20.30, Sunday 11 Nov 2007 Link to this post
I read The Space Merchants by Pohl and Kornbluth in September. I guess it stuck in my head.
The advertising industry is the pinnacle of this society. In the book, an ad fellow has a job to convince people to colonise Venus. There is also a pro-environment, anti-consumerism terrorist organisation named 'the Consies.'
See, this makes sense. Environmentalism as it stands is conservatism - the refusal to see there might be another, better system - by another name. I say 'as it stands' because I don't see any signs that the movement has escaped being one side of this spectrum: on the one hand we can conserve our resources, and on the other we can use and risk them.
There is a third way, and that is to identify the system which generates this opposition and work to change that. For example we may see that the environmentalism debate would be rendered moot having a billion humans orbiting Jupiter and a trillion nano-scale Londons seeded and replicated over the Tharsis Bulge using solar energy and reversible computing. So we would make a risk assessment to figure out whether we want to achieve that. Maybe the polar bears and Bangladesh are worth that. You tell me.
The current dichotomy is not sustainable (ha!), and nor is the system which generates it. Environmentalism prolongs the existence of this system.
We've seen how this should be resolved with capitalism: Marx told us. The revolution must come, and indeed must be provoked by encouraging conflict (in the case of capitalism, between labour and capital by making peaceful strikes violent and so on). The sooner the revolution comes, the sooner we can get on.
Now I'm not advocating a Marxist approach to trees. But what emerged from this conflict was a world in which labour was treated differently. Granted it's one in which conglomerate control is more insidious and labour has transformed into automatic consumers, but at least it's different. At least it proves the point that just the possibility of revolution can bring about a synthesis--and, goodness, given that's happened once then maybe if it happens twice we'll be able to put the dots together and have continuous revolution instead.
So what I'm advocating is a game-changing, post-revolution environmentalism. Don't waste resources, sure. But if we're spending resources to shift the status quo - feeding pandas into a wood-chipper to send a colony to the Moon, if that's the kind of engine that we invent and that's what it takes - then I'm behind it. Otherwise we're slowly painting ourselves into a corner.
Also secretly I'm behind anything that forces the issue too, which is why I burn tyres on the roof.
(There are two hidden assumptions here: that profligate use of resources will generate proportionately greater technological advance; that happiness does not matter. I could argue that deliberately making people unhappy is what will trigger the happiness revolution which will save us all - and I do use a form of this defence to be impolite to charity beggars - but really it needs more thought.)