I’ve recently finished read James Garvey’s book, The Ethics of Climate Change: Right and Wrong in a Warming World, and I must admit I’m a little disappointed to say that, while we probably reach similar conclusions, we disagree in many ways on how we get there. This is very important, I feel, as I suspect the path taken will have a significant role in the potency of our desired outcomes.
Over this week, as I will be undertaking field work and only sporadically able to have much to do with my posts, I will elaborate on these differences (which, if the truth be known, summarise a few points to another ebook draft that I am working on; The Moral Geo-Engineer).
In this one, I will discuss how we can ensure effective distribution of essential resources.
I left the first section with the following question;
How are we supposed to ensure efficiency works in this way?
Many readers whom have followed my writing for a while now are aware of my interest in efficiency. I have made it abundantly clear that efficiency has obtained an ill-deserved bad reputation due to its application within growth economic environments.
In the first section, I also stressed that the most important capacity for all societies to apply is a willingness to change core values within their cultural packages which are proven to undo prosperity seeking goals. For developed nations this will need to focus upon relinquishing a love affair with growth economies.
Evidence presented in both, Wilkinson and Pickett’s, The Spirit Level, and Kasser’s, The High Price of Materialism, show that consumer driven societies focus on personal status seeking behaviours at the expense of extrinsic motivators and ultimately, resource access and value as well as human flourishing and wellbeing. Further, Wilkinson and Pickett show that no additional benefit to human wellbeing is achieved beyond a comparably modest per capita income and CO2 footprint. Benefits instead come from improving social status mobility and a reduction of disparity beyond this level.
Rather than thinking about the per capita income and CO2 footprint, one could instead translate this into the real world social benefits acquirable from a given income and the energy provided from a given CO2 footprint. This would make more sense due simply to the fact that people do not live off physically consuming their coins and note or breathing in greenhouse gas emissions but instead the goods and services individuals receive from both.*
Thus, we can obtain real world wealth behind these basic indicators If we take access to such fundamental goods and services as a baseline for suitable humane subsistence levels, we have an principles for the foundation of universal prosperity that should be available to all people.
Such essential goods and services also provide real world practical direction for what work needs to be done where; providing a baseline for essential job availability driven by, again, humane indicators (eg. it would be difficult to excuse the absence of functional education and healthcare in poorer communities). This will assist to provide motivation for improved job access and security.
All of the above is concerned entirely about the foundations, that is, the lower limit to a humane life for all people. To address the upper limits, one should start with the approach put forth by Rockström et al. (2009); the nine planetary boundaries. Such indicators allow our species to know exactly when and where our activities go beyond the capacities of our natural resource base and begin to degrade them at the detriment to future human endeavours and prosperity.
For the outlined consumer driven societal structures above, this means something in complete contradiction to the underlying mantra; it states that resources are finite and moderation and humility are not simply virtuous, but entirely unavoidable, especially as demand for them increases (ie. with population growth).
Above the core humane subsistence levels discussed above, we have incentive to produce frictional regulations that increase with increased personal resource acquisition, thus avoiding high level disparity within societies while maximising social mobility.
Of course, this will be fiercely contested by the top-end “haves.” However, there is simply no moral justification for such a wide spectrum of disparity and therefore, evidence provided by Wilkinson and Pickett as well as Kasser and the references therein suggest a moral obligation urging for greater equality that should render such protests as purely of a selfish and inhumane nature. Moreover, such individualism, as both presentations suggest, are ultimately self-defeating in that they reduce various humanistic indicators of flourishing.
Ultimately, I feel certain that we still will have the rich and successful, but theirs will not be motivated entirely by acquisition, but rather more extrinsic pursuits and personal and social development.
Through the recognition of both the upper and lower limits to human activity, we can also start to work out a real world number for global holding capacity for our species, that is, a firmer number of the sustainable global population. This number can be changed with our growing efficiency.
Within this framework, efficiency is a means, not an end. It provides increase prosperity within known and regulated boundaries. People cannot acquire too much of something at the expense of others or resource degradation.
Again, the importance of the universal transfer of education and healthcare prove important. Healthy people place less stress on our resource base. That is to say, healthy people are more efficient. This is the exact opposite of social measurements based on gross domestic product, which favours the obese (for example) because they provide work for hospitals, will more likely pay for fast food (more inherent production) and prefer spending on gadgetry, electricity and petrol over personal activity.
Education transfer too, is so fundamental. Through transfer of education, we effectively open the potential for greater human input into problem solving, potentially allowing for increased rate of improved efficiency – especially where curiosity is seen as valuable (as it once was) within academia rather than the personal rates of publishing. It will also allow new technological improvements to defuse across all societies, reducing resource dependence globally. This in turn means that our known holding capacity can change or we could instead raise the base level of prosperity per capita instead (more preferable when growth is no longer the foremost motivator).
Rather than the focus on difficult moral philosophies, a realisation that we are unified by the impact and potential rewards of effort expended should motivate improved resilience and sustainability in all societies. Responsibility is not so easily assigned or even appropriate. However, we all have capacity, in some form or another, and it is this capacity that will allow for successful action and improved societal health if we wish to apply it.
*If anyone is interested and has the potential avenues for such research, I am more than willing and very enthusiastic to be involved – please feel free to contact me on this matter.