This is Chapter 26 of the new WorldWatch State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible? report. It is reproduced here with permission.
The first evidence linking climate change and human emissions of carbon dioxide was painstakingly assembled in 1897 by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius. What began as an interesting but seemingly unimportant conjecture about the effect of rising carbon dioxide on temperature has turned into a flood of increasingly urgent and rigorous warnings about the rapid warming of Earth and the dire consequences of inaction. Nonetheless, the global dialogue on climate is floundering while the scientific and anecdotal evidence of rapid climate destabilization grows by the day.1
|Box 26–1. A More Sustainable Democracy
Philosophers have argued through the ages that democracy is the best form of government, and some have claimed that the deeper it is, the better. By “deeper” they mean a structure that spreads power widely, engages more people, and invites them to take a more direct role in the shaping of policy.
Most liberal (current) democracies do not meet that definition, being republican in form and thus giving most power and decision making responsibility to elected representatives. In some of these republics, democracy is even further degraded. In the United States, for instance, Supreme Court decisions over the years have established that there is essentially no difference in civic standing between individual citizens and corporations or other private interests that can and do spend billions of dollars on political advertising, lobbying, and propaganda (over $8 billion in the 2010 election cycle).
But it is not simply such distortions of democracy that compel a closer look at the benefits of deepening it. The democracies that most of the industrial world lives in have been derided by political theorist Benjamin Barber as “politics as zookeeping”—systems designed “to keep men safely apart rather than bring them fruitfully together.” In fact there are major potential advantages in bringing people fruitfully together in the political arena, not least with respect to the environmental crises that beset humanity now. Paradoxically, one of the weaknesses of liberal democracy may be not that it asks too much of its citizens but that it asks too little. Having mostly handed off all responsibility for assessing issues and setting policy to elected politicians, voters are free to indulge themselves in narrow and virulently asserted positions rather than having to come together, work to perceive the common good, and plot a course toward it.
One antidote to this is deliberation. Deliberative democracy can take many forms, but its essence, according to social scientist Adolf Gundersen, is “the process by which individuals actively confront challenges to their beliefs.” It can happen when someone reads a book and thinks about what it says, but in the public sphere more generally it means engaging in pairs or larger groups to discuss issues, compare notes, probe (not attack) one another’s assertions, and take the opportunity to evolve a personal position in the interests of forging a collective one. Deliberative democracy, in Gundersen’s words, “challenges citizens to move beyond their present beliefs, develop their ideas, and examine their values. It calls upon them to make connections, to connect more firmly and fully with the people and the world around them.” When arranged to address environmental aims, deliberative democracy “connects the people, first with each other and then with the environment they wish not simply to visit, but also to inhabit.”
Given the uneven record of democracies in educating their people into citizenship, true deliberation might be difficult to learn, especially in countries where the politics are strongly adversarial. Deliberative democracy is a “conversation,” Gundersen says, “not a series of speeches.” Conversations involve respectful listening—not just waiting to talk—as well as speaking. Yet there is an untapped hunger for it that can be released when the circumstances are conducive. And Gundersen has established through 240 hours of interviews with 46 Americans that deliberation about environmental matters “leads citizens to think of our collective pursuit of environmental ends in a more collective, long-term, holistic, and self-reflective way.” Such thinking might be the indispensable foundation for achieving anything like sustainability.
Codirector, State of the World 2013
Source: See endnote 18.
|Box 26–2. Resilience from the Bottom Up
At the dawn of the modern environmental era, in 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act required all federal agencies to “utilize a systematic, interdisciplinary approach which will insure the integrated use of the natural and social sciences and the environmental design arts in planning and in decisionmaking.” Nonetheless, the government and corporations, foundations, and nonprofit organizations still work mostly by breaking issues and problems into their parts and dealing with each in isolation. Separate agencies, departments, and organizations specialize in energy, land, food, air, water, wildlife, economy, finance, building regulations, urban policy, technology, health, and transportation as if each were unrelated to the others.
Reducing wholes to parts is the core of the modern worldview we inherited from Galileo, Bacon, and Descartes. And for a time it worked economic, scientific, and technological miracles. But the price we pay is considerable and growing fast. For one, we seldom anticipate or account for collateral costs of fragmentation or count the benefits of systems integration. We mostly focus on short-term benefits while ignoring long-term risks and vulnerabilities. Imponderables and non-priced benefits are excluded altogether. The results corrupt our politics, economics, and values, and they undermine our prospects.
Nonetheless, we administer, organize, and analyze in parts, not wholes. But in the real world there are tipping points, surprises, step-level changes, time delays, and unpredictable, high-impact events. To fathom such things requires a mind-set capable of seeing connections, systems, and patterns as well as a perspective far longer than next year’s election or an annual balance sheet. Awareness that we live in systems we can never fully comprehend and control and humility in the face of the unknown gives rise to precaution and resilient design.
One example of this approach comes from Oberlin, a small city of about 10,000 people with a poverty level of 25 percent in the center of the U.S. “Rust Belt.” It is situated in a once-prosperous industrial region sacrificed to political expediency and bad economic policy, not too far from Cleveland and Detroit. But things here are beginning to change. In 2009, Oberlin College and the city launched the Oberlin Project. It has five goals: build a sustainable economy, become climate-positive, restore a robust local farm economy supplying up to 70 percent of the city’s food, educate at all levels for sustainability, and help catalyze similar efforts across the United States at larger scales. The community is organized into seven teams, focused on economic development, education, law and policy, energy, community engagement, food and agriculture, and data analysis. The project aims for “full-spectrum sustainability,” in which each of the parts supports the resilience and prosperity of the whole community in a way that is catalytic—shifting the default setting of the city, the community, and the college to a collaborative postcheap-fossil-fuel model of resilient sustainability.
The Oberlin Project is one of a growing number of examples of integrated or full-spectrum sustainability worldwide, including the Mondragón Cooperative in Spain, the Transition Towns movement, and the Evergreen Project in Cleveland. In different ways, each is aiming to transform complex systems called cities and city-regions into sustainable, locally generated centers of prosperity, powered by efficiency and renewable energy. Each is aiming to create opportunities for good work and higher levels of worker ownership of renewably powered enterprises organized around necessities. The upshot is a global movement toward communities with the capacity to withstand outside disturbances while preserving core values and functions. In practical terms, resilience means redundancy of major functions, appropriate scale, firebreaks between critical systems, fairness, and societies that are “robust to error,” technological accidents, malice, and climate destabilization. In short, it is human systems designed in much the way that nature designs ecologies: from the bottom up.
Source: See endnote 33.
1. Svante Arrhenius, “On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground,” The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, April 1896.
2. The phrase is from James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005); Kevin A. Baumert, Timothy Herzog, and Jonathan Pershing, Navigating the Numbers: Greenhouse Gas Data and International Climate Policy (Washington, DC: World Resources Institute, 2005), p. 113.
3. Brian Barry, Why Social Justice Matters (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 2005), p. 251.
4. Thomas Homer-Dixon, The Ingenuity Gap (New York: Knopf, 2000); Mark Mazower, Governing the World (New York: Penguin, 2012), p. 424.
5. Robert Heilbroner, An Inquiry into the Human Prospect (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1980), p. 175; Robert Heilbroner, “Second Thoughts on The Human Prospect,” Challenge, May-June, 1975, p. 27.
6. Anthony Giddens, The Politics of Climate Change (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 2009), p. 96; David Rothkopf, Power, Inc: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government and the Reckoning that Lies Ahead (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), p. 360.
7. David W. Orr and Stuart Hill, “Leviathan, the Open Society, and the Crisis of Ecology,” Western Political Quarterly, December 1978, pp. 457–69.
8. Amory B. Lovins et al., Reinventing Fire (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011), p. ix.
9. Value over $20 trillion from Bill McKibben, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” Rolling Stone, 2 August 2012; Robert B. Reich, Supercapitalism (New York: Knopf, 2007), pp. 170–01, 204.
10. Charles E. Lindblom, Politics and Markets (New York: Basic Books, 1977), p. 356; Charles E. Lindblom, The Market System (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001).
11. Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1967), p. 73; John Dunn, The Cunning of Unreason (London: Harper-Collins, 2000), p. 332; David Rothkopf, Superclass (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2008), p. 322; Michael Sandel, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012).
12. Nicholas A. Christakis and James Fowler, Connected (Boston: Little Brown, 2009), pp. 289–92; Steven Johnson, Emergence (New York: Scribners, 2001), pp. 224–26; Anne-Marie Slaughter, A New World Order (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), p. 263.
13. Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest (New York: Penguin, 2007); Steve Waddell, Global Action Networks (New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2011), p. 23.
14. Mark Mazower, Governing the World (New York: Penguin, 2012), pp. 420, 418; Matthew Bishop and Michael Green, Philanthropocapitalism: How Giving Can Save the World (New York: Bloomsbury, 2008).
15. Naomi Klein, “Capitalism vs. the Climate,” The Nation, 21 November 2011.
16. Harold Myerson, “Foundering Fathers,” American Prospect, October 2011, p. 16; to improve at least U.S. democracy, see Steven Hill, 10 Steps to Repair American Democracy (Sausalito, CA: PoliPoint Press, 2006).
17. Benjamin Barber, Strong Democracy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), pp. 117, 151; see also Thad Williamson, David Imbroscio, and Gar Alperovitz, Making a Place for Community (New York: Routledge, 2002); Jeffereson and Dewey from Carol Pateman, Participation and Democratic Theory (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1970); final quote from Barber, op. cit. this note, p. 269.
18. Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson, Why Deliberative Democracy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), pp. 7, 59; see also Susan Clark and Woden Teachout, Slow Democracy (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2012). Box 26–1 from the following: Adam Liptak, “Justices, 5–4, Reject Corporate Spending Limit,” New York Times, 22 January 2010; Robert J. Shapiro and Douglas Dowson, Corporate Political Spending: Why the New Critics Are Wrong, Legal Policy Report No. 15 (New York: Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, June 2012); Barber, op. cit. note 17, pp. 3, 4; Adolf G. Gundersen, The Environmental Promise of Democratic Deliberation (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995), pp. 9, 10, 19, and 22.
19. Bruce Ackerman and James Fishkin, Deliberation Day (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004), p. 171; see also James S. Fishkin, The Voice of the People: Public Opinion and Democracy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995).
20. Sanford Levinson, Framed: America’s 51 Constitutions and the Crisis of Governance (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), p. 389; see also Derek Bok, The Trouble with Government (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001).
21. Richard J. Lazarus, The Making of Environmental Law (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), pp. 30, 33, 42; Richard J. Lazarus, “Super Wicked Problems and Climate Change: Restraining the Present to Liberate the Future,” Cornell Law Review, vol. 94 (2009), pp. 1,153–234.
22. Thomas Berry, Evening Thoughts (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2006), p. 95.
23. Ecuador from Erik Assadourian, “The Rise and Fall of Consumer Cultures,” in Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2010 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010), p. 19; Christopher Stone, Should Trees Have Standing: Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects (Los Altos, CA: William Kaufmann, 1972); Berry, op. cit. note 22, p. 44.
24. John Keane, The Life and Death of Democracy (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009); see also Paul Woodruff, First Democracy: The Challenge of an Ancient Idea (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); John Plamenatz, Democracy and Illusion (London: Longman, 1973), p. 9.
25. Wilson Carey McWilliams, Redeeming Democracy in America (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2011), p.15; Peter Burnell, Climate Change and Democratization (Berlin: Heinrich Böll Stiftung, 2009), p. 40.
26. See, for example, Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, It’s Even Worse than It Looks (New York: Basic Books, 2012), Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), and Jill Lepore, The Whites of Their Eyes (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010); Frank Bryan, Real Democracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), p. 294; see also Robert Dahl and Edward Tufte, Size and Democracy (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1973).
27. Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), p. 127; Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, The Narcissism Epidemic (New York: The Free Press, 2009), p. 276.
28. Naomi Klein, Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007); see also Corey Robin, Fear: The History of a Political Idea (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).
29. Rothkopf, op. cit. note 11; see also International Forum on Globalization, Outing the Oligarchy: Billionaires Who Benefit from Today’s Climate Crisis (San Francisco: 2011).
30. Josh Bivens, “Inequality, Exhibit A: Walmart and the Wealth of American Families” (blog), Economic Policy Institute, 17 July 2012; Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone (London: Penguin Books, 2010); Jeffrey Winters, Oligarchy (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 284–85.
31. Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine: The Pentagon of Power (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1970), pp. 413, 434.
32. Gar Alperovitz, America Beyond Capitalism (Takoma Park, MD: Democracy Collaborative Press, 2011); Gar Alperovitz, “Anchoring Wealth to Sustain Cities and Population Growth, Solutions, July 2012; James Gustave Speth, America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012); Michael H. Shuman, Going Local (New York: Routledge, 2000); Michael H. Shuman, Local Dollars, Local Sense (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2012); Greg Pahl, Power from the People (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2012); Jeff Gates, Democracy at Risk (Cambridge, MA: Perseus, 2000).
33. William McDonough and Michael Braungart, Cradle to Cradle (New York: North Point Press, 2002); Janine Benyus, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature (New York: William Morrow, 1996); John Lyle, Regenerative Design for Sustainable Development (New York: John Wiley, 1994); John R. Ehrenfeld, Sustainability by Design (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008); Rob Hopkins, The Transition Handbook (Totnes, U.K.: Greenbooks, 2008); Rob Hopkins, The Transition Companion (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2011). Box 26–2 based on National Environmental Policy Act, at ceq.hss.doe.gov/laws_and_executive_orders/the_nepa_statute.html, and on David W. Orr, The Oberlin Project: A Clinton Climate Initiative Climate Positive Project (Oberlin, OH: undated).
34. For more on these issues, see Ron Rosenbaum, How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011); Peter Barnes, Capitalism 3.0 (San Francisco: Barrett-Koehler, 2006); Burns Weston and David Bollier, Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights, and the Commons (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2013); Tim Jackson, Prosperity without Growth (London: Earthscan, 2009); Peter Victor, Managing without Growth: Slower by Design, Not Disaster (Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2008); Peter G. Brown, Restoring the Public Trust (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994), pp. 71–91; Peter G. Brown, The Commonwealth of Life, 2nd ed. (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 2008); Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nation: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Viking, 2011); Harald Welzer, Climate Wars: Why People Will be Killed in the 21st Century (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 2012).
35. Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (New York: Viking, 2005), p. 438.
Stormy road image via shutterstock. Reproduced at Resilience.org with permission.