You are here

It is socially responsible to be socially irresponsible

Tigerquoll asks in comment in response to story "Copenhagen's shotgun wedding - what did participants honestly expect?" of 17 Dec 10:

“Tim, are you suggesting that individuals are only responsible for our environmental problems on a collective basis?”

Indeed I am, more or less. We are of course responsible for our decisions even when we opt for collective solutions. But collective solutions dwarf individual ones. As Derrick Jensen remarked, in what was in my judgment the best article written in 2009, “Forget Fewer Showers”, if Americans did all the things that Al Gore recommended, it would still account for a saving of only 22% of the country’s energy consumption. A saving that would soon be wiped out by more growth. As the Stockholm Environmental Institute found, just one immigrant will erase 85 years of responsible recycling. The CBC boasted that thanks to its encouragement, 12,000 Canadians decided to park their cars by year’s end. But one annual cohort of immigrants put 150,000 new cars on the road. We cannot consume or conserve our way to sustainability by self-flagellating frugality. The Amish are a case history of that. With all of their Spartan living habits, with 5-7 children per couple, their total consumption is right up there with the rest of America. Ditto the Hutterites in Canada. The craze to “go green” is essentially a cosmetic exercise in fake change. A public relations exercise to be compared with the campaign by Canadian and American governments in the Second World War to induce citizens to turn in bicycle inner tubes and bathroom fixtures to aid the war effort. The slogan was “Turn in your scraps to fight the Japs.” My mother recalled that Canadians even turned in the silver paper that covered chocolate bars so that the RCAF and RAF could use it to confuse German radar. But this kind of public contribution represented a hugely trivial portion of war production. But hey, the public mood was mobilized to do what really helped—purchase war bonds.

We can’t consume our way, or save our way, to sustainability. We don’t need more ‘green’ consumers but fewer consumers. It is in our sadly diminishing role as citizens, not as responsible consumers, that we can be effective. The Green mantra is best summed up by the title that Harry Harrison gave to the book upon which the cult classic “Solyent Green” was based. “Move over! Move over!” Keep moving over to make way for more and more people. Keep cutting your personal consumption to make room for more consumers. I will no longer play this game. I will keep my footprint right where it is. No, I will do my best to increase it—save procreate.

It is my contention that in the present context, it is socially responsible to be socially irresponsible. Let me be clear. I am not an environmentalist. I am an eco-Malthusian. There is a difference. An environmentalist attempts to manage the environment to accommodate population growth. But an eco-Malthusian attempts to manage population growth to accommodate the environment. Environmentalists are growth-managers. And the growth-management industry is a branch plant of growthism. Smart growth is growth. Managed growth is growth. And growth-managers are growthists. Those who say that growth management buys time to organize a stand against growth are intellectually dishonest, for the pace and momentum of growth feeds off smart or managed growth because it blunts the worst manifestations of growth and thereby anaesthetizes the population. Growth is made tidy but beneath the aesthetics the ecological impact of growth intensifies. When lands are set aside for nature reserves or greenbelts, development intensifies outside its boundaries, where most species actually live, until it spills over into these sacrosanct areas when development pressures have no where to go. The call for smart growth and conservation, seen in this light, is nothing more than a decoy to draw the time, money and energy of environmentalists away from the root cause---the system of economic growth. I am not a growth-manager but a growth-stopper, and more than that, a "de-growth" activist. My objective is not to stabilize the population or steady the economy, but to shrink it.

It seems to me that a population crash of epic proportions is at hand. Billions upon billions will die. The only question is, when , and will enough of humanity survive to serve as a foundation for a future sustainable society? If we are to survive as a species, it is critical that in the mad and desperate scramble for scarce resources , we don’t take down biodiversity and its services with us, for without that, we’re done. When between 100 to 200 species a day is dying from human expansion, it should be obvious that the sooner our civilization collapses, the better the prospects for our own species. Admittedly that sounds perverse. Six and half billion human beings will have to die so that humanity can survive? I am afraid that that is exactly my argument.

Given this imperative, what then is my obligation? To mitigate the impact of growth? To promote veganism , smart growth and urban densification? To bike to work, to separate my garbage , and conserve water? To make growthism work a while longer by blunting its impacts, to protract the agony of the planet and postpone the collapse of the system? Or rather, is it not to accelerate the timetable of the collapse? Should I not rather mix my garbage so that governments can only limit and reduce the number of land-fillers? Should I not waste more water so that the only option is to stop issuing more building permits? Should I not compromise my health by shoving as much meat down my gullet as possible in order to prevent the more efficient use of land that would feed even more people-breeders? Should I not want to stress the system to the point that it can no longer grow? Don’t we need all the limiting factors we can get? Bring on the shortages now. Would living frugally and “responsibly” accomplish this goal? If we were Allied prisoners in a German POW camp, how absurd would it be if we agreed to comply with the wishes of the Camp Commandant if he requested that we turn off our lights and lower our food rations so that the Reich could access more resources to continue their war effort? The war that growthists are waging is on the environment, and it is a war that they are winning. Is it not my duty to sabotage the war effort?

For three decades I have told to “live simply so that others will simply live”. That is the point. I don’t want more to live. Simply or otherwise. I want to crash the system ASAP. To repeat, I am not a growth manager. I am a growth-stopper. I am not a reformer, I am a revolutionary who will choose the least inhumane of effective solutions. Show me that terrorism works and I will sign up as a terrorist. But historically, it seldom does. So for the time being I will contribute to anti-growth political actions and for the sake of a symbolic gesture of a trivial scale, be passively non-cooperative in re-using, recycling and conservation.

As Derrick Jensen said in his Premise #7 in “Endgame”, “The longer we wait for civilization to crash---or the longer we wait before we bring it down---the messier the crash will be, and the worst things will be for those human and nonhumans who live during it and for those who come after.”
Tim Murray
January 3/09

PS Interested readers can refer to my “Brown Living Tips” of 12&nbspFeb 09 as enumerated in my Canadian blog. Numerous suggestions are made to sabotage the system. For example, as tourism is a major engine for growth, according the studies of Albert Saiz, you can set up a Visitor “disinformation” booth to confuse and confound tourists with misleading maps and directions. Or use a civil service manual to train locals to be surly and inhospitable. You can drive an “unwelcome wagon” that visits a prospective resident and heaps scorn upon him. If he is a fundamentalist Christian you can persuade him that you are just one of a thriving gay community. If he is gay, you can persuade him that you are just one of hundreds of homophobes. Or you can post ads in foreign countries to the effect that you r country is not a very pleasant place to visit or live. (eg. “Come to Canada and freeze your ass in the winter and be eaten alive by black flies in the summer”.) You can set up a “Woman Seeking Man” or “Man Seeking Woman” international personals website replete with the most repulsive examples of humanity that you can find who evidence every trait of social ineptitude and misanthropy that you can imagine. The message being, Australia or Canada is not the place to go looking for a mate. I will offer my own bio in that regard if you want. And teenagers can be bombarded with videos that show how awful it is to be burdened with a newborn. You get the idea.


I think Tim is wrong in two regards here:

1. To preclude any possibility of humankind can avoid catastrophe through collective political action; and

2. To assume that limiting personal consumption cannot contribute to saving our biosphere;

Of course, like Tim, I reject the suggestion that limiting personal consumption is a substitute for stabilising population.

The bizare irony of the situation in Queensland, Australia is that those, who are exhorting us to limit our personal consumption of water, power and consumption etc., are doing so in order that they can bring about circumstances that allow them to increase their own wealth through property speculation, housing development and other economic activities that would otherwise be entirely unnecessary.

So, in effect, they are perversely demanding that we all limit our own consumption in order that they can increase theirs. I have written of this in the articles "Queensland's pursuit of population growth is a Ponzi scheme" of 20 Aug 09 and "How the growth lobby threatens Australia's future" of 24 Jan 09.

Nevertheless, just because these unconscionable creeps are attempting to limit our consumption as a means to ultimately increase their own capacity to rape the environment, it doesn't automatically follow that limiting personal consumption is not one of a number of means that will be necessary to halt humankind's harm to the environment.

Of course, the most vital component is limiting population, as Tim rightly argues, but let's not forget that a lot of horrific damage has been done in the past when the earth's population was much less and much more could still occur in future with a vastly reduced global population, particularly if that population consumes more profligately than it does now.

Also, Tim's argument, if taken to its logical conclusion, would imply that the world's rich elites, through their lavish consumption are effectively doing more than the world's poor to limit population and hence save the environment.

I suggest Tim read "How the Rich are destroying the Earth" by Hervé Kempf orignally published in 2007.

There's no guarantee that humankind will avoid catastrophe, but if we do, it can only be through conscious democratic political choice and through breaking the stranglehold the wealthy elites have over the world's political institutions.

Individual action alone, whether by increasing or decreasing our personal consumption, is a guaranteed dead end.

From the beginning my mission was simply to put the "P" back into the IPAT equation---not to delete the "A" . Reducing our per capita consumption (and waste) is as integral to sustainability as a reduction in population. But in the absence of a steady state model, any reductions in personal consumption or waste are invitation to more growth. Move over and squeeze closer, make due with less----and free up space and resources for the flood of newcomers. Morever, exhorting people to cut back consumption is futile. As Monbiot said, you don't see many mobs rioting for austerity. A 2006 Dyskos poll in Sweden, one of the most affluent and environmentally concious nations in the world, was revealing. 60% Swedes responded that they would make NO material sacrifices to fight global warming. And I can attest that Canadians resented war-time rationing and complied with government mandated privations only under the duress of law. What forced the government's hand was a crisis. And the crisis of skyrocketing oil prices and resource shortages will be what forces per capita consumption and waste down again. The question is not, "can limiting personal consumption help save our biosphere", but "WHEN can limiting personal consumption help save our biosphere'? It can only do so when a crisis has brought the growth-economy to its knees and a new economic system is put in its place. When and if that happens, I will be the first to advocate any efficency or conservation effort that must be its constituent part. The political fault line then is, are you going to help hasten the crisis or are you going to work to postpone it? Reform or revolution----that was the issue a century ago and it is the issue again today. The sooner the collapse, the more that can be salvaged. In the meantime your green living habits are just buying time for the system to continue on its rampage.

Ours is a difference of tactics, not objectives. And even then, we both put a premium on collective action and agree that individual actions are a dead end. On that scoreboard, you are ahead of me. You run for office and force growthists to face your questions. So far, my "activity" consists of writing---a self-indulgent exercise in theraputic catharsis. We don't need words, we need action. Fewer writers and more activists.

Post script, re. Herve
White mea culpas do not suffice for an analysis or a solution. Focusing on the greed of the affuent 20% does not absolve the poorest 80% of responsibility . I can only echo the observation of Madeline Weld, President of the Population Institute of Canada: The bottom billion of the world's population has caused as much environmental damage as the top billion----only enviromental damage of a different kind. In the blame game, there is enough to go around.