Kindergarten Ethics and Disasters No Longer Waiting to Happen

Sharon April 29th, 2008

Want to know how the world ends (ok, not ends, but changes in a really hideous way)? 

 Here’s what Russia says about climate emissions

“Energy must not be a barrier to our comfort. Our emerging middle class… demands lots of energy and it is our job to ensure comfortable supply,” he said.

“We don’t plan to limit the use of fuel for our industries. We don’t think this would be right,” he said, referring to the current round of Kyoto.

Asked if Russia would resist capping the use of fossil fuels, which emit the planet-warming gas carbon dioxide when burned, under a new climate deal after 2012, he said:”In the foreseeable future, this will not be our model, no.”

He pointed out that the United States had also declined to impose emissions caps.

Yup, as long as we’re not going to do shit about cutting our emissions, no one else is either. India made the same case - they’re poorer than we are.  They already use less.  Why, the nations ask, should they stop making emissions when the US won’t?  And meanwhile, the North Pole may lose its ice this summer, and the methane is bubbling out, because America cares about global warming - but not enough.

And this, I fear is what will destroy us all - the simple inability we have to stop lying to ourselves.

What do I mean by lying?  Well, the lie is that we’re special.  And don’t think I’m indicting anyone here but myself - despite my Rioting efforts, I don’t consume a fully fair share of the world’s resources.  The thing is, I need some more to live within the society I live in - I really do need them.   People might well take my kids away if I gave up too much more - it has been known to happen.  And, of course, I couldn’t make my living or do this without them right now.

 But that doesn’t change the fact that other people need what I use  too - or need me not to use so much.  So the lie is this - that others won’t mind if we use just a little extra.  After all, we’re not used to doing without.  Those people in India and Ecuador and Egypt, they are.  They are used to just eating rice, just rice - so it doesn’t matter if I have to take the kids to basketball and the all of my trips there and back use as much grain as a person would eat in a month.  After all, I *need* it.  And even though no rational person would ever suggest that my kids’ need to play basketball is greater than someone in Bangladesh’s need to eat and not drown in rising seas, we still do the math that way.  Even me sometimes.

I’m trying though.  I really am.  The Riot for Austerity helps.  The reminders of hunger and misery help.  And kindergarten ethics helps.  I don’t need to come up with a perfect definition of sustainable, or figure out every detail to know this - we have 6.6 billion people on the planet.  There is enough to go around - enough food, enough energy.  But the way it goes around changes as there are more of us - we have to get better at living together.  The old rule of kindergarten is this - you can’t have it unless there’s enough for everyone to have a fair share.

Believe it or not, that’s pretty much sufficient.  You can’t have it unless there’s enough to around - and if you do have some, you have to leave enough for everyone else to have their share.  And what’s really funny is that you can have a lot with that - one ton of carbon annually, for example, would give you wealth beyond the dreams of avarice by the standards of most people who live today - just not us.  We’re inured to plenty by excess.

With kindergarten ethics there’s enough food for every person in the world to eat to fullness, enough water to have everyone drink their fill and still a bit more to grow good things.  There are fish enough in the ocean for each of us to celebrate and enjoy a lobster or fish dinner once in a while.  There’s enough oil in the wells for us to visit beloved family and friends on occasion, and hold a huge family reunion feast.  There are enough trees for each of us to sit in the shade - all 6.6 billion.  There’s enough wealth for all of us to have clothes enough and shoes and a little house.  There’s enough space for all of us to have public parks and most of us to have a little garden somewhere.  There’s enough.  Not as much as you or I might want, having gotten accustomed to more, but enough to make people in Nigeria cry out with delight.  Enough to impress your own great-grandparents.  And if we don’t honestly believe that the only lives worth living are our own - and thus that no one else’s life is worth valuing - enough for us and our posterity.

The US cutting back its emissions might not work on China, Russia or India.  But there is truly no hope if we don’t decide to cut our emissions - and radically.   The elevator is going down, and fast.  Someone can either stop the fucking staring contest and notice what is going on, or we’re all going to the basement, which is an ugly, scary place to be.

 I’m hoping I have a frost tonight. I live in rural upstate New York, and at this point my last frost date looks to be April 13.  Now if you don’t live around here, maybe you don’t know, but my normal last frost date is May 22.  It is hard, of course, to make any generalizations over a couple of years about new normals, but the last three years have had last spring frosts on April 30, May 6 and now maybe April 13.   Don’t get me wrong, I want to plant tomatoes out in April, I really do.  I just don’t like how this is going.  I like my climate, my seasons.  Most of all, I like knowing what I’m leaving my children.  And on some level, even the idiots who lead governments know that Russian and Indian and American children will all inherit the same future.  They just don’t care enough.


15 Responses to “Kindergarten Ethics and Disasters No Longer Waiting to Happen”

  1. Christina says:

    Kindergarten ethics. So simple. So clever. How come it is so difficult to understand? (yes, it’s a rethoric question, but isshould be asked anyway)

  2. karen says:

    Yes, another normal day begins for me and my family but for me there is nothing normal about it.
    I am gardening for my life and waiting for the next shoe to drop. When I go outside I plan on looking up at the sky and enjoying a moment of being alive then on to doing what I can do in this [email protected]#! up world.

  3. Vegan says:

    Yeah, it looks like the powerdown scenario won’t be happening, especially in Europe, China and the US. Instead, we’re witnessing the “last one standing” scenario as described by Richard Heinberg.

    It’s disgusting and depressing to see our worse fears come true.

    We must be strong. We must continue the building of lifeboats.


  4. dewey says:

    A really fine piece, Sharon. Thanks.

  5. Ani says:

    Well the prediction up here is for snow tonight and tomorrow night- which doesn’t bode well for the poor blooming apricots nor all the other fruit with swollen flower buds-but they are just responding to the freaky weird heat spell we just had- weather more typical for June than April, which prompted them all to get ready to bloom….. may very well lose the fruit again this year- didn’t used to be a problem but now who knows….

    You know I asked my students in both colleges at which I teach to calculate their footprints- and to think about the question of whether footprints should be equitably divided amongst all of the world- so every American gets the same footprint allotment as someone in Africa or India or Sweden . They all decided that no- even though that seemed on the surface to be fair it wasn’t a good idea as Americans would not go for it and were used to having so much more and thus needed higher footprint allocations. They had all sorts of reasons as to why this was acceptable including the notion that a developed country had higher resource needs than a developing one, but basically they were accepting of the idea that to require Americans to sacrifice to such a great extent in order to equitably share the world’s resources was too great a sacrifice.

    I am guessing that just as I know all sorts of people who justify their consumptive habbits- the SUV’s, driving their kids to school instead of using the school bus, vacations in tropical locales- they all “need” to do this you know- and it’s not that I don’t justify some of what I do-be it at a lower level- but this justification would logically take place on a country basis as well-and so it is……

    And so if we all engage in this level of justification we will do nothing useful to combat climate change or deal with our energy needs- short of changing the occasional lightbulb and buying “green” stuff- and we all I think know where this will lead us.

  6. dewey says:

    Well, people in both North America and Sweden really do need to use more energy per capita (even if only wood under a drastically reduced population) because of winter heating needs. These are harsher environments - considering temperature only, not parasite loads - and we have to acknowledge the inhabitants’ need to avoid freezing in winter. Of course, that’s not the same as a “need” to have a 3000 sq. ft. detached single-family house, under-insulate it, then crank the furnace up to 68 or higher.

  7. Paula Hewitt says:

    another great post. I have often though along similar lines to Dewey. we live in the subtropics (queensland Australia)and have no heating or cooling. we have ceiling fans for the very hottest days (it can get to 40 c 104F? and humid, and in winter we simply close the windows and wear more clothes (inside the house can be as cold as 5-10 c in winter) - we dont see the need for heaters or a/c - but most people around here have both. we actually saw and ad once that said something like: beat global warming - install an airconditioner.

    I often think of our (western) ‘needs’ and how far removed from reality they are. We are coming out the other side (hopefully) of a very bad drought and our local goverment restricted water use to 140L per person per day, no outside water use and recommended 4 min showers. Oh the horror! - forget the fact that a large proportion of the worlds population struggle to have access to fresh water at all. The sooner people in the west realise that access to fresh food, fresh water, fresh air, adequate clothes and shelter are the only needs everyone has, the better.

    As for energy use - australia contributes only a small percentage of the worlds total - something which our media/government are quite proud -they just neglect to mention that per capita it’s one of the highest…..

  8. Chile says:

    I think about this unequal use of resources frequently. I remind myself of it every time I feel deprived. However, there’s not always a nice direct link between me not using as much and someone else getting enough. It’s connected, but not necessarily as neat as we’d like to think.

    Our weather here is heating up faster than usual with possible three digit (!) temps next week. Regarding fresh water, I’ve just started reading the Humanure book. He makes a good point in the very opening about how incredibly stupid it is for us to crap in purified fresh water.

  9. Wendy says:

    For the first time ever, I planted an early spring crop (usually we wait until the end of May … and I’ve always wondered why my peas wouldn’t grow ;) . I waited until the snow had melted from my garden beds, and then I planted. It still felt pretty chilly. The next week it was sunny and in the 50s and 60s - no freezing temps at night. I thought, “Arghh! My first ever potential pea crop and now it’s too hot!” We may still get a frost, but I’m feeling that the recommendation to wait until Memorial Day for any outside planting is probably changing around here as our frost date seems to be getting earlier, too.

  10. RedStateGreen says:

    Well, if I can get to 3% on natural gas and below 300% on electricity (269% and plummeting, lol), anyone can change. They just need to know it’s possible.

    Most people don’t even know they need to change, much less think their little part could help anyone.

    We had a record low temp the other day. Things are changing, and I’m not sure if it’s a good thing.

    Patty who used to be on the yahoo group

  11. Sharon says:

    Chile, you are absolutely right that there’s not a direct link between our not using things and the right people getting to them - but IMHO, there is a direct link between our using them and the right people not getting a fair share, if you know what I mean. That is, if we all stopped consuming more than our fair share, it isn’t the case that equity would magically occur, but the case for equity is at present totally undercut by the fact that we have this giant allocation we rarely question. To my mind, discussions of equity have to start with the model of some people voluntarily choosing equity, and offering it as a model.

    Dewey et al, you are right - but it is still possible to keep a fairly reasonable share - as you say, it doesn’t necessarily mean heating a whole large house, though.


  12. dewey says:

    Most of us here agree that real physical limits on resource extraction make it impossible for everyone on the planet - at present populations - to have a resource-heavy lifestyle. An extra gallon of gas I use is a gallon less that can be used by someone else. Refraining from using it can seem pointless, because it almost certainly will not go to the African who needs it to run his tractor but to the SUV driver next door. Still, if I use it, I know there’s a 100% chance the farmer will not get to use it, so I do feel that it’s moral to try.

    However, we’ve argued before about population and whether resources should be periodically re-allocated per capita without regard for relative population growth. In a world of plenty or a world of local economies, if another group outbreeds their environment they harm only themselves (unless they decide to kill off their neighbors, a la Rwanda), so you will have only sympathy for them. You might even send food aid when they face famine. In a world of scarcity where per-capita rationing or distribution is globalized, even for “resources” such as the right to produce CO2 [thereby to use most available types of energy], another group’s population increase poses a direct threat to the well-being of your group’s children, and you will be much less sympathetic.

    I would be inclined to agree that in a fair world, 300 million Americans should use the same amount of energy as 300 million Bangladeshis, outside of an extra winter-heating ration. But if a few decades down the road there were 400 million Americans and 800 million Bangladeshis, I don’t know that they should use twice the energy we did. That would advantage Bangladesh relative to the U.S. economically and militarily. [Yes, the U.S. already has excessive advantage in those areas, which I don't desire to perpetuate; I'm just using these countries as examples.] Also, assuming a fixed annual allotment of use, in this example the U.S. breeding rate would have led the next generation to have 75% as much energy per capita, but commingling the Bangladeshis means that the next generation gets only 50% as much as their parents had, which would mean real suffering. The Americans would not want their children to suffer for the shortsightedness of the Bangladeshis, any more than Bangladeshis threatened by global warming (among other environmental problems) want their children to suffer for American shortsightedness. Neither is just.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Oh good lord, shut the fuck up, you hippie.

  14. Beth says:

    Very nice. If only…

    Here on the West Coast (far North CA), we are having early warm weather, followed by killing frosts. Every fruit tree on our property bloomed, and was shortly thereafter killed by severe frost. The local farmers are currently deciding whether to declare it a disaster.

    Global warming does not always mean warmer weather. Just really messed up weather that will affect our food supply.

  15. Student says:

    Cooking a bowl of oatmeal this morning, picturing third-world children starving…I burst into tears. But I ate it. What else could I do, I asked myself. But the same thing happened over my salad at lunch. I’m finding myself eating less - which isn’t a bad thing, for several reasons - but I’m at a loss as to how to feed those children. They’re eating dirt patties in Haiti!

    I’ve been studying Peak Oil, climage change, etc., etc., for several years now - but this food crisis is getting to me…

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