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Blog item: 'Foreign' Must Become A Foreign Concept

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1 comment on May-3-2010   Add a comment   Author:  Wavehunter (Apr-13-2010)
Categories: Global Warming, Peak Oil/Gas & Energy Demand, Philosophical & Quality of Life, Political

Free everyone, not just Scotland!It may seem obvious that nature and the climate know no borders, but is this true? And if it is, why do environmentalists sometimes talk in nationalistic terms?

The first state probably arose when one man suggested a scheme to a group of his friends. "If you support me in my ridiculous claim that this land is mine," he said, "I'll give you a share of the spoils." The second state came about when someone saw the scheme work and copied it. These early states were small, but grew when one local ruler claimed suzerainty over his neighbours. "If you swear allegiance to me and send me tribute, I'll protect you." From around the 15th century these suzerains began to centralise and monopolise power and to define their borders. The modern state was born.

When the artificiality and injustice of this system became obvious to the middle classes and then to the masses, the elite had to find new forms of control. One was nationalism, in which the state manufactured a sense of pride and belonging among the people it controlled. Another was democracy, in which the state gives citizens the illusion of choice in the way it is run. A third was colonialism, by which the state found others to exploit and could then buy the passivity of its home population. Add the prefix 'neo' to 'colonialism' and this is where we are now.

It's a place we must leave quickly if we're to stand any chance of saving our species.

Physical borders are just the beginning of the problem. The fences constructed between Mexico and the USA or around the Palestinian ghettos are not helpful to migrating wildlife. Two species of big cat are endangered by the first of these. And when other species head poleward, as they must in a warming world, some will find their paths blocked by a man-made obstacle. The borders are more of a problem for humans. The global elite has set up a system whereby money and goods can move easily from country to country, but workers are stuck. Thus, Australia sends coal and iron to East Asia where cheap labour turns it into consumer durables and sends it back. Best would be to cease this mindless extraction, production, and consumption, but a start might be to let the workers move closer to the resources and markets and save the huge cost of shipping.

The elite uses nationalism to demonise immigration, making such a policy unmentionable. Yet nationalism is increasingly creeping into environmental parlance. We should invest in wind power, not because it is right, but to end our reliance on foreign oil. We should research solar energy, not because it is right, but because if we don't the Chinese will beat us to it.

Part of this may be to broaden the appeal of pet environmental projects. If I want a wind farm built in order to cut CO2 emissions I may have to win over those who would allow a wind farm to be built if it meant less of our money going to those nasty Arabs. Is there anything wrong with that?

Yes there is. By siding with the xenophobes I strengthen their cause as well as mine. When global warming and peak oil really begin to bite, when the global cake begins to shrink though population continues to rise, there will be only one sensible policy. That will be for all to work together to solve the problem, for rich people and rich nations to make sacrifices and share with the poor. The crazy policy is more likely to win through, however. That will be to close borders, to seize what we need and hold on to what we've got. That could be the beginning of the Third World War.

There can be an upside to nationalism, and that is healthy competition between states. When states vie to be the fastest at reducing their carbon footprints the whole world can win. Several states are locked in a race to be the first to become carbon neutral. This is good, but it is at the margins. The states with the most to do vis-a-vis greenhouse gases are probably doing the least. Unless others follow the actions of Costa Rica, Iceland, New Zealand and Norway, the overall effect of these four nations' actions will prove negligible.

More common, unfortunately, is unhealthy competition. When searching for a bright green light shining from the dark future ahead, many of us look to technology. Every so often a story offers hope. Today I read of a genetically engineered virus that uses sunlight to split oxygen from water. Eventually this could lead to scientists mimicking photosynthesis, creating super-efficient solar cells and harvesting abundant hydrogen to drive our zero-emissions cars. This is many years off and the project may anyway be killed by green 'investment' from a fossil energy giant. But when and if it comes to fruition, nationalism will see to it that it does not benefit the world. The technology will stay in one country, or will be let out only for an exorbitant fee. Something as transformative as this should be given away to anyone who might use it, but a combination of capitalistic patents and nationalistic laws means it will help a few financially and the many little or not at all.

Perhaps the nation state and nationalism are here to stay – at least, as long as human beings survive on this world. Yet as environmentalists we should at the very least do our best to limit their damaging effects and certainly not strengthen them. And the obvious place to start is right here on the Internet. Though we type it every day, sometimes we forget what www stands for. On this worldwide web, there is no 'foreign oil' and no 'them' to rail against – there is only 'oil' and 'us'.

Related reading:
  I Think This Is A Good Idea, At Least Where I Li... (May-13-2011)
  On Being A Pro-Nuclear Environmentalist (Oct-7-2010)
  119 One-Liners To Respond To Climate Science Myths (Aug-14-2010)
  I Was At Copenhagen And Did Nothing; Pause For R... (Dec-23-2009)
  Global Warming Denial Is Alive And Kicking (Dec-11-2009)
  North American Governments Agree to Protect Wild... (Nov-17-2009)
  Arctic Loses Multiyear Ice (Nov-4-2009)
  Stop Emitting CO2 or Geoengineering Could Be Our... (Sep-2-2009)
  As the globe warms, fish shrink. (Jul-21-2009)
  Tuvalu plots zero carbon output by 2020 (Jul-20-2009)

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Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (May-3-2010)   
There's a benefit to cultural isolation and distinction. Unfortunately, it has been coopted by nationalism, which is really similar to corporate culture in that it is merely a tool for those in charge to line their pockets with money and power. Missionaries were invented to teach the natives not to eat the salesmen who inevitably follow them.

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About author/contributor Member: Wavehunter (William Coffin) Wavehunter (William Coffin)
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Member: Wavehunter (William Coffin) I lived in Britain for many years, where I studied politics and international relations and worked in the charity sector. Now I live in Mexico and juggle my time between bringing up a young son, writing science fiction, teaching English and engaging with the global community on-line. I want to learn more about the enormous changes we all face so we might make a peaceful transition to what is bound to be a very different society.

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