My reflections here are on values, particularly with relation to environmental activists and how they may be embodying an ethics for the Anthropocene, investing environmental citizenship with a rebellious imperative while actively caring for each other, distant humans in space and time, and a wider nature.
As part of the forum I had a conversation in front of an audience of around 50 people with two activists, one resident and one closely supporting a long-term ‘community protection camp’ at Borras near Wrexham in North Wales. The camp aims to stop IGas test drilling for gas on neighbouring farmland. Both activists are involved in direct action against fracking and associated extreme energy developments, arriving at the forum the day after a lock-on protest at IGas’ Doe Green coal bed methane (CBM) site.
Environmentalists are faced with the problem of how to respond when shale gas is presented as a transition or bridging fuel to a low or zero carbon economy (because it emits less carbon dioxide when burned to produce heat and power than coal or oil). Divesting from coal and tar sands in April 2015, the Church of England followed a growing societal trend, recognising that addressing climate change is 'a moral responsibility'. In 'Reason in a Dark Time', Dale Jamieson contends that in a climate changed world, ethical reasoning itself must be redefined: we need 'an ethics for the anthropocene', a new set of values which will transcend the limits of contemporary common sense morality. But is he right? isn't the C of E stance based on existent ethical reasoning sufficient?
Many environmentalist, particularly constituted groups such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace operate very rationally indeed, citing peer-reviewed science and appealing to contemporary ethical reasoning (thou shalt not kill - not even distant others in space and time, arguably not even other species). So, why is Jamieson claiming this is insufficient? Is it simply because it's yielding too little, too late? Is it because those acting like the C of E hold a minority view of moral responsibility in a world dominated by capitalist values where the moral responsibility of corporations is to maximise profits for shareholders?
Let me suggest the difference. The C of E and others like them are not divesting in gas, clinging to the notion that it is cleaner, that it is that 'bridging fuel'. FoE, Greenpeace et al could cite a whole pile of pee- reviewed social science on energy policy around the world to counter any notion that any bridge is actually being built. US environmentalist Barry Commoner was billing gas as a bridging fuel back in the 1970s. But, to date, we have no agreement on where the bridge will lead: we have no concensus on what future human society shoud look like: we profoundly disagree on what constitutes the good life...
The difference between the C of E's contemporary common sense morality and an ethics (fit) for the anthropocene is that in the latter it would no longer be morally acceptable value critical resources such as climate, clean drinking water or breathable air as exchangeable for money. It would no longer be morally acceptable to invest in such 'resources' and to make a profit. An ethics for the anthropocene would mean that such resources must be owned collectively and valued as, perhaps, basic human (or indeed biotic) rights. At some point, very soon, contemporary environmentalism will have to stop arguing rationally, at least where monetizing critical resources is concerned (say NO to ecological goods and services, that's not an solution it's a Faustian pact!), and dispense with appeals to contemporary common sense morality: the way we value things no longer makes common sense; when we trade carbon we are trading away nature, including human life. What's needed is 'commons sense'.