Sunday, June 9, 2013

Practical Environmentalism: The ecology of man

      If you smell cobwebs burning, it's because I'm using part of my mind that has gone to rust. As my ability to creatively curse and shame others combined with my ability to articulate why I think someone is a fatherless burlap sack of smashed assholes, it did come at a cost. I have retained my critical thinking skills, but I have lost much of my ability to explain higher concepts. The mind, like the best of ships, suffers more from disuse than from misuse.

           One of the great fallacies of environmentalism is the desire to separate economy and ecology, especially when humans are involved. I blame the insular nature of the educational system more than anything else- low standards are a piss-poor gatekeeper when there's such a need for those who can integrate theory with reality, especially when it comes to understanding our place in the world and making decisions in the direction we go ecologically as a species. Theories abound, especially bad ones that will never work or are based on ideology rather than observed and eminently predictable reality.

Philosophy aside, we are an animal species, a simian mammal with a defined and definable ecological niche that we can fill. We have our preferred place in the food web and a slightly larger place we can inhabit on an as-needed basis within the same, just like any other simian. Our global reach, tool use and ability to both act and interact within our ecological niche with the larger ecology outside our niche is completely and utterly unremarkable. There's nothing unique about us or our behavior and impact, ecologically speaking, and this is something that is difficult for us to conceptualize. We are an animal, and our actions, lives, society, ecology and interactions with our environment is patterned and predicable when you have a basic knowledge of ecological principles. We exist under the same conditions as most any other mammal on most levels. Our ability to modify our environment to our advantage is NOT unique, nor is our ability to reduce the carrying capacity of our niche- behaving such that we lower the ability of our environment  to support us is also not unique, and more, it's predictable and very normal. It is, to be concise, the nature of ecology.
    The only place within our ecology where we are unique is our scalar ability to self-organize, but this exists only under narrow conditions. Ask an Afghani sheepherder about the dangers of nuclear proliferation. While part of our species and occupying part of our ecological niche, there will always be significant portions of the species, outliers, who will not self-organize, and realistically, probably should not for the sake of their own survival, having specialized skill and behavior attuned to survival within their own small portion of the human ecological niche.

You are not the 99%. These folks are, and they aren't going to tip over cars because you're angry that free wi-fi isn't a basic human right. 

          There is a vast and vastly unappreciated difference between ecological awareness and environmentalism. Ecological awareness requires a mathematical understanding of our place in the world, what that weirdo Thoreau referred to as the "Economy of Nature." Though I am not a fan of his misanthropic writings, the term is a good one. Understanding nature means integrating the science of economics with the study of life. When you do that, you get the science of Ecology.
         Environmentalism is a philosophy with little room for scientific method, but which, ironically, is based on cherrypicked concepts revealed through ecological research but carefully and VERY selectively applied in support of qualitative and mostly subjective concepts.My language here, while dry, doesn't do justice to the tragedy of this. Environmentalism is often presented as altruism, but let's be clear- altruism is a bloody tribal business, and is exclusive in nature, and so it goes with environmentalism.

         Economically speaking, the only environmental protections that can be applied are ones that we can afford to apply. This rule comes into effect because while humanity does impact our environment, it only becomes reasonable to care about the environment when environmental, not social factors, become limiting factors in our quantitative ecology, and here is the central point and tragedy of environmentalism. Environmentally-minded folks rarely recognize that their beliefs are generally purely qualitative, supremely self-interested, and that self-interest is OK and natural.
       By rejecting the truth of the biological basis for environmentalism (self-interest, qualitative nature and temporally non-critical- e.g., not a direct threat to life and limb at the exact moment), environmentalists lose the imperative for immediate self-organization within the species. Becoming aware and embracing the fact that environmentalism is practiced exclusively by those who can afford qualitative choices in their interactions with their environment is a central key to its' widespread acceptance as a philosophy. Falsely claiming rationality in an effort to increase the self-organized membership is doomed to failure. Ask a subsistence farmer in the Amazon if he gives a shit about using recycled toilet paper. He's got bigger problems and better shit to do with his limited time. He is not self-organizing environmentalist. He is probably more of a conservationist than you will ever be, and his ecological footprint is more sustainable than that of your 3lb Chihuahua. He does not, however, have a vested interest in your philosophy of environmentalism, which is antagonistic to his self-interest. It is hubris to claim dominion over his portion of his ecological niche because you are worried about events 100 years from now. This WILL NOT WORK without use of force, as it is antithetical to his self-interest, and to claim a right of stewardship over his self-interest while yours is in opposition becomes a moral issue, possibly with us on the wrong side.
       Let's be clear- your self-interest and his can not meet, when your interest is qualitative because you want clean air and water and a nice place for your dog to take a shit,  and his quantitative, because he can only be sure that his family has the economic security to eat for a week or so at a time. Every week is an opportunity to starve or thrive for him, while you fret that you might have to downgrade your cable if the water bill goes up any more.
          To explore that a little, it's worth inserting a scientific basis for that statement. Every plant and animal population of every species has a limiting factor. Whether it's food, disease, proximity or any other resource, every population will increase until it can increase no more, at which point something will keep the population in check through disease, famine or other means. We are unique only in our awareness of this factor, but we are not aware of the actual limit until we reach it. Until our population is at it's maximum sustainable number, it is not within our natural ability to manage the population. Oh, it can be done. Mao showed that visibly culling out 100 million or so people made self-organization possible for a wider population than had ever before, once self-interest became involved. Are environmentalists capable of Mao-like forced inclusivity to foster self-organization in environmental awareness? Absolutely, but doing so violates genetic pre-programming, and behaviors intending to circumvent this are countered by existing behavioral and biological buffers. Our species is geared specifically NOT to be limited in number until we have encountered a limiting factor within our niche. Circumventing that, or attempting to, will result in antagonism, and the very simian counter-response is equally predictable, whether we're talking men or monkeys: war. War is also biological self-organization.

 All is not lost. Creative solutions exist, and self-organization has thus far prevented humanity from mass-extinction events on several occasions. Our behavioral responses ensured survival after the Black plague, famines and global pandemics. We aren't going anywhere. Our societies will rise and fall and change, but that's going to happen regardless of our actions. We're not in bad shape. Sure, something is going to happen, whether it's pandemic or famine or another Great Leap Forward, and will reduce our population by a little or a lot. That's ecology, and the nature of animals like us. Meanwhile, I'll try to have a lot of land between me and my neighbors so I don't have to listen to them, keep my part of the world clean because I like things clean and neat, and keep my footprint small because I'm a cheap prick and like quiet, clean pretty places without a lot of people. So I bust my ass to pay for what I want, and do little things like volunteer here and there, and try to get people to understand that working for your own self-interest can be both positive and altrustic, and teaching people that will do far, far more than throwing money at people who don't care enough to know the difference between bullshit an buckwheat yet attempt to seize dominion over their fellows. Each of us lucky westerners has the ability to make small choices that improve the qualitative aspects of the world around us. We are fortunate enough to be able to afford green living and the satisfaction that can be derived from simple things like that. For me, it's worth paying more to keep plastic out of my ocean, to keep raw materials cheap by recycling, to keep the natural world as undisturbed as possible. I recognize that it's a unique luxury not available to the developing world... all the same, we are nothing if not predictable, and as standards of living rise in the developing world, our practices will be emulated because they will have momentum, and if we do choose to limit ourselves, to pay for the quality of life we want, we will provide a good example, and a lasting impact beyond our own borders, and beyond our own biomes.

1 comment:

doubletrouble said...

I... ahh...well...
Look, this post is too scienctificull & everything to comment on it at all.
But... HDT was pretty cool, but his "Crossing Moosehead in a Birch", while inspired, damn near killed me when I tried it.
Literally, as in actually.
Environmentalism is mostly crap. We (2 of us), live where we could throw every bit of refuse from our life into the woods & no one would know the difference until they dug up the site 300 years from now.
But, I'm a cheap Yankee too, so I re-use what I can, & trash the rest. All of our 'edible' waste goes into the woods- & you know what? Two WEEKS from now you would never know anything was ever there.

Pay attention to what is being done, is all I ask.