If we can’t save Society, we must save ourselves

15 10 2012

This is a guest post by Dr Geoff Chia.  I first met Geoff some five years ago when he invited me to talk to his group of doctors and scientists in Brisbane.  A couple of weeks ago, I made another presentation to his group D3SJ (which stands for Doctors & Scientists for Sustainability and Social Justice) on the merits of moving to Tasmania.  This is an essay Geoff wrote as a result of the discussion which ensued from my talk.

If we can’t save Society, we must save ourselves

During our recent October 2012 meeting when Mike Stasse was outlining his rationale for moving to Tasmania, I found one particular comment from the audience rather unsettling.

No, it wasn’t the comment that we are on the verge of global economic collapse – we all know that¹

No, it wasn’t the comment that Society is exactly on course to suffer the death of billions of
people this century – we all know that².

It was this comment: that it was disgraceful for us, the pro-sustainability advocates, to attempt to save ourselves, because this somehow made us no better than the anti-sustainability “business as usual” corporate fraudsters and banksters. The implication was that we were no different from the very people we oppose, the ones who are the principal architects of our demise, the ones who are pushing us ever faster towards the brink (but who are themselves building fortified communities surrounded by armed guards and barbed wire to protect themselves).

According to such criticism, what then are we, the pro-sustainability advocates, the Aware, supposed to do? Knowing the turmoil we face ahead and knowing how to mitigate personal harm, should we do nothing? Should we simply join the herds of passive, gormless, clueless sheeple and allow ourselves to be swept away by the tsunami of chaos, deprivation and carnage to come? Follow the lemmings over the cliff?
Does an attempt to save ourselves amount to an abandonment and betrayal of greater Society? If you were in a room with a gang of arsonists hellbent on setting the drapes on fire and despite vigorous and repeated attempts at persuasion you were unable to deter them, would it be noble or would it be stupid for you to stay in the room and burn to death with them? Or would it be more sensible to leave the room, even as it is being consumed by flames, knowing that you did everything in your power to prevent or mitigate the harm to them, but they rejected your efforts at every turn?

Quite apart from the insult of equating us, the Aware, to the psychopathic perpetrators of the impending collapse, it is factually wrong. There is only one way in which we are similar and it is this: we consume. As such, even the most ardent environmentalist contributes to carbon emissions and to resource depletion by virtue of the fact that he/she is alive. We, the Aware, acknowledge the harm we are causing, which we are trying to minimise and repair. We are however diametrically opposed to the BAUAUs (business as usual acolytes and underlings) who, far from acknowledging or trying to prevent or mitigate harm, are furiously pouring accelerant over the fire, even as they themselves are abandoning the room and making off with the profits of those accelerants.

I have convened our D3SJ meetings for more than six years now, the main goal being to promote the idea that policy should be determined by evidence, reason and fairness to achieve the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people on a long term basis. Above all I am a realist and am able to acknowledge that I have failed miserably in my efforts to spread the message, not only to greater society but also to my own medical colleagues, supposedly intelligent people who remain in adamant denial. We have achieved
some worthwhile outcomes however, by networking with likeminded people and educating ourselves about important issues.

I would argue that not only is it natural, according to the instincts of self preservation, for us, the Aware, to save ourselves, we have a duty to do so. Why? For one simple reason. We carry the seeds of a new civilisation. We hold the key to the greatest prize humanity has ever known, without which there can be only recurring darkness, ignorance, suffering and misery. We bear the hope that arising from the ashes of this failed rapacious, destructive, consumerist, military-industrial complex will ultimately be a civilisation which has learned the bitter lessons of history and shapes itself according to the principles of sustainability and social justice, which creates a steady state economy, which shapes policy according to
evidence, reason and fairness to achieve the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people on a long term basis.

The alternative is a return to the brutality of tribal societies run by parasitic despots who extract their wealth off the backs of feudal serfs and slaves, no longer having the option of fossil fuels and unable to build a renewable energy infrastructure. Societies which continue to follow the boom and bust pattern of plague species, while eking out a paltry existence from a devastated hothouse hell of a planet. Here is another reason why we, the Aware, must take action now to save ourselves:

people³ judge you more by your actions than by your words. If others know you are taking serious action to prepare for the impending collapse, that in itself may be your strongest argument to them that humanity is wrecking the planet and our present course is unsustainable.

Am I saying that it is all too late, that humanity has passed the point of no return and we should stop wasting our time trying to spread our message to greater Society? The updated Limits to Growth projections indicate that it is indeed too late: all repeated runs with even the most optimistic (but realistic) inputs result in “overshoot” (the LtG euphemism for “the death of billions”). However future projections are not absolute, it is all about probabilities. There may be perhaps a 1% chance that the majority of people in the world may suddenly come to their senses, that they will finally “get it”, that the power of the fossil fuel corporations will be broken and we will urgently move in the direction of energy efficiency, 100% renewable energy and humane population reduction. Hence we should keep pushing our message. I cannot emphasize enough my admiration for people who are willing to place their bodies, their liberty and their financial security at risk to stand up for what they believe in. Those of us too cowardly to emulate him (myself included) must at least respect and support them.

The overwhelming probability however is that the stable world we are familiar with is cactus, that we will be experiencing systemic breakdowns very soon. It will be silly not to plan for this.

Geoff Chia

1. http://www.financialsense.com/contributors/nicole-m-foss
http://richardheinberg.com/museletter-241-end-of-growth-update-part-1
http://richardheinberg.com/museletter-242-the-end-of-growth-update-part-2
2. See abstract: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/oekom/gaia/2012/00000021/00000002/art00010
3. That is, sensible people value actions over words. Sensible people value evidence over rhetoric. On the
other hand, stupid people can be convinced by rhetoric alone, particularly rhetoric crafted to match their
prejudices. Such people are the fans of Tony Abbott, Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt and unfortunately make up a large proportion of this Society. They are the fans of Sarah Palin and are the Tea Party members in America. They are the war criminals who murdered Iraqis to steal their oil on the basis of lies. Do such people deserve to be saved in the first place? Or is it best we get out of the way and let those greedy, bigoted, self serving and innately violent people kill each other in a Hobbesian war of “all against all”?


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2 responses

16 10 2012
Greg Bell

Bravo Geoff. Terrifying and awesome both. We’ve moved out of good-paying corporate jobs and onto some land and are hoping we have enough time. What have you done?

17 10 2012

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