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ENVIRONMENTAL PERSPECTIVE ON TRUST AND SOCIAL CONSENSUS IN A CHANGING WORLD

By Natalia Parra
  

Conflicting interest have always existed, but they are on the rise for the simple reason that the previous existing barriers and frontiers of the world are disappearing, therefore increasing the variables that play a role in the world economy, politics, and social concern. In recent years there has been a noticeable increase in grass root movements expressing their sentiments against the effects of this imminent globalization, most of which are either directly or indirectly related to the environment and the distribution of resources. Nevertheless, these grass root movements are very minute when compared to the scope of the issues they are addressing, for these issues are constrained by multiple factors, putting these movements in a stalemate position as far as having a tangible impact. Coupled with the lack of dialogue among the state and concerned citizens, and the state’s inability to channel their concerns, this stalemate position has created a kind of social unrest, a certain degree of public frustration in face of the global changes taking place. This frustration is not only due to the fact that these changes are wide in scope, have great repercussions, and posses the potential for further impact, -as well as that, ultimately, in many cases the changes are unwanted-, but because there have been no official channels to direct the concerns of private citizens. There is a fear that accompanies change, and the inability to express concern through official forums has led concerned private citizen’s fear to translate itself into extremist positions. This leads me to the issue of fear vs. ignorance, for I believe that fear and extremism, in this case, are not a translation ofignorance as much as they are a translation of a sense powerlessness.

 You could argue that the reason grassroots movements have been born as a response to globalization and environmental concerns is because of a lack of faith on the capacity of technology to overcome our current problems and those that will come in the future. I believe this is partly true, and I believe that many people’s kepticism could be solved by properly informing them. Nevertheless, ignorance is not thecore of the problem. The concerns of grassroots movements regarding environmental issues and distribution of wealth are valid to the extent that they are a result of survival instincts, ethics, and the lack of faith in the potential benefits of this seemingly unstoppable change (the latter two boiling down to survival as well).

When mentioning survival instinct I am referring to the fact that, for one, many people do not trust technology to solve our environmental problems, but on the contrary, they expect technology to advance them.This is clear in the United States and Europe where there is a noticeable trend in the rejection of genetically altered or hormone saturated foods.

Organic shops and health food stores are becoming more and more popular for they are promoting “technology free foods" foods that have been grown without any genetic altering or the help of pesticides. This is a clear statement to the present atmosphere of rejection regarding these technological advancements. This rejection is profoundly psychological. For example, biological engineering gives way to a wandering speculation of what the boundaries will be regarding the creation of life. Our survival instinct will predictably - produce a negative reaction toward the creation of life through the crossing of biologicalboundaries and limitations that are now being crossed thanks to technology. This is because understanding and mastering the art of life making through technology perhaps will lead to the depreciation of life itself. It is a very simple concept: The easier and more abundant a product is, the less value it has.

Even in a country like the United States where the technology of biological engineering is highly regulated negative sentiments still arise. I believe this is because the technology did not come about in a time when public information regarding it existed, and nor was there a public sense that this technology was a desired solution. Because of this, and the fears that arouse, the fact that this technology is highlyregulated now is inconsequential, for regulation perse is not addressing the public’s concerns regarding the issue.

From a political perspective, in a world that is highly stratified, many people feel that change might actually leave them behind.?For example, in a free market capitalistic scenario those who believe themselves to have the capabilities to succeed in relation to others might choose to support such a system. But those who, on the other hand, do not believe themselves to have the resources to succeed, those who fear being left behind, might lean towards a more socialist ideal. This is because socialism has ingrained in its philosophy the ideal that it is the duty of the state to take care of all its citizens.

Now, a socialist might actually recognize that practically speaking a free market economy is sounder than the economic policies of a socialist government.

Nevertheless, it is undeniable that if his/her capacity to succeed in the free market economy is limited when compared to his/her capacity to succeed in the socialist economic framework, then his/her bestoption is to go with the socialist system. In the previous simplified example, the socialist system, in believing its duty to take care of its citizens, has an ethical element that has proven to be the chosen survival strategy for many. The same rational can be applied to the issue of technology vs. environmental resources vs. the current economic world order.Here in the United States for example, companies have theright to sue if their right to profit is hindered in any way, even if this profit is made at the expense of the environment. The idea that “more?technology will solve the problem of our environmental dependenceseems, understandably, cocky to many, for the simple reason that there are no guarantees and that, until now, technology since the industrial revolution has been perceived as an important cause for environmental degradation. And even more so because even if incredible advances have taken place, the “average Joe" does not know about them or in what way the advances will benefit him or her personally.

 However unaware people might be of technological advances, there are many people that are becoming intensely aware of the rapid changes taking place due to these technological advances and globalization. And though change has always occurred, never before has it occurred with such far-reaching effects in a scenario where a great portion of the population was aware of it and had the voice to speak out with their concerns.

Society is wondering: Is this new world of technology dominating nature really desirable? But on the other hand, these questions are faced with the impossibility of retracting on humanities steps, and furthermore, these questions are faced with the ultimate issue: Are these changes unavoidable??This is why consensus will be the most important factor when bringing about this change, and trust the way to do it. Ultimately, the unavoidable should be a platform from which to work, not an excuse for conformist attitudes regarding change and its negative consequences, or, on the other hand, a basis for extremist reactions.

 How will this trust be fomented? First of all, by education, and secondly, but equally important, by the creation of a global culture that will help us accommodate to these changes. A culture that, above all, will display the ethical values that are necessary to promote trust and consensus among the concerned citizens of the first world countries that are engineering this change. Systems of trust work better when members in the system adopt a moral stance of “altruistic stance? In altruistic trust, one trusts the other more than is warranted by the available evidence, as a gift, for the good of both the other and the community? (Warren, 1999) Bill Joe might actually feel more comfortable if this “ethical/altruistic" culture was in place. Also, many groups today are concerned about the issue of monopolies and big orporations for they are said to have a power of devastating consequences, and even worse, the power to not be regulated. According to A. J. Muste the challenge in building an effective [environmental] movement “is to bring the state and other institutions of the world to adjust themselves to our demands...?He asks: “How will this be done if the institutions of the world manipulate our culture so that millions and millions of people regard them, in the words of historian Laurence Goodwyn, as “venerable repositories of good sense?when they are, in fact, merely powerful.?(Erickson, 1990 )

Today, those with power, power meaning money, are the ones whose interest are being represented in policy making, which has made society noticeably bitter and distrustful of government. It seems that the sentiment today is that democracy serves those who can afford to be heard. As Mark Warren states: “Trust can develop where interests converge, but in politics interest conflict. Democracies build on a recognition that politics does not provide a natural terrain for robust trust relationships, and so includes a healthy distrust of the interests of others, especially the powerful (Warren, 1999). In this democratic system of ours, government is constrained to a great degree when attempting to implement environmentally sound policy by the interest of corporations, big companies, etc. To the point that it is not clear to what extent government affects the market, and to what extent the market constrains government. I will state very simply that in the changing world we live in today I believe government’s role should be one of abridging the gap between society, technology, and environmental concerns. Parting from here, I also believe that government should enjoy more freedom from the financial interest of big corporations, especially when implementing environmental policy. Not only this, but perhaps through a governments freedom to implement sound policy technology might come to be perceived as a solution tool, not like the indiscriminate development of scientific advancements that will continue to deplete environmental resources, and that will bring financial gains and commodities to a select few.

 In a world where most advanced countries have highly stratified societies, and were most third world countries are enjoying precarious environmental conditions (neither factor limited to first or third world countries), and specially given that technology, interdependence, and the capitalistic system, are perceived to lead the world in this direction, uneasiness is not a surprise. The issue is not whether technology, interdependence, and the capitalistic system will not aggravate these problems, or whether they will actually improve them. One of the issues at stake is whether there are viable alternatives to technology, interdependence, and capitalism. Probably not, which is why the most important question is whether the concerned people of the world, those promoting grass root movements against these things can actually be convinced of it in order to promote compromise. In dealing with this issue there is an element of time. The fact of the matter is that our planet is suffering from many ailments. The global warming phenomenon is a very hard one to disprove or brush off as a minor problem. Deforestation and soil depletion are driving thousands into hunger, and the dangers, along with the causes, can no longer beperceived as local but more than ever they are being perceived as global threats.

 I will stress again that many of the environmental problems that are a problem today have been directly or indirectly caused by industrialization (technology), population growth, capitalism, and imperialism, and therefore, it is understandable that the first reaction of those seeking solutions is to reject those factors that have brought us to this scenario. It is true, nevertheless, that there is no turning back and that solutions need to take these factors into account, but theorizing on possible solutions is rendered useless unless solution proposal enjoys public support, and I believe that public support for solutions involving greater technology and the erpetuation of the capitalistic system will not become a reality unless those groups in society who feel at a loss within the global system begin to trust that the entities in control, or the entities that to some degree are directing these changes, are actually taking into account their concerns. This “accountability" can be either for the sake of consensus in carrying on with this change or, (in my personal opinion), better yet, because of an ingrained ethical stance that believes in the inherent value of protecting the interests of the whole.

 Trust is fundamental to any system of government, and I venture to say that is has been for as long as the human kind has lived within the framework of any kind of social organization. A tribe trusts its leader’scapacity for decision making. Dictatorships are generally mounted on the blind faith of loyal though often few - supporters that trust the leader’s intentions. In a democracy we need to trust that the system works in relation to its fairness and trust that majority rule is fair and legitimate. Based on this, we could say that to a certain degree trust is ultimately, in some way or fashion, the platform from where any kind of social organization comes to be.

However, there is a sort of dilemma that comes to be in democratic systems. This dilemma can be defined as the stagnation the government might find itself in when faced with the conflicting interest of the public good and big corporations. This can be exemplified beautifully by the environmental dilemma of natural disaster prevention. On the one hand disaster prevention is obviously a necessity. Neverthelesseconomic interest and political strategy have prevented measures to be put into effect in many cases. Take a small-scale example: The current droughts in Griffin, Georgia. Regulations have been placed that implore residents to use water sparingly, although these regulations have not been enforced. In other countries, if a drought takes place with the same severity the regulations will be enforced. I dare to venture that if this had been the case in Griffin, the water supply would have lasted noticeably longer, although the public might have demonstrated severe discontent. A democratic government must be able to bypass these problems of stagnation in order to work for the public good. An equilibrium must be attained in where economic interest do no prevent the government from implementing sound policy and visible positive change. A fundamental question also comes into play: How much power must the government have in order to be efficient? And, who decides on what constitutes the public good? Well, everybody should feel like a part of this process, for being alienated from it will lead to frustration and extremism as a counter reaction.

  The point is that solution to current problems invariably will necessitate of the use of technology and other elements that are perceive to harm the environment. This takes me again, to the issue of consensus and, specifically, to how this consensus can be reached. The best option seems to be education for several reasons. For one, the more educated the people the less likely they are to feel powerless andtherefore the less likely they are to experience the kind of fear that will lead to social unrest. This also takes us to the issue of Propaganda vs.

Education. It is important to keep in mind that propaganda, although very effective, can still be recognized and rejected, especially today in a world of relatively free transaction of information (although some would argue that). Not only this, but the foundation of a new society will not be strong if propaganda substitutes quality education. The state, being the entity in charge of bridging the gap between society, globalization, and technology, must embrace concerns even if perceived as backward and ignorant, and must not resolve to state that the trajectory being pursued is the best solution. By embrace I also mean that the state should take a position of listener and mediator in order to explain why, although embracing concerns, it cannot embrace proposed solutions. For example the nuclear weapons problem.

States should stress that although concerns regarding the construction of these weapons are legitimate, to demand their deployment is highly unrealistic.? Only through trust and education will it be possible topromote change in a “sustainable?fashion, again minimizing the chance for extreme opposition.  

Nature has previously been perceived as an infinite pool of resources, but just like the United States witnessed the end of manifest destiny, so has humanity been woken up to the reality of natural resourcedepletion. Because of this, no one can deny that the beliefs that have been dominating our attitudes toward the exploitation of the environment need to change and adapt to the new world order and the planet’s present state. What this change will consist of is still blurred behind fear, conomics, and the possible alternatives. From this we can draw the conclusion that consensus through well-grounded trust will play avital role in future solutions. And that as population grows, governments evolve into more democratic systems of government, interdependence increases, and conflicting interests arise, not only is trustbecoming harder and harder to attain, but it is becoming an imperative necessity.  

 Bibliography

 Burtless, Gary 1998 Globaphobia.Brookings Institution

Cooper, Joseph 1999 Congress and the Decline of Public Trust. Westview Press. Erickson, Brad ed.

1990 Call to Action: Handbook for Ecology, Peace, and Justice. Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, CA.

Warren,Mark E. 1999 Democracy and Trust. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge


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