“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Friday, August 29, 2008

Obama and ecology

Okay everyone—what do you think of Obama's environmental policies?

If you didn't see his acceptance speech you can find it on YouTube.

He wants to increase funding for wind and solar by an awful lot, it seems. And do other things.

I write as one who persuaded his partner (now wife, Kate) to vote for Nader in 2000. (That won't be happening this time...)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Work your body

As a willing and never recovered victim of the Second Summer of Love (1988)—the year Acid House removed the exoskeletons of the fragile Brits—I was pleased that a friend sent me this link.

It's an essay in Der Spiegel on an environmentally sustainable club that uses the energy of dancing to power itself.

It will make clubbing less wasteful than sitting at home!

Talking of energy efficiency, the Terry's Cafe series appears to be rather helpful. I just fell for number 10.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Unidentified flying subject

Hi everyone--I just had a close brush with a curious fly. See my ecocriticism blog for details.

I'm working on a theory of life forms as "strange strangers" and have thus given up using terms such as "animal." I'll be delving into this in the new project, The Ecological Thought.

This fly sure was strange. I've always been keen on aliens.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Ecological nostalgia

When we think ecologically, are we thinking forwards or backwards?

To live together ecologically—does that mean a “return to Nature”? Or a progression to an different future?

There's a very cool discussion of this going on on the Romantic Circles blog. Check it out.

“Let it be”

“Let it be”—it's the language of Paul McCartney but it's also the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. Being lets things be. Poetry gives us unique access to this letting-be quality of Being.

Cue a thousand environmental maxims, poems, views. (For a good intro, see my colleague Louise Economides's essay online.)

Something is so right about it. But something feels so wrong as well.

For example--what do we let be? When letting-be becomes a political question, the Being really hits the fan.

Do we let Exxon be? Do we let global warming be? Do we let the sixth mass extinction event (for which we ourselves are responsible) be?

There are Heideggerians who seriously suggest this. Any kind of intervention into the substance of reality is seen as yet another inevitably failed attempt to not let be.

What I've read of them recently convinces me more than ever that the ideological language of immersion in the lifeworld—profoundly environmentalist language, derived from Heidegger—is complicit with current social and ecological conditions.

This sounds counterintuitive, but it's no different than driving past what looks like two separate buildings that turn out to be part of the same structure, a kind of parallax.

Insisting on our embeddedness (like Iraq War reporters) in the “world” is—shocking thought—part of the problem.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Think globally, act globally

We recently signed a deal with Solar City to get solar power for our house. Solar City are trying to make solar power more accessible by doing zero down deals where you lease the solar cells with an option to buy later.

It's very impressive, actually. Solar might soon no longer be a rich person's toy. Get it now before Congress decides not to renew the clean energy tax credit!

It doesn't make much “economic” sense. It's not in our immediate “rational self-interest” to pay a little extra for electricity each month until we can afford to buy the system. (Of course, if we spent loads on energy it would make more sense.)

For many people this realism is entirely “natural.” For them, the “laws” of supply and demand are as natural as green grass.

With “realism” like this, who needs reality? I'm tempted to quote the Situationists here: “I take my desires for reality because I believe in the reality of my desires.

But it's within the bounds of not so crazy. And it is certainly in our long-term self-interest, or in the best interests of an expanded, modified self-interest that includes larger groups. For instance, it will certainly be good to wean ourselves off of carbon and avoid the war and colonialism that it brings.

But just to be honest, there's a purely irrational element to this, or maybe I should say elements.

(1) Feeding the superego beast by assuaging major guilt over carbon usage. The less energy you use, the more you want to save. The more you want to save, the more you enjoy your savings. The more you enjoy, the more you are guilty, so this is a tight little loop. This has nothing to do with sitting comfy in a smug little lifeworld. Kierkegaard: “Against God we are always in the wrong.”

(2) Exorbitant love of actually existing life forms. Love in this sense is strictly correlative with evil. Out of the Universe of things I select you (and you, and you) to love. Nothing to do with holism, then—with upgraded versions of “self” or “self-interest.”

(3) Childlike joy I've had since I was nine over these sparkling polygonal surfaces that absorbed light. There was an exhibition called The Energy Show at Earl's Court in London. I was transfixed by the solar cells. There is no “self,” no “interest,” no “reason” in this.

Clearly this is not a case of thinking globally and acting locally (remember, this is not strictly in our self-interest). We are acting with the planet in mind, by using less of its carbon energy. We are acting globally.

If Nature = the will to exist = self-interest, who needs it?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Wind farms as environmental art

To save carbon, my family and I decided not to fly. Instead, we drove to our relatives in Colorado, through Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

As we entered Wyoming, we saw some giant wind farms. Some British environmentalists have objected to wind farms—not because of the risk to birds, but because they “spoil the view.” Quite recently, a plan to put a wind farm near a remote Scottish island was, well, scotched, because residents of the island complained that their view would be destroyed.

This is truly a case of the aesthetics of Nature impeding ecology, and a very good argument for why ecology must be without Nature.

So just for a minute, let's talk aesthetics.

How come a wind turbine is less beautiful than an oil pipe? How come it “spoils the view” any more than pipes and roads?

You could see turbines as environmental art. Wind chimes play in the wind; some environmental sculptures sway and rock in the breeze.

The wind farms had a slightly frightening size and magnificence. One could easily read them as fitting the aesthetics of the sublime (rather than the beautiful). But it's an ethical sublime, that says “We humans choose not to use carbon”—a choice embodied in gigantic forms on the high bluffs of southern Wyoming. A visible choice. Perhaps it's this very visibility of choice that makes the wind farms disturbing.

A visible choice, rather than secret pipes, running under an apparently undisturbed “landscape” (a word for a painting, not actual trees and water).

As a poster in the office of Mulder in The X-Files used to say, “The Truth is Out There.” Ideology is not just in your head. It's in the shape of a Coke bottle. It's in the way some things appear “natural”—rolling hills and greenery, as if the Industrial Revolution had never occurred.

These fake landscapes are the original greenwashing.

What the Brits are saying, in their objection to wind farms, is not “Save the environment!” but “Leave our dreams undisturbed!”