Monday, April 22, 2024

For Earth Day, PBS Terra asks 'Stop Saving the Planet?' Change the world instead

Happy Earth Day! Like last year, I'm observing today with a series of videos about fighting climate change, this time from PBS Terra. These take a more heterodox approach, as exemplified by the title of the series, Why It's Time to Stop Saving the Planet*.

We care about the planet. But what if it's time to stop "saving it"?

Western cultures — and even some climate scientists and sustainability advocates — often share the idea that there is the “natural world” and the “human world.” The natural world is seen as pristine and untouched, while the human world is chaotic and ever changing. But all living things change the world around them in order to build homes, eat, drink and move around. In this first episode, join host Rae Wynn-Grant, Ph.D., as she explores how humans can think differently about the way we change the environments around us, how we can do it better, and why doing so could be a key foundation for addressing climate change.

Based on the Jenny Price book "Stop Saving the Planet!"
This video reinforces a point I've been making since the first year of the blog and even before that in my environmental science classes: "economy is dependent on society, which is in turn dependent on the environment. Without an environment, there is no society. Without a society, there is no economy." I asked my students to identify a similar statement in my worksheet for Chasing Ice, which they watched two weeks ago: "What does Balog say about the relationship between nature and civilization?" The answer is that the two are interconnected and civilization depends on nature. I hope my students retain that.

Follow over the jump for the other three videos in the series so far.

The next episode asks Does "Every Little Thing" REALLY Stop Climate Change?

Recycling, planting trees, and going vegan are just a handful of the many ways to reduce our carbon footprint. Companies and countries do it too, performing small individual tasks anywhere at any time to “save the planet.” But these small actions have little impact when compared to the vast polluting and emissions-intensive systems that underpin modern society. In this episode, join Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant to explore how making individuals fully responsible for reducing emissions can be counterproductive to combat climate change.
As the preview image shows, the answer is no with an asterisk. By themselves, they'll help, but they won't stop climate change and other environmental damage by themselves. For that, humanity, especially the most well-off, has to change the system. A lot of the individual actions make those performing them feel like they're doing something without changing the system. They're probably necessary, but they're definitely not sufficient. I think the system needs to be reformed; the status quo is unsustainable, while scrapping our food, energy, and economic systems and starting over would be too disruptive.

One of the individual actions is "shopping green." PBS Terra responds that You Can't Shop Your Way Out of Climate Change.

We have seen a boom in “eco-friendly” products marketed to consumers’ concerns about the impact of the stuff we buy. But this "shop ‘til you drop” approach doesn’t solve the bigger issue: overconsumption and overproduction are the key drivers of pollution and climate change. Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant looks at how “greenwashed” products might be doing more harm than good.
Probably the most puzzling thing about the presentations my students give is that ones that look like greenwashing advertising, like the video promoting the Boeing 737-Max, or outright sales pitches, like Sodastream, make me uneasy, but my students enjoy them. As I wrote about the latter, "the presentation the latter was part of was a thinly disguised sales pitch that made me uneasy when I first saw it, but the students loved it. In fact, I'm consistently surprised how much my students like sales pitches." They simply love being sold something, especially a green solution to an environmental issue. I guess advertising has conditioned them.

Not even an easy systemic fix is enough, as Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant explains Carbon Offsets Don't Work. Here's Why.

Individuals, companies and governments “offset” carbon emissions by paying to plant trees or fund solar panels in one place, so they can emit them elsewhere. Carbon credits are exchanged in the open market with the idea that carbon prices will go up – forcing companies to emit less. Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant looks at why carbon offsets may not solve the climate crisis.
Sigh. So much for that "market-based solution," which looks good in theory but turns out to be another way to keep the status quo going in practice.

I'm sure PBS Terra will upload more in this series for Earth Month. Watch for me to share upcoming episodes here. In the meantime, stay tuned for Talk Like Shakespeare Day, marching music for the Pennsylvania primary — Tuesday will be busy! — and a retrospective for Wayback Wednesday.

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