Many of my valued friends, beloved family and respected academic
colleagues know about parncutt.org.
Many have read
parts of it and some have even sent comments that helped me improve the
text. But to the best of my knowledge most people are, for practical
purposes, ignoring the main
message of these pages. We are not actively trying to reduce our carbon
footprint, nor are we lobbying for an increase in international aid
What can I reasonably say about that without offending people who are
important to me? On the one hand, I can hardly expect people to
suddenly change their lives. On the other hand, the stakes could hardly
be higher. Besides, the information about global poverty and
global warming is not just coming from me, it is all over the internet
and the media. Today, most thinking, feeling people are aware
lifestyle, which may seem normal to us but is luxurious from a global
perspective, is indirectly killing millions of people both now and in
the future. Many would not approve of this rather direct wording, but
they would be hard pressed to argue that this statement is untrue.
Given this state of things, it is hard to believe that most
in rich countries could be continuing with their lives as if all of
this was not happening.
have no doubt that readers of this text are genuinely concerned about
these things, but if you don't DO anything about them,
then you might as well not care, which is a deeply shocking
observation. As I have explained elsewhere,
when I consider this
problem, I have the feeling I am back in Germany in the 1930s where
millions of normal, good people allowed an unprecedented and
unimaginable catastrophe to develop gradually and gather momentum until
it was virtually unstoppable. They did that simply by being
indifferent and passive, like a flock of sheep. Today, we like to talk
about how terrible that was and how it should never be allowed to
happen again, but you have to have a lot of courage to point out that
almost the same thing might be happening right here and now in the
industrialised countries. If you do make that point, people either get
angry and defensive, creating all kinds of excuses and denial rhetoric
and pretending at the same
time to take the moral high ground, or they go all quiet. And when
either of those things happen, you can be sure that you are onto
something important. There is an elephant in the room.
For practical purposes, most people are ignoring the modern world's two
biggest problems, global development and global warming. I have thought
long and hard about this strange behavior, and I am still at a loss to
explain it. There are several reasons for my puzzled reaction:
just about any other situation (family, work, school, you name it),
people tend to identify the most important problems, focus attention on
them, and try to solve them. They do that first, before
smaller problems. That is obviously the best strategy: take care of the
biggest problems and the smaller ones will become easier to solve. Why
aren't we doing that?
confident that most people reading this (let's ignore that
nasty/pathological climate deniers for the moment) have good
intentions and genuinely want the best for everyone, including people
in developing countries, both now and in the future. I don't personally
know anyone who would openly disagree
with that. Why aren't we acting on our good intentions?
Many of us are
investing a lot of emotional, physical and financial
resources in our children, making sure they are happy and healthy, get
education and so on. At the same time we are
gradually and knowingly destroying their future - and pretending not to
connection. Hypocritical? Crazy?
We all have a good
basic knowledge of the Holocaust, the
worst crime ever committed, and other horrifying chapters in human
learned about it at school, in the media, in books and so on. We also
learned about great advances like the French revolution, the (nominal)
end of slavery, voting rights for women, the eight-hour working day,
the universal declaration of human rights. From history we know that
everyone is capable of both
wonderful and terrible things. We can make wonderful things happen or
terrible things from happening, if we act collectively and proactively.
Alternatively, we can make
terrible things happen and we can also prevent wonderful things from
happening. So what are we waiting for?
know that climate is a difficult issue for politicians, who are
under constant pressure from powerful fossil-fuel industries, and are
elected for terms of a few years, whereas global warming operates on
time scales of decades and centuries. Politicians need an
support and pressure from voters before they will take adequate action
on climate. International development is also a difficult issue,
because voters' motives are primarily selfish. Why aren't we giving the
politicians the support they need?
personal situation is similar to that of many people reading this page.
I have caused enormous
amounts of carbon to be burned in my lifetime, not only indirectly by
using electricity produced by burning coal and consuming products with
a big carbon footprint, but also directly by driving cars and flying in
aeroplanes. That doesn't stop me from saying: enough is enough, it is
time for a change. It is time to reduce my personal carbon footprint
and get involved in political action to reduce the carbon footprint of
my family, employer, town, or country, as well as globally. Why can't
everyone do that?
Most people could make the decision to do something right now. So why
aren't we making that decision?
Can't we see the connection between our
deliberate actions here and now and the consequences of our actions in
other times and places? If we honestly made that connection, things
would be very different.
We could plague ourselves with questions: Are we too selfish or
cowardly? Is that
innate? Are we lying to ourselves? Is that normal? Are we not mature
enough to take control of our own destiny? Are we incapable of loving
our own children, which obviously involves defending their right to
enjoy the same environment that we are enjoying, after we die?
It is easier to stop talking about all that stuff
and just start doing things. Just "make that change", as Michael
Jackson sang in "Man in
Just do it, as one international sportshoe manufacturer proclaimed in
their logo. I know from my own experience that it is easier than you
adjust your attitudes and behavior to the reality of our situation.
can't buy me love:
There is more to life than cars, aeroplanes
and shopping. I personally get more enjoyment from low-carbon
activities such as making music, cycling, hiking or yoga. I realised I
don't need to fly to an academic conference ever again, and I know that
most of my academic colleagues could seriously cut down on flying if
they put their mind to it without any negative effect whatsoever on
their academic productivity or career (more).
I would love to visit distant exotic destinations during my holidays,
but there are also a lot of interesting places that I can easily reach
by train. Everyone can make their own list of enjoyable low-carbon
develop their own strategies for reducing their carbon footprint.
Beyond that, it's not particularly embarrassing or dangerous to get
involved in political action to increase official development
assistance to 0.7% of GDP, introduce or increase taxes on wealth,
environment and transactions, divest from fossil fuels, subsidise
sustainable energy, gradually phase out infrastructures based on fossil
fuels, and so on. When you do that, you will win some friends and lose
others, and after that your friends will be more authentic.
So if you are wondering one day, in an idle moment, whether you are
happy or not, or if your life is worthwhile or not - or if you are just
looking at yourself in the mirror and asking yourself "Do I like what I
see?" (and I don't mean the wrinkles or the hair, I mean the person
behind the face), then you know what to do. Just be one of those happy
little mice running inside their running wheels. Just murmur "wtf" and
go with the flow, like a sheep in a flock
with no idea of past and future, cause and effect, morality and
responsibility. Just be glad that there is grass under your nose, and
eat it. After all, we know for a scientific fact that there is no
mouse-god or sheep-god up there who will reward or punish us on some
kind of "day of judgment". So there is nothing to worry about.
Honestly. Just be happy and whatever you do, don't stick your neck out
too far, and don't think too hard about what might happen to your
grandchildren after you're gone.
That's it, really.
P.S. The deniers will probably cite some of the last paragraph out of
context, but no problem, I'm used to it;-)
P.P.S. Just to confirm: I am writing this outrageous text on behalf of
a billion people
who are living in poverty in developing countries right now. These
people really exist (yes they really do, they are old and young, female
and male, they have good and bad days like we do, they tell the truth
and they tell lies, they have nice and annoying uncles and aunties,
they have all those everyday biological functions, don't ask me to list
them). And there really are a billion of them, that's a thousand
million, if you can imagine that (I can't). They and their children are
not only suffering from a low standard of living, they are in mortal dangerfor
various reasons, the main two being an unjust globalised economic
and global warming. In a globalised economy and a finite atmosphere, we
in the industrial countries are the principle cause of this mortal
danger to a billion people. We are collectively committing this crime
against humanity, in order to maintain our luxurious lifestyle. We
don't want to hurt anyone, of course. But if we knew we were putting
just one person in mortal danger, we would be very concerned. Such are
the limits of our rationality. Martian visitors will be forgiven for
thinking that we are quite mad.
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