Episode 3: What’s the point of it all?

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TRANSCRIPT

Full transcript available here. 

SHOW NOTES

In this episode, we explore some fundamental questions and assumptions in sustainability.

This episode was recorded on 16 September 2019.

The future

  • When talking about sustainability, how far into the future are we looking?
    • “On a long enough time scale, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.” (Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club)
  • Does sustainability imply a sense of remaining static?
    • How do we make sense of that in light of an ever-changing world?
  • The choices we make today could result in vastly different futures
    • Importance of understanding various conceptions of “quality of life”

The end of OUR species

  • Annihilation vs. living forever – a false dichotomy?
    • Curtailed potential, a sub-optimal existence
  • Who is to blame for human problems?
    • To what extent is sustainability the moral responsibility on a species level?
    • Notions of power, inequality, and impact
    • Capital and commoditisation as a measure of “value”
  • How important is the human species, in the grand scheme of things?
    • Humans are special, we may be the only ones in the universe with the ability for it to “know itself” (Carl Sagan)
  • We don’t know the full consequences of our actions
    • But neither do we know the consequences of our inaction

Saving the world

  • Anthropocentrism is rooted in the belief that humans are fundamentally different from other species
    • Generally tied to our minds, this idea of consciousness
    • But we don’t really have a clear way to assess consciousness
  • Where a living being does not have the ability to make its own decisions, a “guardian” may come in and act on your behalf
    • Supposedly with the being’s best interests at heart, but also opens up abuses of power
    • We do this for the environment – or at least the non-human parts of the environment
  • Metabolic rift: the separation of man from nature (Karl Marx)

Instrumental vs. intrinsic value

  • Instrumental value is about the utility of an object, like a fork or a car
  • Intrinsic value is contained in and of itself, such as a sunset or human life
  • We may see intrinsic value in something instrumental, or vice versa
    • It depends on each of our relationship to that thing, which affects how we perceive its purpose and role in our perspective
  • Is valuing things in terms of their utility (instrumental value) necessarily wrong?
    • There is always the question of foresight and hindsight: how might the way we value and use something today diminish its potential future instrumental value?

The Great Acceleration

  • The term “The Great Acceleration” refers to a trend across a range of factors, socio-economic and environmental, which has shot up since 1950
  • Exponential trends correlated with the post-WWII period, the industrial “development” agenda lobbied by western, capitalist countries
  • A story of energy: it has become abundant and cheap, and humans have been able to exploit it for our purposes
  • Does intention matter, if the outcome is the same?
    • Next episode, we’ll be talking about philosophy in action