31 July 2016

Climate Change: What's Greed Got to Do With It?

Like many people around the world whose mediascape is (at times sickeningly) filled with sound bites and film clips, photographs and FB memes of candidates in the upcoming U.S. presidential election, I am trying to wrap my head around how far the American Republican party has strayed from its roots with their current choice of candidate. (Think Theodore Roosevelt. He was a(n admittedly progressive) Republican president, but also an environmental champion.)

You can probably guess why this American election (even though I'm not American) has had me thinking a lot about greed. And that, in turn, has got me thinking about the role of greed and greediness in the climate crisis. 

My own swirling thoughts have gone something like this: Greed, at its deepest subconscious level, must be a form of defensiveness, a seeking of security in people who don't believe in the abundance of the Universe. Which means there must also be a streak of ecological illiteracy inherent in greed, as greedy people don't seem to understand the collaborative nature of, well, nature (of which we're a part), and the fact that there is enough for everyone's need (as Gandhi pointed out).

The catch-22 is this: How do we help the greedy people who are ruining the biosphere feel more safe and secure at a time when their greed has made the climate (and therefore life itself) less safe and secure? Bad timing, eh? It feels like we're hooped. 

I decided to do a smidge of research to see what others put greed down to. The dictionary says that to be greedy is to have or show an intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth or power. (That certainly describes a certain Republican candidate.)

Thought leader (I love that term! I want to be one!) Frank Sonnenberg also equates greed with selfishness. "Greed is a term that describes ruthless people with naked ambition, people with an insatiable appetite for riches, those who give new meaning to the word selfish." We're living in a time when rich people can't have as much as they might want, because it all comes with carbon emissions that the world can't afford anymore. Maybe we just have to tell people like Donald Frump and the Rhymes-with-a-Soft-Drink Brothers that -- literally -- enough is enough. But that's going to take a huge shift in worldview, isn't it? After all, we're fighting not just hundreds of years of capitalism, but also a couple of decades of woowoo new age you-can-attract-everything-you-want brainwashing.

Sonnenberg quotes the character Gordon Gecko in the movie Wall Street: "It’s not a question of enough, pal. It's a zero sum game, somebody wins, somebody loses." And yet, in ecosystems, there are no winners as long as there are losers. So are greedy people those who (think they can) live above the laws of nature? Is that why they just keep burning fossil fuels with nary a care for the biosphere -- because to them, metaphorical "winning" is more important than actually surviving?

Now as Sonnenberg points out, it's unfair to automatically "equate success and wealth with greed. The fact is, many successful people give generously of their wealth and/or their time. It’s also true that you don’t have to be particularly wealthy in order to be able to give.... [Some] people without means contribute generously of their time and skills every day, yet others don’t. Greed doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor."

But according to Oxam, when it comes to global warming and climate change, the world's richest 10% produce half of global carbon emissions, while the poorest half of the world's people contribute to just 10% of emissions.

Let's wrap our heads around that. "An average person among the richest 1% of people emits 175 times more carbon than his or her counterpart among the bottom 1%, Oxfam said." So in order not to be considered a greedy bastard, I guess one really has to consider -- and lower -- one's sense of entitlement, and then one's carbon footprint. 

So yeah. Greed => climate change.

p.s. Check out Oxfam's report, Extreme Carbon Inequality: Why the Paris climate deal must put the poorest, lowest emitting and most vulnerable people first, here.

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?