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Ansvar väger tyngre än frihet - Responsibility trumps liberty

20 juli 2020

Skepticism about growth and clean energy is not anti-humanistic

Jacobin recently published a kind of meta-review of Michael Moore's latest film "Planet of the Humans", portraying it as anti-growth, anti-progressive, anti-working class, Malthusian, anti-humanistic and even anti-human.

The author - with his own agenda - actually agrees with much of the film's content but distorts its underlying message and puts his own ideological spin on the facts.

My main objections to the text are the following.

First of all, there is no connection between the terms: skepticism about the economic growth paradigm or about the feasibility of truly clean energy production does not mean or imply anti-progressiveness, anti-humanism or worse. That's just hyperbole.

Second, there are good reasons to be skeptical about growth (as currently defined) and about de-coupling. There are as yet no convincing case for the possibility of de-coupling, let alone for it actually materializing. Even if it were theoretically possible, the sensible thing to do at the moment is to act on the presumption that it cannot be counted on.

Third, there are no convincing life-cycle analyses that show that truly clean energy can be self-sustaining. (This includes nuclear power.) Until it is, arguing for increasing energy consumption is irresponsible. That is not to say that nuclear power should not be a part of current efforts to reduce climate change.

Fourth, the fact that more people using more energy equals higher energy demand is axiomatic. As long as energy production and consumption entails even the slightest bit of environmental degradation, acknowledging that this is a problem is not in itself an anti-human sentiment.

Fifth, there is no reason to equate the terms "progressive" and "techno-optimist". We should be socially progressive, first and foremost. That may or may not include deployment of technology. Laissez-faire in the hopes of finding a Philosopher's Stone powerful enough to save us is irresponsible.

Sixth, there is a lot more to humanism than the utilitarian goal of populating the universe, or even the Earth, with infinitely many infinitely blissful centers of consciousness.

Seventh, there is no necessary connection between consumption and well-being (beyond a certain baseline).

So, to rewrite the text, I would say that yes, we should certainly make sure that efforts to reduce our environmental impact does not disproportionately impact poor people. Especially since they are not the problem. On the contrary, we should prioritize increasing their well-being, and whatever carbon-budget we decide on should be used primarily for this purpose even if that means tighter budgets for everyone else. Development and deployment of technology should focus on raising standards of living for the least well-off with little or no increase in environmental degradation.

At the same time, people who are reasonably well-off already - and rich people and corporations in particular - must decrease their energy-and-material use drastically and rapidly.

As much as possible, connections between well-being and material-and-energy use must be dissolved. This is where social (and sometimes technological) progress should operate.


See also: Planet of the Humans (in Swedish) and Ekofascism?

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