Friday, June 5, 2015

Another World Environment Day

Today, World Environment Day (WED) is celebrated every year on 5 June to raise global awareness to take positive environmental action to protect nature and the planet Earth. It is run by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).It was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972 on the day that United Nations Conference on the Human Environment began.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon makes very clear that “Humanity continues to consume far more natural resources than the planet can sustainably provide,” and invites the world's citizens to become agents of change to our capitalist system that's destroying the environment.

This is a strong counterpoint to the emerging thought in the Ecomodernist Manifesto sponsored by the Breakthrough Institute. It takes a position that rejects the idea “that human societies must harmonize with nature to avoid economic and ecological collapse,” and instead argues that what is needed is a reliance on technologies, from nuclear power to carbon capture and storage, that allow for a “decoupling [of] human development from environmental impacts.” A group of over fifteen researchers from the degrowth scholarship community has written a detailed refutation of the Ecomodernist Manifesto, which assumes that growth is a given, decouples growth from impacts, and it ignores the lessons of ecology and thermodynamics, which teach us that species (and societies) have natural limits to growth. Ecomodernism is condescending toward pre-industrial, agrarian, non-industrialized societies, and the Global South. It's basically a justification for greenwashing.

Another variant on this perspective is "Greening of Capitalism" by John A. Mathews of Macquarie University's Graduate School of Management in Sydney. The final chapter of this book brings together all the elements of the green that is emerging in the 21st century, where the firm itself can grow but the system as a whole remains within its ecological limits. But the assumption that the circular economy proposes here doesn't address the impact of growth on planetary resources, and, frankly, the continuing emissions created by all human activities driven by energy growth: even wind, solar, tide, geothermal and hydroelectric. A system re-designed to operate in this fashion doesn't reverse the damage that we've done fast enough to keep the planet from undergoing ecological disintegration.

The UN is quite evidently trying to steer a path for human civilization that avoids the worst of what's upon us and allows the human community to engineer a sustainable path to a smaller and regenerative civilization. This December's COP 21 agreement should prove to be a critical point on that path.