Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ The New Green

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Apr 15, 2007

One wonders what Friedman was thinking when he writes this:

"We will need to find a way to reknit America at home, reconnect America abroad and restore America to its natural place in the global order - as the beacon of progress, hope and inspiration."

This is a nice story, but it is believed by Americans only. People living in the rest of the world are well aware that to be first in America is not to be first in the world. Progress, hope and inspiration have no natural home.

What do people see instead? Will Richardson: "It's a pretty compelling reminder of just how much of all of this, the environment, education... all of it is driven by money and greed."

This is the real crisis we must face.

The sorts of world conflicts prompted by the appetite for oil are not restricted to petrochemicals. The wars to supply American consumers with diamonds, or coffee, or cocaine, all result in the same consequence.

What we are seeing is not the greening of geopolitics. This was already well in progress - only the Americans have been lagging.

No, what we are seeing is the creation of a new kind of political view, one that brackets energy as an issue unrelated to the rest of socio-economics and allows people to be, at the same time, politically and philosophically conservative, and yet, to still call themselves 'green'.

To rephrase (and repurpose) the Gawker article: it would be plainly ridiculous for any individual in our traditional culture to claim, on April 15, 2007 that environmentalism is a non-partisan issue that everyone rallies around.

The 'new green' is, in a nutshell, the study of how to make money from global warming. "How do our kids compete in a flatter world? How do they thrive in a warmer world? How do they survive in a more dangerous world?"

I saw the same message displayed on the big screen at the closing keynote at the eLearning Guild conference. The shrinking Arctic icecap means that northern waters will be open, Cecily Sommers said, suggesting (incorrectly) that none of the nations bordering the ocean has laid any claim on the resources underneath.

For people like that, events such as the flooding of New Orleans represent, not disasters, but opportunities.

Friedman does describe, quite well, I think, the 'new green': "I want to rename it geostrategic, geoeconomic, capitalistic and patriotic."

All the things that caused the last series of problems, and which - if adopted as a unifying theme in the United States - will both fail to solve those problems and will additionally propel the entire world toward the next series of problems.

So long as we retain the rhetoric of 'competition', so long as we think of our own country first, so long as we try opportunistically to benefit from crises rather than to prevent them, we will be best by one crisis after the next - Rwanda, the World Trade Center, Iraq, Darfour, New Orleans...

Preserving the environment is not about putting America on top again or helping its children to compete in a hostile world, and people who say it is are leading you down a dangerous and desperate road.

Postscript: posted to Wesley Fryer's post:

As Kant said, and many others before and after, and as you so well sum here, that each person is an end in him or her self, and not a means. And they are ends, not in the sense that they are deficient, and must be fixed, but rather, are ends in and of themselves.

Our language sometimes leads us astray, even if we are well-intentioned. We always want to talk about 'worth' or 'value' (as in 'self-worth', say) but the worth is beyond worth, the value beyond value: there is no exchange we can make of material things for a human life.

There's still a lot to talk about - public health care, for example - but this post more than any other you've written makes me feel that such dialogue would be worthwhile, that you have penetrated through the major myths being perpetuated in today's media, and have a grounded and well thought out alternative perspective on things.

Learning isn't about being productive or being able to compete in today's world or even being entrepreneurial. It is about making choices for yourself, being in control of your own destiny, about leading a good life, being the best you can be, however you define 'good' and 'best' to be.

Anything else is marketing. Anything else is someone attempting to subvert the educational system to their own ends - and in so doing, treating students as means to that end, always to the detriment of the students.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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