PS. My Professors have done a great job scaring the shit out of me about plagiarism, so I go out of my way to cite everything. Plus, I do not possess much authority.
With the change in climate and the increased consumption of resources fueled by capitalism, there will be a revolution that will change the world. I will argue that anthropogenic gases are having adverse effects on the climate, and that our current policies and ways of life are unsustainable and harmful to the environment. Next, I will criticize the notion of climate change and discuss plausible counter arguments to my claims. Then, I will advance ethical perspectives behind being environmentally conscious and argue that people should adopt them. Finally, I will offer a rejoinder to the counterarguments, and I will discuss these competing claims in the framework of a Marxist dialectic to describe the plausible global implications from this, of which, I argue, will be analogous to Karl Marx’s workers’ revolution.
In order in discuss why people should care about the environment, it is first necessary to explain what the problem is. Unless one has been living in a cave for the past fifty years, it is reasonable to assume that the general public has heard the terms ‘global warming’ and ‘ greenhouse effect’. Though it can be argued that any knowledge of environmental issues is a good thing, these terms do not capture the essence of the problem. Moreover, using terms like ‘global warming’ facilitates the creation of a straw man for the anti-environmentalist. Although a straw man argument is fallacious, political pundits often resort to them, and more importantly people are persuaded by them. For instance, on a whim I was watching a particular political pundit, and he was remarking on the unseasonable cold weather in Texas at the time; he went on to exclaim that if global warming was happening it would not be so cold in Texas during a time when it is usually warm. I will not waste my time or the readers’ by showing why this claim is asinine and fallacious; instead I will show that a proper understanding of the problem will enable one to acknowledge, understand, use, and perhaps defend the nuanced terminology.
The term ‘greenhouse effect’ is not very descriptive of the problem that we are facing. The ‘greenhouse effect’ is a naturally occurring effect that happens without human presence (Gardiner, pg574). The ‘greenhouse effect’ is actually a good thing, for without it the Earth’s environment would be much colder and different (Gardiner, pg574). In short, the ‘greenhouse effect’ is solar radiation that is trapped in the atmosphere and unable to leave because gases in the atmosphere trap it, creating a “blanket effect” (Gardiner, pg574). Additionally, human beings are increasing the amount of gases in the atmosphere, and this can be expected to have an amplifying effect (Gardiner, pg574). Another way of understanding this is to think about a car in the summer: the windows act like gases; as the air inside the car warms up, the air is unable to escape, because the windows are closed. This analogy may help us understand how the term ‘global warming’ came about.
While the term ‘global warming’ captures the essence of the potential warming effect that human beings have induced, the term has its problems, as I have illustrated above. There are many factors that contribute to the warming that is occurring. Some warming is due to increasing greenhouse gases: “Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and tropospheric ozone have all increased well above their pre-industrial concentrations.” (Pew, pg 570).Since 1900, carbon dioxide has increased 30%, methane 100%, nitrous oxide 15%. Additionally, there is deforestation and the emissions of aerosols cause cooling effect, while urbanization causes warming known as “Urban Heat Island” (UHI) effect (Pew, pg570-571). Despite the different factors affecting the environment, “human factors account for the majority of the observed increase in globally averaged surface air temperatures over the past 50 years.” (Pew, pg573) Moreover, since 1850 the planet has encountered the ten warmest years within the last eighteen years (Pew, pg570). From the outset the prospects of warmer summers and moderate winters do not sound so bad; and it may be reasonable to infer that these effects will cause the Earth to continue warming. However, not all models predict that warming will continue in the way it has, and more importantly, the warm could cause areas that have traditionally been moderate or warm to become cold (Gardiner, pg576-577). Considering the inadequacies of the terms ‘global warming’ and ‘greenhouse gases’, I shall henceforth use the term ‘climate change,’ as it captures the essence of the problem without any predicting element implicit within the term.
I mentioned predictions about climate change above. I want to elaborate on this so that we have a good understanding of the problems with the predictions. I could spend the rest of this essay explaining the science and the impacts of the anthropogenic gases, but I want to convey the seriousness of the issue whilst doing justice to the predictions. The predictions that I have studied come from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which “was jointly established by the World Meteorological Association and the United Nations Environmental Program to provide member governments with state of the art assessments of “the science, the impacts, and the economics of-and the options for mitigating and/or adapting to-climate change”” (Gardiner, pg575). There are numerous factors that the IPCC has taken into account in order to create some sort of prediction for the change in climate. “Economic growth, world population, and technological change” are some factors that the IPCC creates assumptions about in order to produce a computer model that simulates various scenarios (Gardiner, pg 576)
However, some of these predictions have fallen under scrutiny because they do not account for “potential nonlinear threshold effects” (Gardiner, pg575). In other words, though the IPCC predictions may be disquieting to some; they may potentially be overly optimistic (Gardiner, pg575). The IPCC uses linear based models to predict climate change, what is disconcerting is the idea of a tipping point, or to resort to metaphor, ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’. The straw in this case would be the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). In the event that the West Antarctic Ice Sheets collapses the global sea levels would “rise by 4-6 meters”; this would dilute the salt water with freshwater and alter the world’s ocean currents because the diluted water will react differently than saltwater (Gardiner, pg576). The affected system is known as the “Ocean Conveyor”, which distributes heat and life-sustaining water around the world. It is known as climate’s “Achilles Heel” (Gardiner, pg576-577). There is evidence that the conveyor has slowed in the past:
One such event, 12,700 years ago, was a drop in temperature in the North Atlantic region of around 5 degrees Celsius in a single decade. This apparently caused icebergs to spread as far south as the coast of Portugal and has been linked to widespread global drought. (Gardiner, pg577)
Moreover, the general warming that exists now can coexist with ‘dramatic cooling’ in different areas (Gardiner, pg577). This is another reason it is difficult to plan for the effects of climate change. Additionally, Steven Gardiner eloquently remarks that “the major losers from climate change may not be the usual suspects, the less developed countries (LDCs). For it is the rich countries bordering the North Atlantic that are particularly vulnerable to Conveyor shifts.” (Gardiner, pg577)
Though the above argument may seem compelling to some, there exist plenty of skeptics who question the predictions and the empirical evidence that has been presented (Gardiner, pg578). The skeptics pose reasonable argument s that question the empirical evidence that researchers have found (Gardiner, pg579). Part of the problem is that scientists have only been gathering serious empirical data since 1979 (Gardiner, pg578). The ways in which scientists have formulated empirical evidence about the past are not as accurate as they are today due to technological advancements. Steven Gardiner compares the predictions of a scientist to a coach asked to predict whether or not a fifteen-year-old athlete will compete in the highest echelon of the given sport (Gardiner, pg579). This analogy captures what the nature of the problem for the skeptics. However, the coach can only give the best prediction based on the evidence provided. Imagine being the parent of the child the coach was commenting about. Based on the coach’s response, a parent could react by pushing the child to work harder, notwithstanding a dim prognostication by the coach. Now, if the parent proceeded to do nothing, because they were skeptical of the coach’s prediction, the parent could potentially be hindering the development of a prodigy. Thus, it may be reasonable for the skeptic to point out the strength of the induction being made about the predictions of the environment. However the skeptic must also deal with theoretical arguments that support the empirically based claims (Gardiner, pg579). There are two fundamental claims that the skeptic must combat. One, the greenhouse effect is real, and more greenhouse gas emitted into the atmosphere increases warming (Gardiner, pg579). Two, “human activities since the industrial revolution have significantly the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases.” (Gardiner, pg579)
At this point, I am willing to accept that I am dealing with three potential readers: one who agrees, one who disagrees, or one who is indifferent. So, here I will offer ethical reasons why one ought to care about anything I have mentioned thus far. I would like to start by presenting a general argument addressing one’s disposition toward life. I would like to advance Albert Schweitzer’s “reverence for life” ethic. This is an attempt to reason with the reader who does not care thus far, offer support to the one who does, and present a new perspective to the indifferent, and to all.
Schweitzer posits that “True philosophy must commence with the most immediate and comprehensive facts of consciousness.” (Schweitzer, pg132) In other words, Schweitzer wants to start at the beginning and define what is going on existentially before he makes any other claims about the world. Schweitzer was influenced by Arthur Schopenhauer. The following quote will make this obvious for anyone familiar with Schopenhauer. He asserts, “I am life which wills to live, and I exist in the midst of life which wills to live” (Schweitzer, pg132). Schweitzer is illustrating ‘the will’ as an energy that is the essence of life, and anything that can be killed wills to live and is, by this nature, manifesting the will. Schweitzer eloquently describes this: “A living world-and life-view, informing all the facts of life, gushes forth from it continually, as from an eternal spring. A mystically ethical oneness with existence grows forth from it unceasingly” (Schweitzer, pg 132). One’s will can be at odds with other wills and some may think that this is the state of nature, so to speak, but wills can also cohesively dance with each other in harmony.
This idea of the ‘will to live’ can serve as the foundation or “fundamental principal” for morality (Schweitzer, pg132). If one is willing to accept the premise that the will to live exists, it should follow that one can recognize it within sentient beings. Furthermore, Schweitzer asserts that from this we can recognize good as actions that “maintain and cherish life; it is evil to destroy and to check life” (Schweitzer, pg132). This gives us a direction of what is good and evil that is informed by the ‘reverence for life’; but I think that Paul Taylor, who is a proponent of Schweitzer, gives a more concise definition.
Taylor adds on to what Schweitzer was arguing. He posits that we have “prima facie moral obligations that are owed to wild plants and animals themselves as members of the Earth’s biotic community” (Taylor, pg 140). Moreover, we can identify that plants and animals have a well-being, just as human being have a well-being and this is “something to be realized as an end in itself” (Taylor, pg140). If plants and animals have ends, then we can recognize the good that is intrinsic to their ends. Taylor argues that individual animals as well as communities have a ‘good’, which means that the entity can be either benefited or harmed by a moral agent (Taylor, pg140). When one does ‘good’ for a being or community, one is preserving life or improving its well-being (Taylor, pg140). One who is doing evil is acting malevolently toward a life or community, and one is desecrating the well-being of the life or community (Taylor, pg140).
When one comes to understand and adopts this ‘reverence for life’ one will come to see the world in a different way. When one adopts this ethic, one will be guided by the notion to do what is good, or at the very least, one will be able to discern what is good and evil, right and wrong. This enlightened view will compel one to rescue the frog that is stuck in the pool, or pick up the turtle attempting to cross a highway. It may seem that Schweitzer is trying to convince us to be compassionate, but he is doing much more than that. Schweitzer is showing us a different life perspective that will provide the impetus to willfully make sacrifices, based on the reverence for life (Schweitzer, pg136-138). This perspective enables us to view our will and how it is at odds with others and what sacrifices these other wills are making for our own (Schweitzer, pg137). When one is able to realize the sacrifice of other wills, one will become mindful of their actions. Sometimes it is necessary to infringe on the will of other lives, but this is done with a reoccurring thought in mind: “Whenever I injure life of any kind I must be quite clear as to whether this is necessary or not” (Schweitzer, pg137). It is this type of disposition that is necessary for the well-being and sustainability of the global community.
I do not expect these notions that I have presented thus far to be adopted based on the arguments I have delineated. So, it seems necessary to acknowledge and address plausible counterarguments to my case so far. One point of contention may be the adoption of these ethical perspectives and the practicality of doing so. When we conceive of a person who manifests a reverence for life we may envisage one who helps the worm that will dry up after the rain or dreads stepping on an insect or cutting down a tree; this person seems to be absurd and asinine. One with this ethic can only expect ridicule: “It is indeed the fate of every truth to be an object of ridicule when it is first acclaimed. It was once considered foolish to suppose that coloured men were really human beings and ought to be treated as such” (Schweitzer, pg133). Moreover, people have a tendency to think of things as light switches: one is either a vegetarian or not. This seems like an unnecessary bifurcation. A wise man shared with me this idea of thinking of these ethics as volume knobs instead of light switches, this way one can slowly turn up the volume . For instance, if I eat meat every day for at least two meals a day, I can start with not eating meat once or twice a week; or using alternative transportation once a week to go places one would normally drive.
Again, I will concede that there will be a reader who is not persuaded by this perspective on life. Moreover, this is probably the same reader who was not convinced by the arguments that I have presented on climate change. However, I would like the obstinate reader to cogitate on one last ethical consideration. Thomas Hill summarized the point I am trying to make perfectly, as he asserts, “Rather than argue directly with destroyers of the environment who say “Show me why what I am doing is immoral,” I want to ask, “What sort of person would want to do what they propose?”” (Hill, pg 215) Hill is not trying to pick on people or their professions. What he is trying to do is recognize what traits one is manifesting when one is engaging destructive actions to the environment (Hill, pg 215). Hill brings up examples of things that people could do that are not necessarily wrong, but would make one concerned with what type of person doing these things. For instance, he mentions a person who laughs to themselves as they read about a plane crash report in the news paper; or a grandson who waits for his grandmother to die for the inheritance, only to spit on her grave (Hill, pg215). In these cases there is nothing intrinsically wrong with these actions, though instead of asking oneself “What reason do I have for not doing these things?” they should ask “What type of person would do this sort of thing?” (Hill, pg215) Hill argues throughout the paper with a hypothetical anti-environmentalist, and what it comes down to is that the anti-environmentalist lacks a specific gratitude toward the environment (Hill, pg224). This gratitude is one in which the agent manifests gratitude toward something because one cherishes it, and when one cherishes something one should care for the well-being of that thing or community (Hill, pg224). This is definitely true when we cogitate on the how much the environment has enriched our lives (Hill, pg224).
As I have shown, one may be able to dispute whether or not climate change is real, or what kinds of effects it will have. So, I would like to change the direction of the essay to address resource depletion and the potential implications of it. Before moving into any particulars there are general concerns that should be addressed here. The perspective that seems applicable here, is Garret Hardin’s perspective “The Tragedy of the Commons”.
“The Tragedy of the Commons” was inspired by William Forester Lloyd’s pamphlet on population control in response to Adam Smith (Hardin, Pg392). Though Smith was not necessarily a proponent of the position, the concept of an “invisible hand” promoting the social good of society and thus, individuals would make decisions that would be best for society (Hardin, Pg392). So, the construction of a hypothetical scenario will demonstrate what exactly the problem is. A group of herdsmen share a common area that cattle graze on; if a herdsman sells one of the cows they receive all of the profit (Hardin, Pg392). On the other hand if the amount of cows causes overgrazing the negative effects will be distributed amongst all the herdsmen (Hardin, Pg392). Thus, the herdsman who is aware of the overall benefit in comparison to the cost will conclude that they ought to add more cattle (Hardin, Pg392). However, all herdsmen become aware of this opportunity and “Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his heard without limit-in a world that is limited” (Hardin, Pg392). Hardin in his exposition is actually trying to confront population growth, though I do think this scenario is applicable to resource depletion in general. There are numerable resources that I could mention here, but amongst them oil seems to be of the utmost importance. I particularly want to discuss peak oil theory and the implications of it. Michael Byron gives an eloquent introduction for discussing peak oil:
The world is positioned on the brink of a historical chasm. Everything familiar is about to vanish — beginning with where and how most of us live. The physical and proximate cause of this wrenching change is the imminence of what is called peak oil — the point at which half of all of the oil the world holds will have been taken from the ground. From that point onwards, every year less oil will be produced, at ever greater cost. Civilization is almost completely reliant upon growing supplies of cheap oil. But oil is a non-renewable resource, at least within the human timescale. For the planet as a whole, the amount of oil discovered each year reached a peak about forty years ago and has been declining ever since. (Byron, pg36)
The concept of peak oil was formulated in 1956 by a petroleum geologist named M. King Hubbert (Byron, pg36). Hubbert used a “mathematical modeling technique called the logistic decline model.” (Byron, pg36) With this model he was able to predict that US oil would peak in 1970, and the world’s oil supply would peak in 2000 (Byron, pg36). As it turns out, Hubbert’s prediction was astonishingly close as “in 1971 and many geologists, petroleum scientists, and industry analysts have come to accept that Hubbert got it right” (Byron, pg36). His latter prediction is not far off; somewhere between 2005 and 2012 the world will reach its peak oil production (Byron, pg36). There are some who appeal to the argument of new technology and that these advancements will lead to the sustainment of oil reservoirs (Byron, pg38). In fact, this is not the case. Matt Simmons, “an oil industry investment banker and a member of the 2001 Bush-Cheney Energy task force,” remarks:
None of these technical breakthroughs created an “oilfield fountain of youth,” which is what would be required for the [optimistic] forecaster’s scenarios [of endless future production] to unfold. Instead, these advances combined to extract the easily recoverable oil from giant fields even faster, and led to decline curves, once high reservoir pressures depleted, steeper than the industry had ever experienced before. (Byron, pg38-39)
We also have to consider increasing population and increased industrialization of countries like China and India. Eventually demand will outweigh the supply, and the effects of the decline of oil could potentially be disastrous (Byron, pg40). Inevitably, oil will become very expensive and this will change our society:
The former energy advisor of US President George W. Bush, Matthew Simmons, predicts oil prices could reach as much as 250 US dollars per barrel over the coming years. “We have to expect an oil price between 200 and 250 dollars per barrel,” Simmons was quoted as saying in the January issue of the German-based Capital economic magazine. He cited an imminent shortage of oil supply and a growing global demand, especially in China and India, for the sharp rise in oil prices. (Byron, pg40)
From the evidence presented, the U.S. interest in the Persian Gulf should become clear: more than 60% of the Earth’s remains in the Persian Gulf (Bryon, pg47). Ostensibly, the US has become increasingly dependent on a cheap supply of oil (Bryon, pg46). More important than the well-being of the US economy is the fact that whoever controls the Persian Gulf controls the oil supply to the world; this state, in turn, becomes the gatekeeper of industry (Bryon, pg46). The “Carter Doctrine” overtly acknowledged this; meanwhile the Bush administration denies it (Bryon, pg46). Cal Tech physicist David Goldstein, who has studied this issue extensively, concludes:
So, technically, scientifically, the means exist to build a civilization that has everything
we think we need, without fossil fuels. The future exists. The remaining question is, can
we get there? Scientists are supposed to make predictions. Experiment or observation tests the
prediction, and the fate of the scientist’s theory, acceptance or rejection rides on the
outcome. That’s how science works. I have a prediction to make. Here it is:
Civilization as we know it will come to an end some time in this century, when the fuel
runs out. This is different from normal scientific predictions in a crucial way. Usually, the
scientist hopes that the prediction will prove to be correct, and merely making the prediction does not change the phenomenon in question. In this case I do hope the prediction will be
wrong, and I hope that merely making the prediction will help make it become wrong. (Goldstein, pg12).
At this point I hope I have set the stage, so to speak, for the reader. The next step to be taken here is to discuss the implications of peak oil and climate change. However, before I do, it is necessary to mention how, and why, I will describe these implications in the conclusion.
In the midst of trying to defend against the accusations that Judeo-Christianity has played a causal role in the degradation of the environment, Lewis Moncrief asserts that environmental degradation is caused by capitalism and democratization has led to urbanization, increased wealth, increased population, and individual ownership (Moncrief, pg27). Karl Marx also observes the negative effects capitalism has one the environment, though it is best to recall the “Tragedy of the Commons” and then proceed:
Capitalist production collects the population together in great centres, and causes the urban population to achieve an ever-growing preponderance. This has two results. On the one hand it concentrates the historical motive power of society; on the other hand, it disturbs the metabolic interaction between man and the earth, i.e., it prevents the return to the soil of its constituent elements by man in the form of food and clothing; hence it hinders the operation of the eternal conditions for the lasting fertility of the soil. Thus it destroys at the same time the physical health of the urban worker, and the intellectual life of the rural worker. But by destroying the circumstances surrounding that metabolism, which originated in a merely natural and spontaneous fashion, it compels its systematic restoration as a regulative law of social production, and in a form adequate to the full development of the human race. . . . In modern agriculture, as in urban industry, the increase in the productivity and mobility of labour power is purchased at the cost of laying waste and debilitating labour power itself. Moreover, all progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress towards ruining the more long-lasting sources of that fertility. The more a country proceeds from largescale industry as the background of its development, as in the case of the United States, the more rapid is this process of destruction. Capitalist production, therefore, only develops the techniques and the degree of combining of the social process of production by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth -- the soil and the worker (Marx, Capital, 1:636-638; Marx, Capital, 3:301)(Perelman, pg69).
If the reader has been persuaded to agree with my arguments because of the evidence I have presented then my goal is complete. However, I consider any skepticism up to this point to be a good thing. If the arguments I have made have not convinced a particular reader I could not be any happier; my thesis is dependent on the skeptical person. I do not find it to be presumptuous to assume that a reader exists who has not been persuaded by my arguments. In fact, the skeptical anti-environmentalist position is a necessary condition for the conclusion of this work. If we compare this entire argument to a redwood tree that has been hacked and sawed from different angles, we see it swaying but we are not sure which way it will fall. I am not going to predict which way the tree will fall based on intuition of specious reasoning. I will attempt a critical analysis of that information which I can acquire: the tree as a whole, its relation to other things, the cuts that are made, and the conditions of the environment around it; hopefully critical analysis of these factors will help us move to a safe area.
I am alluding to using a Marxist dialectic to explain an environmental revolution.
Dialectics is not a rock-ribbed triad of thesis-antithesis-synthesis that serves an all-purpose explanation; nor is it the motor force of history. The dialectic, as such explains nothing, proves nothing, predicts nothing, and causes nothing to happen. Rather, dialectics is a way of thinking that brings into focus the full range of changes and interactions that occur in the world. As part of this, it includes how to organize a reality viewed in the manner for purposes of study and how to present the results of what one finds to others, most of whom do not think dialectically. (Ollman, pg12)
Additionally, Marx claims that people base their conclusion on their ‘immediate surroundings’, and that in most cases the truth is the exact opposite of their conclusion (Ollman, pg13). This is why and how I arrived at the conclusion that I did.
As this essay progressed, I argued from the perspective of an environmentally conscious agent. The reader will either agree with me or disagree, and even if the reader agrees with me, I am sure they could imagine a person who would disagree with all of the claims I have put forth. What this all comes down to is the clash of values and ideas. Climate change, resource depletion, pollution, overpopulation, and many other factors play a role in the type of world we will soon live in. One difference between the workers revolution and the environmental revolution is that the environmental revolution is not dependant on human beings. We are at the threshold of cataclysmic disaster, or a small universal lifestyle change. If the world is to err on the side of caution and become environmentally conscious, we can mitigate death and suffering. On the other hand, if the people of the world stick our heads in the sand and retain the current lavish life style because of a belief that God or technology will save us, the environmental revolution will be one of death and destruction. To elaborate on this, think about the things that we do that depend on oil. Without a doubt we are heavily dependent on oil, we have observed rising gas prices, we see how welcomed we are in the Persian Gulf, and on top of all of this, the prospects of sustaining the US’s fixation on oil are dim. We live in a society which is ill-prepared for climate change or oil depletion. When gas reaches ten or fifteen dollars a gallon, our economy will come to a screeching halt. The current city infrastructure layout, public transportation, etc., will not be sufficient to compensate for the demand. If we are doing nothing now, by the time this seemly prognostication becomes reality it will be too late to sustain anything close to the lifestyle we currently enjoy. Essentially, we will either acknowledge the threats that we face and mitigate their impacts, or we will suffer from our ignorance; either way, environmental change will affect us.
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Ollman, Bertell. Dance of the Dialectic : Steps in Marx's Method. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003.
Pojman, Louis P., and Paul Pojman. Environmental Ethics. Ed. Worth Hawes and Bob Kauser. 5th ed. Vol. 5th edition. Belmont CA: Thomson and Wadsworth, 2001.
The wise man I mention is Martin Schönfeld.