Charles Eisenstein critiques “Carbon Reductionism”

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 11.39.02 AMClever title, and Eisenstein’s essay is well worth reading. I too, notice that whenever we treat science as a god — who is above us, bigger than us, smarter than us, and way too expert for us peons to comprehend — we also tend to push down our very real feelings. This leads to paralysis. Only when we fully feel, can we move authentically into sustained action. As Eisenstein notes, this calls for a very different kind of approach, in which we “access the power of our grief.”

Grief and Carbon Reductionism


Here is what I want everyone in the climate change movement to hear: People are not going to be frightened into caring. Scientific evidence-based predictions about what will happen 10, 20, or 50 years in the future are not going to make them care, not enough. What we need is the level of activism and energy that we are seeing now in Flint. That requires making it personal. And that requires facing the reality of loss. And that requires experiencing grief. There is no other way.

That is why I am suspicious of the entire framing of the climate change issue. To focus on an abstract, global quantity (CO2 or GGE’s (greenhouse gas equivalents)) creates a gap between cause and effect that requires an intellectual buy-in to the very same systems of authority that have long presided over and defended our ecocidal system. That framing, which I call CO2 reductionism, also lends itself to globalized and financialized solutions that, we have seen again and again, often have damaging ecological and social effects on the local level. CO2 reductionism has been used to justify and promote things like biofuel plantations that destroy traditional farming or wild lands, hydroelectric projects that submerge pristine ecosystems, nuclear power plants, GMOs, and even fracking.

Environmental organizations have long understood, at least unconsciously, the power of accessing grief; hence the success of campaigns invoking superstar species like elephants, rhinos, or whales. I think we can learn from that in the area of climate change. I like to make the point that everything that we might oppose on CO2 grounds can also be opposed on more local, tangible grounds. The Alberta Tar Sands projects are an example. Even if you know nothing about the greenhouse effect, what is happening there is heartbreaking. The same with mountaintop removal of coal. The same for oil field development. The same for offshore oil drilling and the whole petroleum industry (looking at oil spills). By framing them in terms of CO2, I am afraid we distance people from the aspects of those things that provoke grief and horror. If what is wrong with those things is CO2, and we avert our eyes from the immediate horror on the ground, then it seems perfectly reasonable to say, “Well, we’ll offset that gas field by planting a forest. And besides, it’s just transitional until we get enough wind turbines operating.”

Paradoxically, the CO2 framing actually enables the continuation of all the activities that are generating CO2.

I know this verges on apostasy, but I think we need to drop CO2 as the defining narrative of “green.” If you want to step into and the through the grief process as a society, CO2 is a hard sell. Sure you can say that such-and-such grievous flood in Bangladesh or drought in Niger was worsened by climate change, but people have to accept it as an article of faith, because Science Says So.



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