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That we engage in tactics of diversion, avoidance, and denial has been documented extensively on these pages. But as if our natural tendency to stick our heads in the sand wasn’t bad enough, the global recession further undermines our confidence. And when we lack self-confidence, facing up to the immense challenge that climate change represents is made all the more difficult.
One of the trickiest aspects of getting to grips with climate change is acknowledging that some of our beliefs about the world – say, for example, that private car ownership should be encouraged because it enhances personal freedom – might have to be reconsidered.
[Situationist Contributor] Geoffrey Cohen . . . has demonstrated that when people feel threatened or lack confidence they are less receptive to evidence that challenges their existing beliefs. In a study involving opinions about capital punishment, people reacted defensively when their beliefs were challenged, and new evidence failed to alter their existing opinions. But when the participants in the study were made to feel good about themselves – when their self-confidence was enhanced – they were more willing to take on board new evidence and reconsider their beliefs.
Climate change challenges us all to think differently and question our assumptions. The last thing we need is financial uncertainty to unsteady our nerves. But the doctrine of continual economic growth requires great risks to be taken in the hope that great gains will be achieved. Can we get to grips with climate change within an economic system that demands we live life on the edge?
Herman Daly, a former economist at the World Bank, has proposed a radically different system – a steady state economy. Rejecting the assumption that a market-based economy must continually grow, a steady state economy starts from the position that any economy will be constrained by the finite limits of the earth’s ecosystems. Noting that the earth is in a naturally steady state (that is, its natural systems are not expanding) Daly suggests that a steady state economy should allow qualitative development but not quantitative growth. According to Daly: “Growth is more of the same stuff; development is the same amount of better stuff.”
While the quality of life of millions of people in the developing world is fundamentally contingent on increasing their financial wealth, the developed nations have stormed past the point at which there is any correlation between additional wealth and happiness. Certainly, this masks gross inequalities in per capita income but as a nation we have more money than we need. Should we keep on getting richer? Or should development take priority over growth?
Daly proposes that a steady state economy means a global redistribution of wealth and a fundamental revaluation of what constitutes ‘value.’ But as well as its incredible potential for social transformation, a steady state economy removes the instability of a system of perpetual growth. It both requires and ensures that we live within our psychological and ecological means.
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To read tbe entire article, click op-ed. For some related Situationist posts, see “Jeffrey Sachs on Our Situation – Part V,” “The Situation of Climate Change,” “The Need for a Situationist Morality,” “The Heat is On,” and “Captured Science.”