Interesting conference report on debates within the environmental movements, excerpted from Michael Bayliss:
“On Friday the 13th of February I attended the “Great Debate: To Collapse or Not to Collapse,” hosted by the Sustainable Living Festival at the Deakin Auditorium. The following Wednesday I attended a screening on the movie Cowspiracy, hosted by Animal Liberation Victoria, which explored the impact of industrial animal agriculture on the environment and the resistance from environmental groups to address the issue in a meaningful way.
Both events painted a grim picture of the environment and society if we don’t make considerable changes, however as in most events that prescribe change, they did a good job of focusing on particular issues whilst ignoring others. I have reflected considerably over the past week, and after summarising the two events I will share three points that I feel get overlooked by the environmental and social change movements. I believe these points must be acknowledged if we are to sustain the planet for successive generations.
The Great Debate identified climate change as an immediate crisis and six key speakers argued as to whether change should happen as a result of ‘collapse’ (e.g. a breakdown of our current complex and fuel dependent society) into a simpler, more grassroots society, or whether to work within the existing paradigm to a society run on clean renewable energy. The audience had the opportunity to vote at the end of which option they most agreed with or to suggest an alternative solution. With Bendigo Bank and Future Super sponsoring the event and encouraging attendees to divest, it was clear that the clean energy option had more support, however if the MC was hoping for a clear cut debate from the speakers she may have left a little disappointed.
Speakers David Holmgren and Nicole Foss gave the clearest arguments promoting collapse as the best option. Holmgren, who has spearheaded the permaculture movements in Victoria and abroad, suggested that a move from the middle class from grid-dependency towards self-reliance based on permaculture principles will allow a change of culture permitting a smoother transition away from capitalist growth economies that greatly impact the planet. Nicole Foss (see www.theautomaticearth.com) argued that economic collapse is inevitable as we are currently living in a financial bubble. As the bubble bursts, it will not be possible to fund the investment costs required for a large scale transition to renewable energy sources. To the contrary, people will only become inspired to take grass roots action when there is resource and fiscal depletion, she argued.
Phillip Sutton (author of ‘Climate Code Red’); Jess More (Stop CSG Illawarra) and George Marshall (author) were more inclined to argue that economic or physical collapse isn’t necessary. Sutton stated that collapse would not take CO2 away from the atmosphere. Therefore we need green tech technology to reclaim these emissions. These three speakers seemed to believe that there is a failure to talk about climate change on across the political spectrum. So a bottom-up change needs to take place through a conversation with wider society. Hopefully this would eventuate in a critical mass motivated to change society away from fossil fuels and endless economic growth.
George Monbiot (Prominent UK climate change author) had reservations for both sides of the argument and counselled attendees to abstain from voting. He suggested on the one hand how the planet will struggle to sustain our societies with current growth even with a switch to renewable energies. Further, that it is impossible to grow on a finite planet, especially now that limits have been reached. On the other hand, he had reservations about the manner in which basic demands (such as health) might be met in a post-collapse society. He believed that history has shown that post-collapse societies are not a peaceful alternative as and that feudal societies or tribal pockets run by psychopaths tend to be the norm.
Once the votes were counted, it was found that a distinct majority of 123 voted for non-collapse, and 59 voted for a third option (whatever that might be).
I was in the minority who voted for collapse (23 votes) because I believe that the planet and other species that still live in it have a better chance of recovery if we’re in less of a position to systematically exploit it.
I learnt much from this debate and all speakers raised clear and valid points. As I anticipated however, the largest two contributors to climate change and ecological destruction, human population and animal agriculture were never discussed. This is all too common in environmental discussions. Nicole Foss mentioned the ‘P’ (for population numbers) word in passing, and George Monbiot brought up limits to growth on a finite planet, however this was couched as an economic argument rather than in terms of human numbers.