Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Victims of Circumstance

President Bush explains his views on climate change:

[I]n my judgment we need to set aside whether or not greenhouse gases have been caused by mankind or because of natural effects and focus on the technologies that will enable us to live better lives and at the same time protect the environment.
Is climate change manmade, or are we blameless victims of circumstance? Is cholera caused by raw sewage in the public's water supply, or by the malign influence of the stars? Are wildfires that destroy wealthy people's homes caused by allowing massive construction in regions ecologically defined by frequent wildfires, or set by a shadowy cabal of eco-terrorists?

These are very complex questions. Let's let the market decide.

Speaking of wildfires, Mike Davis makes an important point in The Ecology of Fear about the distinction between "natural" and "manmade" blazes:
Anglo-Californians have always criminalized the problem of mountain wildfire. The majority have never accepted the natural role or inevitability of the chaparral fire cycle. (Conversely, there has been a persistent tendency to naturalize the strictly human causality of tenement fire.)
What guides these judgments? Business, of course. Building luxury housing in firetrap canyons is good for business, in the short term, and so is cramming immigrant workers into firetrap tenements. When luxury houses go up in smoke, you can blame eco-terrorists, or meddling environmentalists who opposed clearcutting. When tenements go up in smoke, it's an act of God (and really...what did those people expect, living that way?).

In the same way, saying that greenhouse gases are "natural" allows one to feign helplessness in the face of titanic forces. Meanwhile, a real force of nature like coastal erosion is a problem that taxpayers can and must solve at all costs (especially when it threatens multimillion-dollar houses built along privatized beaches).

It's all a matter of pretending we have power where we don't, and pretending we don't have power where we do, in order to maintain the polite fiction that life is more important than money.

1 comment:

Eli said...

Mistakes were made.

Climates were destabilized.

Ecosystems were destroyed.

It's nobody's fault.