As the ecological crisis deepens, it’s increasingly hard to ignore. With the rising temperatures and rising sea levels, increasingly erratic weather, droughts and hurricanes, etc, there is little debate that the climate is changing. It’s primarily now a question of how to respond.
While there are still those who would prefer to deny that it’s happening or advocate a path of inaction, increasingly governments and environmental organizations are making recommendations on how to respond. A new report from a local environmental organization, the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, addresses the topic in terms of “climate resiliency.” WMEAC says that the climate will change and that Grand Rapids must prepare. Temperatures will increase by 2.6% by 2022 and 8.5% by 2042 and precipitation will increase in the winter and spring (while summers will get drier). This will have impacts on agriculture, air quality, ecosystems, etc. However, the responses offered by WMEAC are woefully inadequate. More green buildings, more splash pads, increased energy efficiency, more laws and green energy quotas, coordination between service agencies, etc are just band-aids. They don’t address the underlying problems.
WMEAC perhaps says it best when they write: “The way in which our civilization, community, and individual buildings are built is a large contributor to climate change.” While they may are commenting specifically on construction of buildings, the statement can be extended to all aspects of civilization. It is the civilization that they are seeking to preserve that is causing global warming. The complex industrial technological system that has been created is premised on destruction. Everything is connected via a dense overlapping web that needs each other part to exist. For example, the much touted green buildings wouldn’t exist without the railroads to transport the materials. You can’t have your Grand Rapids Tree Map app without the infrastructure that is driving the deforestation.
In one of our favorite zines on the topic, “The Climate is Changing” (PDF version), Crimethinc argues that if people really took global warming seriously, we’d be talking about a lot more than more parks, more political positions dealing with climate change, and an increase in the urban tree canopy:
If we really believed what scientists are telling us about global warming, the fire engines of every fire department would sound their sirens and race to the nearest factory to extinguish its furnaces. Every high school student would run to the thermostat of every classroom, turn it off, and tear it out of the wall, then hit the parking lot to slash tires. Every responsible suburban parent would don safety gloves and walk around the block pulling the electrical meters out of the utility boxes behind houses and condominiums. Every gas station attendant would press the emergency button to shut off the pumps, cut the hoses, and glue the locks on the doors; every coal and petroleum corporation would immediately set about burying their unused product where it came from—using only the muscles of their own arms, of course.
But we’re too out of touch to grasp what’s happening, let alone put a stop to it.
Those who learn about the destruction of the environment from books or the internet can’t hope to rescue anything. The decimation of the natural world has been going on around us for centuries now; it takes a particularly bourgeois brand of blindness to drive by felled trees, spewing smokestacks, and acres of asphalt every day without noticing that anything is happening until it shows up in the newspaper. People for whom reality is composed of news articles, rather than the world they see and hear and smell, are bound to destroy everything they touch. That alienation is the root of the problem; the devastation of the environment simply follows from it.
When profit margins are more real than living things, when weather patterns are more real than refugees fleeing hurricanes, when emissions cap agreements are more real than new developments in our own neighborhoods, the world has already been signed over for destruction. The climate crisis isn’t an event that might happen, looming into view ahead; it is the familiar setting of our daily lives. Deforestation isn’t just taking place in national forests or foreign jungles; it is as real at every strip mall in Ohio as it is in the heart of the Amazon. The buffalo used to roam right here. Our disconnection from the land is catastrophic whether or not the sea level is rising, whether or not the desertification and famine sweeping other continents have reached us yet.
Another zine that we sometimes distribute, “Greenwashing and You!: A Primer on Green Capitalism and How to Move Towards True Sustainability,” explains how much of what is proposed by WMEAC is simply greenwashing—it won’t do anything to address the problem. All the “alternative energy” solutions rely on inherently destructive industrial infrastructure and just sidestep the problem rather than addressing it head-on. For example, natural gas may generate less emissions than burning oil, but what if the transition is fueled by fracking? Solar energy may be “cleaner,” but what about the required plastics and metals? How are wind turbines going to be transported? A massive and destructive industrial system—the very system that is causing global warming—is needed for all of these things. Green technology is a false promise.
Civilization will never be sustainable. Rather than talking to politicians, energy companies, and builders, we might consider looking towards the indigenous peoples who have managed to live in the Grand Rapids area for thousands of years. They seemed to get along just fine.