climate change
Open wooden door to the new world with green environment. / Climate Change Concept by leolintang (Depositphotos)

Climate Change: We Must Tinker Intelligently and Compassionately

Climate Change: We Must Tinker Intelligently and Compassionately

Commentary by Pete Haug | FāVS News

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I’ve been tracking environmental issues for more than six decades. Centuries before I was born, Thomas Malthus warned that human exponential growth would impact resources. Some heeded his warning. Many economists disregarded it. Technological optimists pushed back, emphasizing instead “human creativity expressed through markets.”

Markets. Adam Smith’s invisible hand, “unseen forces” moving free-market economies, has elevated health, welfare and lifestyles of unguessed billions, although often on the backs of other, oppressed billions. Examples abound beyond the slavery in our new nation, “conceived in liberty.” Each July 4th we celebrate that conception, crafted by landed white male slaveholders.

When I was young, “billionaire” was rarely heard. Today Forbes’s list, “Richest people in the World,” contains only the top 500 billionaires. The richest controls $250 billion. Other billions — human billions —in Africa, Asia and elsewhere, including impoverished pockets of America, have little or no access to clean water, basic health care and even, for many, food. The invisible hand has swept them from our consciousness. We don’t care, or even know.

How Can I Stop or Minimize the Invisible Hand?

If we know, we shrug: “Yes, but what can I do?” It’s a valid question. Some reading this are themselves marginalized. Those of us higher on the socioeconomic ladder can pay more attention. We can try to help in ways small and larger.

We look beyond our social circles into other neighborhoods. We recognize Earth as a single country, all humanity our fellow citizens. Humankind now experiences unprecedented changes in what once was stable: our climate. International headlines this past month have broadcast variations of “the hottest days on Earth.”

This is not unexpected. Thirty-five years ago the collaborative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) formed to coordinate climate research among 195 member governments. During its early years, I was unaware of the IPCC. In 2014, after 11 years in China, I began trying to understand and share this growing threat to humankind.

The Invisible Hand Flouts Warnings.

 A 1970 New York Times article explains the “Friedman Doctrine: The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits.” At its essence, “A company has no social responsibility to the public or society; its only responsibility is to its shareholders.”

The invisible hand operates unencumbered. Earth warms, fueled by greed. The hand ignores environmental and human costs. Earth is not a shareholder.

In 1856, Eunice Foote was the first to report the warming effect of carbon. Big Oil caught up in 1977, when Exxon researchers “warned company executives that carbon dioxide was increasing in the atmosphere and that the burning of fossil fuels was to blame.” Exxon’s bottom line burgeons unabated, rewarding shareholders. But the hand’s invisibility cloak may be shredding. Emperor Oil has no clothes.

Capitalism produced unprecedented wealth and well-being for much of the developed world, via social and governmental infrastructures, at little cost to those benefiting most. Well-paid industry lobbyists hobnob with influencers to attain legislative and regulatory advantages, often at the expense of ordinary citizens. Capitalism has power for good, evil and much in between.

For half a century the pesticide industry assaulted truth and the person who reported it. In 2012, New Scientist reported, “The 50-year-old campaign against Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring still distorts environmental debates.” Similar stories are easily found about tobacco, pharmaceutical and other industries.

Limits of Moderation

In the 19th century, Baha’u’llah warned against transgressing “the limits of moderation:”

The civilization, so often vaunted by the learned exponents of arts and sciences, will, if allowed to overleap the bounds of moderation, bring great evil upon men … If carried to excess, civilization will prove as prolific a source of evil as it had been of goodness when kept within the restraints of moderation. Meditate on this, O people, and be not of them that wander distraught in the wilderness of error. The day is approaching when its flame will devour the cities, when the Tongue of Grandeur will proclaim: “The Kingdom is God’s, the Almighty, the All-Praised!”

None of Us Is as Smart as All of Us

In 1854, Chief Seattle foresaw a dire future for his people under the White man’s treaty: “the end of living and the beginning of survival.” Is this what humanity faces? Can we counter forces destroying the earth that sustains us?

Perhaps we need a global treaty mandating cooperation among disparate interests. None of us is as smart as all of us, yet our collective insights and expertise can generate environmentally friendly solutions.

We can draw on the better angels of our nature to redirect the invisible hand. We can include all real costs: human, social, environmental and much more. We can elevate discourse, consult about how the invisible hand might support a society just and equitable for its global shareholders: all humankind.

It’s not too late to follow conservationist Aldo Leopold’s advice: “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” We must tinker intelligently and compassionately.

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Lynn Kaylor

I wish I could share your optimism that a global treaty would work with a humanity that draws “upon the better angels of our nature.” But treaties never taught people anything and are too readily broken. A profound inner change is prerequisite to making any treaty stick. From the dawn of what’s popularly called, “civilization”, strongly manifest in religious and philosophical battles, higher ethics and morality have battled against a zeitgeist that glorifies a mad rush for power, prestige, and prosperity. The latter has manifest in the “invisible hand” of which you speak. It has always been the few who cared about the former. You acknowledged how proponents of that “invisible hand” scoff repeatedly at the idea of a higher ethics that looks beyond shareholder profit and actually cares for the planet. I’ve seen it too. Too often, I found it manifest in staunchly religious families who easily support the breaking of treaties, the breaking of people, and even the breaking of nature itself; falsely claiming that it’s “for the greater benefit of all” while hiding selfish ambitions. We cannot draw upon the “better angels of our nature” without recognizing and laying aside innate inclinations to feed inner bullies, hoarders, and gross skeptics that refuse to see any reality beyond a grossly temporal physicality to which we owe only a fleeting allegiance. We could build a heaven on Earth, but have too often given up that possibility in obsession over a destructive sort of apocalypse we bring upon ourselves, surreptitiously, and now in our own lifetimes. I ask you, then, as I ask of all: have you found an 11th hour answer to this perennial problem that leads to the moderation of which Baha’u’llah spoke? Or is the solution you seek only another sectarian claim behind which yet another set of ambitious religious leaders seek their own empire of control like what has manifest for centuries? I’ve seen again and again the claim, “That’s not my church,” or “That’s not my community,” only to quickly understand that to submit to their path will only make me deceive myself all over again, leading back to exploitation of myself, of others, and of natural resources.

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