately encourages.

docmartincohen said...

Robust criticism from David Dent @DMDent , for you Andrew (starts by extracting a line from the blog):

""Currently, culture and societies seem not to mind demise. But ecological socialism aims to help people understand that a citizen is not a citizen unless responsible to oneself and to the Earth."

-> Greatest threat to autonomous vibrant rural cultures is this imposition of lunacy."

Andrew Porter said...

In response to John Broome's 'Do not ask for morality' slant, I think that "building the institutions that will make it possible to solve the problem" requires moral vision. Morality will always be the base and height of solution. Ideals give action its aim. Perhaps it takes a bottom-up *and* top-down approach to guide culture toward virtue. The 'realistic' is what an observer says is possible for the caterpillar, not knowing what a chrysalis can do.

Keith said...

One way, perhaps, to cause some people to wince — such as in your own country, the United States — is to use the word ‘socialism’, as you do, Andrew, in ‘ecological socialism’. As you’re aware, in many circles in the United States and, for that matter, in many other countries, socialism is seen, rightly or wrongly, as the nemesis of market dynamics and choice, and even more particularly as the protagonist of heavy-handed government interventionism. In other words, ‘socialism’ — in many circles, smacking of an intrusive, patriarchic model of governance — may be viewed as an untended 'trigger word'.

When you say, in defining ecological socialism, that “The ‘socialism’ of [ecological socialism] means equal possession of opportunities and limitations inherent in living within the governance of natural principles,” I’m not entirely sure what you mean exactly. Regardless, might there be an equally workable, more helpful and serviceable term — like ‘ecological globalism’, or some better expression that still captures the heart and power of your philosophy — that may spur less pushback than ‘ecological socialism’ and still effectively serve the environmental policy’s intent?

Andrew Porter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew Porter said...

In regard to Keith's thought, I think it's a fair point that 'ecological socialism' is not the only possible or even optimal term. I'm certainly not tied to the word 'socialism'. Other possible choices:
Ecological Globalism
Ecological Republics
Integrated Humanity
Human Ecology at Every Scale
We might do well to revisit the Guardians of Plato's 'Republic' and adapt them to our environmentally-ravaged times.

docmartincohen said...

Ecological "Holism"?

Andrew Porter said...

By George, I think you've got it!

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