Sunday, April 17, 2016

George Monbiot, an interview.


                                                         Comments due by April 25, 2016

We have already posted ten "stories" that we promised to do during this semester. The following, however, is for extra credit and is the response of George Monbiot to a couple of questions. Enjoy


Why is implacable growth a threat to the existence of life on the planet?
Never-ending growth simply cannot be sustained on a finite planet. The promise of growth is used as a means of deflecting social conflict: If the economy keeps growing, we are told, inequality doesn't matter, however extreme it becomes, as all will be rich. Well, it hasn't worked out like that: The rich are now able to capture almost all the increment; wages have stagnated despite rising labor productivity; far from trickling down, wealth is still seeping upwards. But even if it did work, this merely exchanges a deferred political crisis for an environmental crisis.
In the pre-coal economy, industrial growth was repeatedly undermined by agricultural collapse, as both competed for the same resources: land (industry needed it for growing fuelwood and fodder for horses) and labor. So growth kept stalling and reversing. Coal meant that rather than relying on annual productivity (of timber, grass, oats etc.), industry could exploit the concentrated productivity of millions of years. It amplified the effects of labor. It allowed agriculture and industry to live alongside each other, ensuring that industrial growth did not rely on starvation. The economic transformation was miraculous. But it had a number of costs, and by far the greatest, in the long run, was the assault on the natural world.
We are urgently in need of a new, coherent economic model, that provides prosperity without compromising future prosperity, that does not rely on destroying the more-than-human world.
Why will a continuing "shift from small to large farms ... cause a major decline in global production"?
There is a long-established inverse relationship between the size of farms and the amount of crops they produce. In other words, the smaller they are, the greater the yield per hectare. This observation has been repeated in many parts of the world.
The most plausible explanation appears to be that small farmers use more labor, and more committed labor (generally family members), per hectare than big farmers.
What this means is that farm consolidation (often assisted by international agencies) is likely to be damaging to productivity, and threatening to world food supplies. Land grabbing by foreign corporations and sovereign wealth funds (which brings together the traditions of enclosure and colonialism) is disastrous for the rural poor. It is also disastrous -- especially when it results in the replacement of subsistence crops with crops grown for animal feed or biofuels -- for global food security.
Make the case for being "deviant and proud."
Our identity is shaped by the norms and values we absorb from other people. Every society defines and shapes its own according to dominant narratives, and seeks either to make people comply or to exclude them if they don't. These norms and values are often handed down from on high: We absorb and replicate the worldview of those who possess power, the phenomenon Antonio Gramsci called cultural hegemony.
Neoliberalism insists that we are defined by competition, and are essentially selfish and acquisitive. This turns out to be a myth: As a paper in the journal Frontiers in Psychology points out, Homo economicus -- the neoliberal conception of people as maximizing their own self-interest at the expense of others - is an excellent description of chimpanzees and a very bad description of human beings. We simply don't work like this. Humans are distinguished from other mammals by an enhanced capacity for empathy, an unparalleled sensitivity to the needs of others, a unique level of concern about their welfare and an ability to create moral norms that generalize and enforce these tendencies. These traits emerge so early in our lives that they appear to be innate: We have evolved to be this way.
But the dominant narrative tells us that we are very different creatures. It celebrates selfishness and greed and pushes us to conform to a social and economic model that rewards them. When we are forced into a hole that doesn't fit, the result is psychological damage. As the professor of psychoanalysis Paul Verhaeghe points out, the neoliberal transition has been accompanied by a spectacular rise in self-harm, eating disorders, depression, performance anxiety, social phobia and loneliness.
So if you don't fit in, and feel at odds with the world, it could be because you have retained the human values you were supposed to have discarded. You have deviated from the social norms. You should be proud to have done so.

17 comments:

Rowan Lanning said...

This article definitely has a delightfully positive end note! I consistently find it absolutely fascinating that humanity has been around on this earth for such a relatively short time, and our very asset that has allowed us to dominate the globe - that of rapid growth combined with our innate ability to work together to find solutions - is also on track to potentially ensuring the end of our species. this idea that our empathy and sensitivity to the needs of others is rather unique to our species is interesting to me, because of this social norm of selfishness and the dominant paradigm that celebrates and encourages self preservation. I'm a little unsurprised after having read this just how many people on earth need therapy and have varying degrees of psychological damage (of course for many different reasons, none of which i would like to attempt to place higher or lower value on). When we live in a social and economic culture that promotes the exact opposite of what we are at a fundamental base level. But I wonder if greed and the lust for power and control are not also natural human occurrences? If so, or not, what conditions foster the development of those desires? Is it our society or a certain genetic trait? Can we have the two conflicting desires for greed and presence of empathy?

Grace Florian said...

I think these responses are important for many reasons. One being that it can educational for people who aren't aware of things such as the idea of the size and productivity of farms. This is not an obvious fact that smaller farms are actually more productive. Along with this, the idea that nearly everything we do is determined from what we see. We are notorious for picking up behavioral habits from those before us. The fact that it is proven that we have a large amount of empathy, and aren't selfish is also something people are unaware of. It is nice and refreshing to put a positive spin on human activity, and to point out positives.

Anonymous said...

There are many good points in this article. With the goal is to try and improve the efficiently of things while lowering environmental impact education of these points would be very helpful. Like when the article is talking about shifting farm sizes from small to large. If people knew how to improve crop yield and farm more efficiently to save money these farm sizes would not have to grow so large on old techniques.
-Andy Ponticiello

Anonymous said...

I agree with George about his answer on growth. Sadly, there is nothing we can do to stop the growth or slow it down. The only thing we could do is try, but it's not guaranteed it will work. He states "Never-ending growth simply cannot be sustained on a finite planet." However, I genuinely like the response about "Deviant and Proud". I have taken a Sociology course in high school and it presented the same material. Our society, have their norms and values. The traits are so early on in life that they don't even bother to question it. "We have evolved this way," as stated by George.

-Fatimah Majors

Brian Frank said...

There are nice arguements that are presented in this article. First, adressing the section in the beginning, it is astonishing that we are told that things can continue to grow and so will the economy, yet that is far from the truth for our resourses will run out due to our "finite planet." In the second second section they writer discusses that large farms are detrimential to our global food supply and an alarming factor that someone can take out of it is that we already have people starving in the world. Just imagine if our food supply was stunted and more people went hungry, we would have a bigger problem on our hands than what we already can handle. Lastly, its very interesting to see the two views of our elevolution. The view of "our selfiness is what gets us ahead" really does apply to our competive, capitalistic world but it does make us seem like animals the more one thinks about it. When in reality, what sets us ahead in nature is our ablity to care for and tend to needs of other which strengthens us as a whole species, instead of competing against eachother. In order to secure success for mankind and the survival of our species we shouldnt be tearing eachother down and exploiting our planet in the process to get ahead.

Johnny Lopez said...

This article provides insight from many different disciplines, including psychology, ecology, economics, sociology, communications, and the hard sciences (biology, chemistry etc.). The author makes an excellent point describing why indefinite growth is not realistic. Although some economists may reject the fact that our planet has finite resources, it is logical to assume that there has to be an end to growth. It is simply not feasible to continue mass production and overconsumption of goods when a significant portion of the world is in desperate need of aid. Like the article we read earlier this week, I believe it is important to help our fellow "brothers and sisters" in the south and developing countries. For example, Ecuador experienced a massive earthquake of 7.8 last Sunday, accumulating a death total of 670 people. During times of natural disasters, I believe it is up to developed countries to provide aid in the form of money, water, food, and clothes. Moreover, providing moral and mental support is essential to rebuilding infrastructure, but also the human psyche.

Anonymous said...

This was a really fun read. More and more I'm able to make the connection between environmentalism (caring for the environment separate from human welfare) and social issues (that do directly address human welfare). The two seem to be intrinsically tied together, inseparable. In the same way neoliberalism is taking a toll on the environment and throwing the system out of balance in a dramatic way, people are suffering the psychological toll that comes with perceived failure and self-doubt, even where such worries aren't valid. Who we value in society isn't always utilitarian - they may not contribute much of real value to society at all - or the value they seem to add may be doing real harm (e.g. - a venture capitalist might be widely admired, but if they are widely investing in ventures that detroy thousands of acres of rainforest or use up intense amounts of energy adding CO2 to the atmosphere, should we really value them?). I think the neoliberal, mainstream narrative that Monbiot is critiquing may well be flawed and doesn't seem to hold up well to scrutiny.

-Carl Wojciechowski

Rebecca McMann said...

This article connects many views and just shows again in another way what's connected and how human welfare and environmentalism as separate issues. It's sad how we are told one thing when actually the opposite is happening. We are told how the economy can grow when this is not true. This is not true because we are in world where things run out. We will not be able to increase production of things such as fossil fuels because we have finite resources and so they will run out if we continue the way we are opporating. This all connects overall back to how we need to teach people new ways. We need to teach people what is happening how it is all of our problem and how they can fix it. With no education people run blind. Only after they learn and do not act is the ignorance and negative mindset. But there is so much evidence to prove the points of how humans are the main source of the problem. Education, education, education.

Anonymous said...

"Never ending growth can never be sustained on a finite planet." This quote holds a lot of truth, as I have found that most of the environmental problems we have can all be connected to the issue of sustainability. We often don't think about the future and what consequences our actions now can have on the future. If it is good for the short term we usually are in favor. We must come up with more sustainable methods of growth and realize that this planet is finite and cannot support unlimited growth, contrary to what many people believe.


Robert Martin

Chase Harnett said...

The section on the relation between farm size and farm production per hectare is intriguing. I am assuming that there is a threshold where a diverse multicrop farm begins to become a mono crop for various reasons. As the farm grows and seeks greater profit for less work its obvious direction is towards a monocrop method. Most likely corn, wheat, sugarcane, coffee and soy are the crop of choice. At this point it seems that smaller more diverse and intensively farmed areas that feed the immediate population, as far as proximity, is the best direction to move in. Enormous land degrading, soil depleting, and chemical dependent farms are not a smart move when focusing on a long term plan for our countries agriculture.

Chase Harnett

SUET SZE AU said...

Written by SUET SZE AU

This article is very interesting and inspiring. The cartoon tells us that some events will eventually happen even we can't explain it at current time, like climate change. The author thinks that the current social structure is main cause of environment problem.

Powerful people who believe in Neoliberalism, continuously forcing other people to believe in competition and selfish are good things. This caused the world had rapid growth at the expense of the environment. People should rethink this and find a way to keep the resources for our future generation. Growth can't be sustain on a finite planet.

The author also blamed the international firms use our land to grow biofuel instead of food. It will certainly hurt our food security and biofuel do not a high net energy yield.

Christina Marciante said...

I loved this article. It is my favorite out of all the articles we have read for this blog. I loved what he was saying in the last part about the psychological damage capitalism can give us, and to add onto that, I find it appalling that for marketing, marketers basically exploit our insecurities to make a profit off of us. We are blasted with advertisements everywhere. These ads also enforce social norms onto us. It is scary to see how wrapped up people could be into things such as the way they look, so much that they develop eating disorders from it. We see younger and younger girls worrying about their weight, going on diets, and developing eating disorders. It is also very interesting and somewhat surprising that small time farmers yield more crop to hectare. This makes some sense because they actually take care of their crops. Making crops to them is their only way of surviving.

-Christina Marciante

Ralph Green said...

I enjoyed this article and found many of the points it talked about very interesting. I found the way we are used or manipulated by marketing and advertisement to the most interesting. Christina was saying how appalling it is that they use our insecurities against us and enforce social normalities on us which is very true. I don't think that we should be controlled by this and we should be just fine with ourselves and the way we like and do things.

Erika Anzalone said...

I loved this article out of all of the articles we have read. Farm production is a huge part of the agricultural world. And, sustainability is the aspect of farming every producer aims to achieve in their trade. In our finite world we do not have all of the crops accessible to provide for the entire world. We need to preserve our resources and make sure we do not overuse our lands so that the future generations have some type of sustainable land.

Erika Anzalone

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