Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The loss of freedom in our ecologically-constrained world

In 2015 we published a paper called "Implications of ‘structure versus agency’ for addressing health and well-being in our ecologically-constrained world" in the International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics, (Vol 8 pp 47-69). It's behind a paywall, but one of its key points is that as limits to growth tighten, freedom for all will be reduced.

Here are three examples, simply from today's radio:

1. Free speech in Britain: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown just stated (on Late Night Live) that in the UK if a university student should mention Western hypocrisy over human rights they risk being reported to the British authorities. I tried to verify this (it is so Orwellian) but so far with no success.

2. Information about financial risks: I today watched a documentary called "We as a people will become afraid of the ocean' about the inexorable sea level rise and its effect in Florida. At its end, Professor Wanless (Professor of Geological Sciences at the University of Miami) warns that, perhaps by 2050, many people from Florida will become like Okies - that is, wandering the US, penniless, looking for a home, having lost their assets in Florida (no doubt with profound global financial flow-ons). Yet, today, property prices in Florida continue to boom. This illustrates another loss of freedom - millions of investors, collectively, are walking into a gigantic financial trap, due to the "echo chamber" of a poor understanding of science (and limited education). They lack the freedom to know what is going on - even though they think they are making independent decisions.

More encouragingly, residents of Florida in November 2016 voted against an amendment, supported by the big utility companies, which would have slowed the solar transition which is happening, despite the collective incomprehension of climate change in the US and many other places.

3. The Philippines: The president of this overcrowded, desperately unequal country has himself killed numerous people without proof, or court, ushering 6,000 copycat crimes and desperately overcrowded jails. To what extent is the drug epidemic a symptom of this overcrowding and inequality? And, what has happened to Catholic morals there? Pope Francis, so good on the environment, did try to suggest that people need not breed like rabbits (after a visit to this benighted country). Slowing population growth in climate change vulnerable places, such as the Philippines, would also be good for adaptation.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown also speculates (in her interview) on how easily the world could slide into World War III, something I have also repeatedly warned of (eg). And this interview was first broadcast months before the election of Donald Trump.

What can be done?

Like Yasmin, I am pessimistic. But the rise of Bernie Sanders, the failure of the Florida power companies to get their way, and the falling price of solar are rational causes for hope, as is social media, and people like Xiuhtezcatal Tonatiuh. As I recently mused, the excesseof capitalism have released demons from the netherworld, as Marx long ago predicted. If enough people see the risk we face we could again see a fairer world unfold. But with Trump filling the Washington swamp with members of the 0.1% who deny health care, social security, climate change and environmental protection, we could easily stumble into WIII.

** Our abstract read: "The long-standing debate in public health and the wider society concerning the implications of structure and agency for health and well-being generally concludes that structure powerfully influences agency, and does so unequally, exacerbating social and health inequities. In this article, we review this debate in the context of increasing environmental degradation and resource depletion. As the global population rises and environmental resources per person shrink, conflicts over the underlying factors contributing to human health and well-being may intensify. A likely result of nearing limits is a further constraint of agency, for both rich and poor, and greater social and health inequities, including gender inequities."