Clashes between economic growth and the environment generate polarizing disagreement. A conference this past week offered introspection as to how one side can work through these types of conflicts to more effectively negotiate workable solutions. George Handley, professor of humanities and co-chair of the Environmental Ethics Initiative concludes:
I can only touch lightly on all that transpired over the last two days, but perhaps I can at least describe a few highlights that emerged from the symposium. We learned that ecological restoration can be a kind of repentance, a practice that teaches and catalyzes greater commitment to more ethical living within the creation. We learned about the importance of preserving cultural and epistemological diversity so that when we approach environmental problems, we don’t seek a “one size fits all” solution. There are many values and traditions that can lead us away from environmental degradation that are found in indigenous and religious communities, whose survival is often threatened by the flattening effects of globalization. A diverse set of ideas and ways of understanding the world makes us more resilient. A lot of discussion circled back again and again to the dangers of consumerism, which offers us the illusion of unrestrained consumption and the promise of a happiness derived from material things, all with little or no consequence. This is perhaps one of the greatest lies perpetrated by our capitalist system. Anti-capitalism was certainly not the overall tone of the conference, however, but capitalism has a tendency to produce a culture in which our choices seem to narrow and our ideas, values, and identities become more and more pre-packaged and homogenous. However, several presenters argued rather persuasively, including one of our keynote speakers, Jonathan Foley, that capitalism and markets perhaps only need to be more strongly guided by the values of stewardship and sustainability. I came away with the impression that if we wish to retain hope in the benefit of “free” markets, we need to make sure we don’t abdicate our responsibilities to guide them in ethical and morally valuable directions. That is to say, if we wish to solve environmental problems, we need to be pretty clear about our values. And if one of our keynotes, Margaret Palmer, is correct, chief among them should be equity, honesty, and fairness.
The Saturday keynote, Margaret Palmer from the University of Maryland explained her belief that most environmental conflicts happen because divergent sides fail to understand one another–an inability to find common ground–a key setback to entrenched conflict.
Also, she shared her Colbert Report appearance with the group–and I suspect you may enjoy it as well: