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Research & Thoughts

Environmental Philosophy #1

"Nature is a life support system that wastes nothing, that requires no resupply, and that humans already belong to, which is why scientists have long tried to recreate it for long-duration space missions." Jessica Camille Aguirre, "Another Green World," Harper's, February 2022, page 37.

 

Which has precedence, human rights or Nature's rights? The answer must involve which of the two can survive without the other. Obviously, since humans try to recreate it, we know the answer. That's why the Sierra Club went after Disney for trying to build in a wilderness. If you're going to build a new complex, build where there's already concrete and abandoned buildings, rather than tearing down more of Nature. There are always vacant lots. Vacant parts of town. Rundown parts of town that humanity has abandoned. Think about what Nature abandons. Nothing. In fact, Nature will try to take back what was taken from Her.

 

The trick is to believe we're hurting Nature to the point where it appears there's no return. She becomes unable to take back, or reclaim from the damage we do to Her. Yes, I capitalize Nature because She's as much a Goddess as any God you claim to believe in. Your god will not keep you alive if Nature dies. That was the subliminal message in the recent movie, "Don't Look Up." It's not just the non-climate-change believers who will suffer from Nature's demise. And there is no better planet where we can migrate to.

 

Nature is real, but saving Her is a philosophy. We need what Nature provides but some seem to think we're above needing Her. Before humans evolved out of Nature they lived as other animals do. Yes, there is the destructive forces of Nature, but these can be referred to as a cleansingeed. Tornadoes, fires, things humans cannot control, the strong conquering the weak, cats eat bunnies type of Nature, all designed to work as part of Her harmony. We are the ones that invent meaning to everything we see, rather than just accepting Nature at face value. We invented our gods to control Nature.

 

And then as thinking humans, we thought we had the right to conquer Nature, to subjugate Her resources until we pollute and destroy ourselves by using Nature as it was not intended to be used. Digging carbon out of the ground for oil means we're using ancient animals that are meant to stay buried. Here are just two examples (the pandemic could be a third) of what we did to ourselves with our abuse of Nature:

 

The Great London Smog of 1952: They didn't even realize it was happening or how many people were dying at the time. Count is as high as 12,000, noted at one site, but varies at others. The cause was extensive burning of high-sulfur coal. I remember playing in a coal bin in our basement in the late 1950s, and today am allergic only to sulfur.

 

Japanese Minamata Disease of 1956: "Minamata disease (M. d.) is methylmercury (MeHg) poisoning that occurred in humans who ingested fish and shellfish contaminated by MeHg discharged in waste water from a chemical plant (Chisso Co. Ltd.). It was in May 1956, that M. d. was first officially "discovered" in Minamata City, south-west region of Japan's Kyushu Island."

 

I've also done research on Lyme Disease and believe chemicals used by humans have come back to bite them in the form of ticks which can walk around unaffected by the chemicals they carry. "All natural resources should be managed to benefit humans," is a plunder resource philosophy. Most of these chemicals are manmade but developed using natural ingredients not meant to be combined. Many people believe, however, that Nature is meant to be controlled, managed and contained, not protected.

 

But if we recognize that we're dead without Nature, why don't we see Nature as more important than we are? What makes us more important than all other species?

 

Well, that self-importance would be hard to answer completely here, but it relates to that idea that we understand mortality and fear death. This fear of death, of being forgotten, has lead to all this progress that's now destroying us. Kant noted, "Only rational beings have moral worth." But what rational being sees a human as more important than that without which he is dead? Instead, let's argue that instinctual species, those that don't fear death or being forgotten cannot commit a wrong. Your cat might show some intelligence, but never fears being forgotten. They may avoid pain but death is accepted.

 

Murdy says that anthropocentrism is justifiable because human beings have a special place in nature, yet Christians say we live outside of paradise because we committed sin, and only after death will we find that paradise again. I think that attitude causes more suicide than the belief in karma, actually. Why destroy the paradise here on earth? Because that's not where Christian paradise is.

 

Humans have intrinsic value because of our awareness. We can see and think about what's going on around us. We can also do something about it. But it's not easy. It means giving up ease of living; we like our plastics. I read recently how Kwik Trip is going to make you bring your own mugs for coffee. That's a step in the direction we need, but it means we all have to remember our mugs. Oh, heavens, life has just gotten harder.

 

I'm going to argue here that in order to save the planet's ecosystem and thus save ourselves, human society needs to become as egalitarian as Nature herself is. There is a reason we call Nature female; because it's the female of every species that dominates. Now you won't find that information online, because there is an incredible difference of opinion. The male appears to dominate, as there is an alpha male in a wolf pack, for example. But it's the female that they're protecting. In your own experience, which cat, the male or female, is the hunter? Which seems to be in control of the other? That's what I mean by dominance. The male is typically bigger and stronger, but in early human societies, matriarchy was the rule. Once men realized they were the ones getting them pregnant, they started to control women and thus their offspring. Try having two female cats in the same household; one needs to be dominant. It has never worked for me. If you have two males, it's a little easier, but if you add a female, one of the males will become dominant and began to mark its territory. The female, however, still rules. I had a two male, one female grouping once. She often got between them and stopped their fighting.

 

We know Nature is destructive. But there's a reason rabbits reproduce so quickly. But if you want to refer to poor people as the rabbits of the world, let me hasten to remind you that humans sit outside of this ecosystem. We are an anomaly, by reason of our desire to control or alter Nature, rather than living within Her. If bunnies outstrip their environment without natural predators, their populations would crash. So would ours. But the planet's human population has been on a downswing and that's a good thing, except that now there's a movement to prevent abortion. Animals naturally abort when the environment around them dictates they won't be able to care for them. Humans have, too, since the beginning of time. Again, religious orders seem to think they have the right to change the Natural way of things.

 

There is also a growing endeavor around the world to use more sustainable products, to turn junk into stuff that has purpose again. Another good trend. Even in poorer places like Gaza, eco-friendly construction materials are being used in a tech firm called GreenCake. So it can be and is being done. What about Africa? Why don't we know more and care more about Africa? That, too, has to change to make our world more egalitarian.

 

Egalitarian means: All people are created equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities. Socialism is the economic version of this. Communalism is where the leaders are the poorest because they make sure everyone else has enough. And communism in the system we've seen where the leaders are well cared for while the rest at the same level of economic stagnation.

 

There is a very real thing call environmental racism, where the rich can afford to live in cleaner places. An EPA report indicated that ethic and racial minorities are disproportionately exposed to pollutants in air and water. They will take measures to clean it themselves, but there's only so much they can do when the pollutants come from the rich. When I lived in Green Bay, years back, I read about the efforts to lean up the PCBs in the Fox River. But at the same time, the Hmong population continued to fish there, even after the reports came out that the fish were loaded with PCBs. Asking them not to fish was like asking them to change their way of life, something those who still didn't speak English could not do, any more than hunters could see a lyme-infested tick before it bit them.

 

Pushback against climate change issues also includes those who read science skeptic sites that tell them about the cycles of the planet warming and cooling over thousands, even millions of years. (Odd that they accept this and not that the planet is more that 6,000 years old.) Of course we know this was true. We know about glacial effects, about heating and flooding and that alligators used to live in Spitsbergen where they don't anymore. No one is arguing that tornadoes and floods and fires haven't been around for a very long time. What needs to be understood is the kind of death that happens with cancer, with respiratory illness in smog, with diseases that break through from very deep underground when our carbon acts have impacts we don't like to think about, because we are used to our gas-guzzling trucks.

 

Others, like Koonin, noted that "the impact of human influence on the climate is too uncertain, and may be too small, to merit costly action to reduce fossil fuel use. Society, he says, will be able to adapt to warming." Well, I'm not sure we're doing a very good job of that. Not many have moved inland from the coastal areas yet, or out of Florida, where sinkholes suggest that state might just all sink sooner before later.

 

The environmental movements of the 1970s encountered pushback in the 1980s with the wise-use movement, saying that we can achieve a balance between natural sites with need for jobs, energy, food and tourist sites. Sure, maybe. But just who, exactly, is making that determination? Capitalists? Those who view Nature as only resources to exploit? We heard during Trump's administration that all national parks should be opened up to get at those resources. What happened? I'll save that for the next article.

 

My belief is that, in order to save the planet, we have to apply the socialist approach to egalitize (my word) human livelihood. But how would that work? For one, if everyone has equal access to clean surroundings, water, and decent food, will they be more willing to work and do their share? Now I don't intend to go all "imagine no possessions" here, but think about it. Until the global job and pay rates become equalized, where there's no more scrambling to make a living, we won't see the environmental changes to the degree that are being called for today.

 

When I first moved to Madison, alone, to work a $15 per hour job back in 2015, I moved into a low rent district for affordability. My apartment building had two other whites, students, and then they moved out. I was now in an all-black apartment building. The only problem I ever had there, compared to the one I had to move to in 2017, was the amount of litter in the parking lot. That indicates lack of caring due to lack of equality. If you care about where you are, you show that, or your landlords, at least, demand that respect. On the plus side, no one complained about my cat running up and down the stairs like they did at the 2017 apartment; but in their defense, by that time I had two cats running up and down the stairs. They were not in the least intimidating; they were mousers and kept the area free of varmints, but that didn't matter. So if I could move back to one of them, guess which one I'd choose? Where people were friendly in 2015, and liked my cats.

 

The point is that our environment is important to us only if we care about it. In the recent issue of Harper's there's a huge article about how space scientists are trying to recreate Earth's Biome so that we can live on other planets, because, and I quote: "While he doesn't consider himself a pessimist, Staats is increasingly certain that human civilization is on a path to self-destruction. Space colonization, as he sees it, is our only option."

 

Think about what that says. We're going to send humans, who are destroying this planet, into space to recreate our world somewhere else. What makes these space pioneers so sure we won't destroy that, too? What makes this so ironic is that they don't realize that saving a few people with a ton of money (ala the message in Don't Look Up) isn't near as good as saving this planet with that same ton of money. I remember making this same argument in high school way back in 1970.

 

That money would form, and they could provide the leadership on, a socialist network to save this planet. But for some people the only way the learn to care is if some disaster hits them, and even then, they don't wake up. A socialist environment, properly run, like in Denmark, works. The reason Denmark, however, is the cleanest place on the planet is because they have a closed system; limited immigration, 2% black and no national minority group, as we have with Spanish as a second language here. The U.S. is also a much bigger country and thus harder to regulate. England, too, has racist and littering problems, also with limited immigration.

 

So socialist solutions cannot be compared to socialist economic nations, but more to the race to space that should be applied right here at home, in recreating a biome out of a polluted biome.

 

You know this isn't the end of this topic, but only the beginning. I would love to develop this further and will continue to look into the issues raised here, such as who could help lead the way to egalitarian environmentalism so that our planet can be saved. I'll start with those space pioneers. I would love and welcome your thoughts.

 

Sources:

Jessica Camille Aguirre, "Another Green World," Harper's, February 2022, page 37.

Janine Di  Giovanni, "Generation Gaza," Vanity Fair, February, 2022, page 78

Xu Wanting, "Environmental Philosophy." Encyclopedia of Education for Sustainable Development,  http://www.encyclopediaesd.com/blog-1/2018/10/19/environmental-philosophy

"What Does Past Climate Change Tell us," Skepticalscience.com,  https://skepticalscience.com/climate-change-little-ice-age-medieval-warm-period.htm  

"Environmentalism and Social Change," Cliffnotes.com, studyguides/sociology.

Lakhani and Watts, 2020, "Environmental Justice Means Racial Justice," The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jun/18/environmental-justice-means-racial-justice-say-activists 

Marianne Lavelle, "A New Book Feeds Climate Doubters," Inside Climate News, https://insideclimatenews.org/news/04052021/a-new-book-feeds-climate-doubters-but-scientists-say-the-conclusions-are-misleading-and-out-of-date/ 

Barbara Polivka, "The Great London Smog of 1952," National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29596258/ 

M. Harada, "Minimata Disease," National LIbrary of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7734058/. 

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