How many times have you heard the pious intonation, “we’re all to blame”? If you’ve thought about the matter at all, the answer is obvious: too damn many. (Frankly, one time is too damn many.)

At best, this assertion — “argument” is too kind a term — is a malign form of virtue signalling indicating that the speaker has wisely and selflessly “accepted responsibility,” while you, you poor benighted sod, haven’t.

Beyond the unseemly self-congratulation, the humble-bragging inherent in the phrase, why is it malign? Why is it worse than useless?

Because it short circuits critical analysis. Because it let’s those entities and (to a lesser extent) individuals responsible for the world’s problems off the hook.

Let’s see how this works in regard to the most pressing issue of our times: climate change and resultant global ecological catastrophe. (Here, a popular variation on the “we’re all to blame” trope is that old people, as a class, are to blame.)

What kind of actions does assigning blame to everyone point to? With responsibility that diluted, assigned to an undifferentiated mass, with every individual treated as equally responsible, the “we’re all to blame” assertion points to nothing beyond what everyone can do: lowest-common-denominator individual actions such as recycling, reducing energy consumption, tending a vegetable garden, repairing rather than replacing, bicycling and using public transit, eating a vegan diet, etc., etc.

While these actions are all worthwhile, even if they were very widely adopted they would be grossly inadequate as an answer to ecological collapse. They would provide some amelioration, but they would do nothing to address the underlying structural reasons for impending and ongoing environmental cataclysm.

To find ways to address that collection of catastrophes, you need to go beyond pious platitudes, you need to look at the economic, social, and political structures that have produced the ecological crisis, and those sociopathic entities that benefit from the crisis. The vast majority of people are largely along for the ride, propelled by forces they neither understand nor control. (This isn’t to say that they can’t understand or control those forces, just that at present they don’t.)

So, let’s do a brief, necessarily very incomplete analysis of how global warming and its attendant ecological problems were created, and what can be done to address them. Let’s consider rising sea levels (inundating island nations and low-lying coastal areas, and already producing climate refugees), and ever-increasing extreme weather, with its droughts, floods, and hurricanes.

There are reasons for all this. The following list of factors is very obviously far from complete. But it points in the direction where research and consequent action is needed. Please note that this is not intended as a blueprint or detailed analysis, and is simply intended to show the direction we need to take to actually deal with the environmental crisis. How we need to start thinking about things. Given these provisos, here are a few of the most important factors producing global warming — there are many others:

  • Fossil-fuel burning. At present, the cost of renewables (solar, wind, etc.) is falling like a rock, and in many cases is already below the cost of fossil-fuel power generation. But the government continues to provide massive subsidies to the fossil fuels (and nuclear) industries, and to starve renewables of development funds. Why? That brings us to the next factors:
  • The profit motive. Many of the world’s biggest companies are fossil-fuels corporations, and make tens of billions annually (sometimes per quarter) from sales of compounds that are destroying the environment and the lives of future generations. Why are they doing this? Why this horrendous irresponsibility? It’s simple. Money, lots of it. Lots of it in the short term. Corporations are sociopathic by nature and have essentially a single duty: to maximize returns to investors, no matter the cost to others or the environment.
  • Our bought and paid for politicians and political system. Why do our “public servants” put up with, indeed support, this grossly antisocial behavior? Because it’s in their interests to do so. A great many of them receive campaign contributions from the fossil fuels industries, sometimes enticements beyond that, and many often go to work as well-paid lobbyists for those industries immediately after retiring from “public service.”

What does all this point to in the here and now (neglecting radical social-political-economic transformation, which will be necessary at some point soon)? Here are but a few possible steps:

  • Removal of fossil fuel subsidies.
  • Drastic increase of funding for renewables research and deployment.
  • Greatly increased taxation of fossil-fuels companies.
  • A ban on corporate political contributions; an upper limit on all political contributions; and a mandate that all political campaigns be funded by small donors.
  • A ban on lobbying by former “public servants.”

As noted above, this does not even begin to approach a comprehensive analysis nor a comprehensive list of recommendations. It’s merely an example of how we need to start thinking about these matters and start thinking about ways to deal with them, how we need to get away from the simplistic “we’re all to blame” assertion and look at actual causes and solutions.

(For more on all of the above, see John Grant’s excellent Corrupted Science (revised & expanded).

Health permitting, I’ll try to have a related post on habitat loss and resource depletion up shortly.

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