Lear and Plenty Coups: The Answers to Our Ecological Crisis

Allen Thompson’s article “Radical Hope for Living Well in a Warmer World”, explores the causes and possible solutions to our current ecological crisis. His main points rely heavily on Jonathan Lear’s opinions about consumerism and cultural change as well as his thoughts about Plenty Coups, the final chief of the Crow Nation he writes about in his book, The Radical Hope. Thompson utilizes these this information in order to further his claim about how the future needs to be supported by humans possessing resolve in living with lower standards of living to support the changes necessary to assist in solving our current ecological issues.

Lear places a lot of blame of the current damage on our ecosystem on the Industrial Revolution, and in turn, consumerism. The Industrial Revolution gave way to people expecting more from life and raising the standard of living through the advancement of technology which resulted in people’s need for more products increasing due to consumerism. This leads to Lear’s point that “Homo sapiens have been exploiting carbon-based form of energy throughout history, as relentlessly as existing technologies would permit” (Thompson 3) and have therefore largely increased the world’s carbon footprint over the years. An increased carbon-footprint has caused damage to the atmosphere that, without any solution, will cause irreversible damage. This can be solved however, by future generations creating new ways of creating clean sources of renewable energy. This new way of thinking is critical but will create cultural changes and new ways of thinking.

Lear also brings up Plenty Coups, who was the last chief of Crow Nation. He praises him for the leadership strategies he enacted through the Crow Tribe’s time of cultural devastation. The Crow tribe’s way of life became out of the question. These people were not only threatened by nearby tribes, but more severely, the European settlers. According to Lear, Plenty Coups illustrated a radical hope of overcoming these setbacks through encouraging his people to be more courageous and prideful to be who they were and to ultimately have hope to a better future.

Thompson combines both aforementioned ideas and concludes that we need to recognize the impending destruction that could be wrought on our environment in order to not end up devastated like the Crows. In order to do that, we need to develop a different mindset; one that does not rely so heavily on consumerism and more so on reducing our standards of living in order to make the reductions necessary to decrease our carbon-footprint. With both points in mind, Thompson hopes that humans can find the resolve they so desperately need to prevent further damage to the ecosystem and to themselves.

Seven Generations Ahead

Seven Generations Ahead

In Allen Thompson’s “A World They Don’t Deserve: Moral failure and deep adaptation”, he discusses two key assumptions. The first one being that the next few hundred years of both the natural and social world are deeply uncertain, and the second being that members of the present generation have a moral responsibility to prevent “dangerous anthropogenic interference”. However, the point that Thompson brings up that truly resonates with me is the fact that he calls any failure to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference “moral failure”.
This detail of his second assumption I find both true, and burdening. It doesn’t matter what world the current generation was given. As long as there is still time to change it, it is on them to do so. It is always the burden of the current generation to lay the groundwork for the next one, but it has never been more burdening to do so.
Failing to do this aspect can come in a number of ways. Of course, the main point and seemingly the most pressing one is that of climate change. While there is not a full consensus of when irreversible damage will occur from the effects of climate change, it is agreed that such things will happen soon.
Personally, I think that the biggest responsibility this puts on the worlds current generation is to change the world we live in. It is a fact that the way we live right now is not sustainable and it is our moral responsibility to change the systems we find ourselves in. However, there is also the matter of shaping how this and future generations think. Currently most of the world that produces carbon emissions and majority of the worlds garbage are run in systems that prioritize yourself first. The strange thing is that this form of thinking has only been so dominant in recent history. This means transforming this way of thinking would be world changing. We need to change our ways of thinking to become more sustainable and instead of looking out for our own gain of material wealth, we need to look out for the natural wealth of the generations to come.

Picture: https://sevengenerationsahead.org/

A Late Night Climate Ramble


Allen Thompson’s texts are the first in this course curriculum to ask the question: Now that we’ve reached the tipping point of climate cataclysm, what should we do? In his paper,  “A World They Don’t Deserve: Moral Failure and Deep Adaptation,” Thompson asks this question through the lens of a moral imperative, and attributes much of the current state of our climate to a moral failure on the part of present and somewhat earlier generations of humans, who have wronged future generations of humans. 

Thompson gives two major assumptions regarding the state of the climate as we know it: 1.) The distant future of mankind is “deeply uncertain” and 2.) People alive today are morally obligated to do something to prevent climate disaster, or else we have morally failed (Thompson 2). I agree with both of these propositions, though I agree with the second one more than the first. Thompson says that future generations will live in a world which humans today are not able to comprehend nor empathize with. I agree with this too, but there seems to be an implication here which cannot be ignored, which is that the effects of climate change have not truly taken place yet, and that present day humans will not live to see its major effects. Though climate scientists have roughly come to a consensus that we have 12 years to act or else damage is irreversible (or even 18 months, depending on who you ask. Either way, there’s very little time) (source [1]). Climate change is directly and presently affecting people of color through environmental racism, where people are dislocated from their communities or they are the target of industrial companies who have relocated specifically to their towns. 

Thompson brings up three common proposals of climate change solutions which he says are “Normatively Weak.” They are doing nothing, survivalism, and geoengineering (Thompson 7). I agree that these three solutions are not something to pay much attention to, especially at this point. Geoengineering in particular is a solution which I find pretty atrocious, given that it does nothing whatsoever to solve the problems that created climate change in the first place (not to mention that it is potentially very dangerous). I’m also glad that Thompson brought up the realities of survivalism, and how the common perceptions of it (the stereotype of stockpiling soup and an arsenal) can only get people so far, and how the only way to really make sure the species survives is if humans learn sustainability in a community (Thompson 8).

But we have not reached this point yet; I believe we still have time—albeit a sliver of time—to effectively redirect climate change before worldwide catastrophe ensues. Researchers at Stanford led by Mark Z. Jacobson, environmental engineering professor, conducted a study and found that it is very possible to realistically convert 100% of the world’s energy to renewable and zero-emission technology by the year 2030 (source below [2]). Then again, despite this being possible, it is still crucial to ask whether or not we should do this, since the manufacturing of renewable energy technology doesn’t change what caused the problem in the first place: extraction. So this must also be kept in mind. I’m really not sure how to answer a question like this, because all in all, extraction is inherently harmful and should be stopped somehow, but we’ve been presented with a feasible way to quickly move to complete renewable energy. But then in Thompson argues that the way our neo-liberal system is set up, people aren’t going to want to make this change in enough time, and thus we’ll have to figure out how to cope otherwise. So it looks like I’ve come full circle, and I simultaneously agree and disagree with Thompson’s point, and I don’t have a clue what the answer is, once again. There’s a lot more that I could write about but I think I’m going to stop now.




Still Lookin’ Out for #1

Photo was taken from in-class lecture slides – Peter Clark [Data from SSP database (IIASA), CDIAC/GCP]
In his paper, “A World They Don’t Deserve,” Allen Thompson clearly concludes that the current generation that controls climate policy has failed, will fail, and can conceivably do nothing but fail to consciously act with the best interest of the human future in mind. He makes it clear for an ethical and physical need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, yet argues that there is little evidence to suggest that this will happen, largely based on the capitalist mindset that drives a materialistic perspective. He further argues that the current generation’s land-use policies continue to drive the current climate crisis, a problem which is also linked largely to a capitalist perspective of resources. Ultimately, Thompson points to human greed, a reoccurring theme throughout the past few weeks – as the root of the problem; a problem he seems to say “we” will not change, largely due to the narcissistic philosophy shared by the current dominant generation.

While these points are largely true and disheartening, what is most disheartening is the ethical debate offered throughout the paper of whether we should give up, rollover, and simply forfeit to climate change and try to improve the lives of future generations in other aspects of life be it cancer research, or literally doing nothing because of the Non-Identity Problem, or invest in social institutions as a form of apology to future generations.

First, the argument that cancer research may better benefit future generations RATHER THAN climate change mitigations is honestly quite appalling. It suggests that we can continue to make conditions worse for some while making some conditions slightly better for all. By this, I mean that climate change will ultimately impact certain communities more than others, such as southern countries, coastal cities, impoverished communities, and minorities (such as indigenous groups). Cancer research will help only those impacted, and not to be too morbid, but it’s only going to keep more of us around to further the effects of climate crisis (not that I don’t value cancer research, just not INSTEAD of climate change mitigation).

Secondly, the Non-Identity Problem is not something that really has a place in the climate crisis. This isn’t some philosophical debate. The effects may be uncertain, but the baseline for the disaster is comprehensible enough to propose this argument is to devalue the lives of all future generations. This argument is an interesting philosophical idea, but not here, not now, and not one that will hold any ground later.

Finally, an apology is good if it holds true to what Thompson proposes as the third element of a good apology: “restitution, actions in an attempt to rectify or compensate for the transgression.” Social institutions are not adequate restitution. If you can go as far as considering an apocalyptic scenario in a hypothetical playout of a climate change scenario (no matter how theoretical), you can’t possibly suggest social institutions as adequate compensation for climate destruction.

The problems outlines are too grave, and it is clear that the understanding of these problems is quite solid. To propose such inaction followed by such a soft apology feels like an insult to the future and a way to justify inaction in order to continue the “aim to lead good [life].” Start looking out for the future, not always the self.