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19 August, 2019 00:00 00 AM

The planet deserves a Pledge of Allegiance

Peter Isackson

Author and editorialist Alan Weisman has reviewed Bill McKibben’s most recent book on the environment, “Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?” McKibben, an author-turned-activist, has been leading the campaign at to combat the resistance of oil companies to addressing the issue of climate change. In his review, Weisman cites this remark by McKibben concerning the fossil fuel industry: “There should be a word for when you commit treason against an entire planet.”

Here is today’s 3D definition:An act of betrayal against one’s homeland and its government, which, during a period of history dominated by individual nation-states that define themselves as the unique source of political and moral authority, excludes both the planet and humanity from consideration when they are being shamelessly betrayed

Having reviewed Exxon’s internal documentation dating back to 1982, McKibben observes that “the company’s scientists concluded that heading off global warming would ‘require major reductions in fossil fuel combustion’ or risk ‘potentially catastrophic events.’” In other words, Exxon’s managers were faced with a choice between betraying the vocation of a powerful commercial company and the expectations of its shareholders and their presumed loyalty to the human race, to which they belong, and the integrity of the planet which they inhabit.

What did they choose? This might be the obvious question to ask, but it makes sense only if there is a choice to be made. But there is none for Exxon’s executives other than resolving to change jobs. They are paid to obey the supreme law under which humanity now lives and labors: a law that requires, under pain of exclusion, to promote growth, expansion and profit. Any director who dared to choose against those interests would immediately be replaced by someone willing to comply with the law.

But surely governments will be able to get something done and the experts have plenty of suggestions they could turn into policy. McKibben cleverly suggests that the West could imitate African countries that are successfully managing with mobile technology to compensate for their underdeveloped telecommunications infrastructure. Inspired by their example, the West could choose to banish the omnipresent and invasive “wires tethering us to an energy sector that’s killing us.” That would also seriously improve our urban and rural landscapes.

McKibben criticizes many of the technological solutions presented as silver bullets, but he still believes humanity has the power to change things. “Every day,” Weisman writes, “some trending new gizmo or beguiling advance distracts us from the climate disaster by promising to make our lives easier, even as our future grows shorter.”

McKibben aptly “argues that neither artificial intelligence nor genetic engineering will improve our odds for survival,” but sees a possible solution by “acting together to do remarkable things.” That is the essential condition of any viable solution since the scale of the challenge is global. But achieving it will require making it feasible to “act together.” In the current historical context, that may turn out to be an exceedingly tall order. History has played a perverse game against the interest of humanity over the past 500 years. It has provided the means for rapid and constantly accelerating technological progress and the creation of material wealth on an obscene scale, but in so doing it has paralyzed humanity’s ability to manage the progress and equitably share the wealth.

Whereas throughout human history different groups of people have been able to organize themselves into communities — occasionally even growing into empires by connecting people and regions economically and politically for limited periods of time — the political authorities of past cultures and empires lacked the technology to control and seriously modify anything beyond local environments. They also lacked what might be somewhat abusively called today’s “scientific” focus on productivity (and profit) that has brought about economic concentration and led to the ever-riskier specialization of industrial and agricultural production, a phenomenon ultimately responsible for diminishing or destroying the capacity of localities and regions to balance the nature of their economic activities as a response to the needs of their populations.

For millennia, political empires rose and declined, giving way to a more local distribution of political power. The pattern changed, however, when the model of the European nation-state began to emerge, most clearly in 16th-century Europe. A series of political transformations led to the eventual acceptance across the globe of an idealized model of representative democracy. The abstraction of the search for profit replaced the dynastic ambition to control and tax to define the goal of empire.

The nation-state came to represent the highest level of political authority, replacing religion and neutralizing the looser but very real force of moral philosophy. In a very real sense, Ayn Rand replaced Aristotle to create the modern world. As Bill McKibben, who holds Ayn Rand responsible for much of what’s wrong with the world today, remarks in an interview: “People who have made a whole lot of money and don’t want to be bothered in any way find her enormously appealing.” This isn’t just a change of philosophical style; it’s the banishment of moral consciousness and the well-financed triumph of the will.

Fair Observer



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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