My upcoming book, Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity, has a simple message: that the ultimate solution to our global ecological crisis lies in transforming our thought at a fundamental level. We must conceive of ourselves as ecological, interdependent and integrated with the processes and creatures that make up all the ecosystems of the Earth.
Yet a court case unfolding in the Netherlands seems to suggest that I ask too much, and that we can solve the climate crisis with only our human concerns and laws in mind.
Urgenda is a not-for-profit organization in the Netherlands that advocates for environmental sustainability and combatting climate change. The organization brought a legal suit against the Dutch government that its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets were insufficient to contribute to Holland’s proper share in mitigating ongoing climate change processes.
|A publicity still from the documentary Climate Refugees,
of which there are many today, though they're rarely
called such in most reporting of their crises.
The reason Urgenda brought the grievance forward, however, didn’t involve direct harm to the environment at all. The organization argued that such a failure would constitute a human rights abuse on a massive scale, because of the destruction through rising sea levels and extreme weather events that warming the Earth’s climate greater than 2ºC would cause.
And the argument worked! The high court of the Netherlands decided against the government, demanding that they bring their emission reductions targets in line with the international standard to stabilize the planet’s global average temperature.
The government couldn’t even resort to the usual defence that it was too small to be effective on its own, as the court said that the Dutch government (and by implication, every government) had an obligation to take the lead on emissions. Passing the buck is not only illegal, but also immoral.
A possible corollary of this ruling is that other environmental harms can be ruled illegal on human rights grounds, if they can be proven to constitute similar affronts to human rights.
So if appeal to human rights is all that’s necessary to force the hand of governments and corporations on combatting climate change and other environmental destruction, then my book’s framework for activism – transforming the self-conception of each human along ecological lines – seems to be over the top. Simply appealing to the harm ecological destruction and planet-wide climate change would cause humans alone is all you need.
|Gilles Deleuze thought that what mattered
for an idea was not that it was correct and
its contraries wrong, but that it was
interesting. And a lot of different ideas
can be interesting.
Ethical transformation of human civilization, the activism framework of my book, is actually incredibly difficult. It requires starting a thought process in every individual alive that would see them overturn many of their foundational beliefs about the nature of humanity, Earth, existence generally, and their own purpose in life.
Overturning these bedrock beliefs would replace them with a general conception of their own life and existence as ecological. Each of us would understand ourselves and everything else in the universe as integrated in its existence and interdependent in maintaining all our lives and happiness.
Each of our perspectives would be unique to our own proclivities and circumstances. Just as are the beliefs of every, for example, democrat, even though they all have their individual opinions and ideas. Yet each individual vision would understand prosperity no longer as individual enrichment, but as mutually beneficial symbiosis.
The purpose of this new vision of humanity, and the activism that would transform people’s vision of themselves along its general framework, isn’t in short-term legislative victories to force immediate action on ecological health and climate change. It’s to solidify in humanity an attitude that would prevent us from making the same mistakes again in industry and technology that got us into this mess, once enough time had passed since the crisis to forget it.
We can fight climate change in the name of human rights, safety, and prosperity now. We can redefine humanity’s self-conception and relationship with our ecologies to make sure that, if we survive it, we’ll never precipitate another Great Extinction again.
My book is literally about how, beyond the ecological crisis, we secure the future of humanity.