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Isn’t Modernity Funny: Environmental Risk and Crisis

Posted in Nuclear Apocalypse, Rhetoric, Risk & Fear, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on March 11, 2010 by jessicabarranco

Have you noticed that you don’t really flinch or even notice the things people say these days?  Have you ever zoned out a discussion about the end of the environment, the end of the world as we know it?  Imagine going about your daily life knowing that you are part of the environmental problem, but not doing anything to stop it.  Sure you are “recycling” that radioactive soda can, and you safely “disposed” of your CFC infused Asthma Inhaler; but did you even notice that it was radioactive(Nuclear Scrap), or that the CFCs are depleting the Ozone layer?  These issues, among countless others we encounter everyday, are weighing down our response to potential risk.  How can we address each and every environmental problem, when there are so many to deal with?  It is only human to find the constant drone: “we’re killing the earth and we’re all going to die” environmental rhetoric pretty funny; wouldn’t you say?

So what’s going on here?  Society is becoming desensitized to the idea of risk and environmental crisis.  The availability of environmental information and awareness can be found in politics, daily life, academic study, and yet people are sucked into a game of beating the odds and surviving the apocalypse.  Environmental thinkers are no longer interested in finding the solution to the problems, and perversely gamble nature’s resources against capitalist systems.  Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon bet that as natural resources are used up, the price will go down due to the scarcity created as they are used up.  Well, as the Simon/Ehrlich Bet goes, the capitalist system does not reflect the availability of resources  in the environment.  But why has the environment become a mockery?  Consider Ulrich Beck’s, Politics of Risk Society:

In terms of social politics, the ecological crisis involves a systematic violation, or crisis, or basic rights, and the long-term impact of this weakening of society can scarcely be overestimated.  For dangers are being produced by industry, externalized by economics, individualized by the legal system, legitimized by the sciences and made to appear harmless by politics.  That this is breaking down the power and credibility of institutions only becomes clear when the system is put on the spot.

So basically, the environment is being researched, processed, and served on a daily news platter with a side of antienvironmental thought to go with it.  What else do you want on the menu, Environmental risk is found in almost every aspect of daily life.  From contaminants in drinking water to the chemicals found in the shirt you are wearing, you can’t exactly claim that you didn’t know the environment was a risky thing to interact with; now could you.  As much as we adapt to our environment, and learn to cope with the contaminants we encounter, are we just settling with current conditions?  Frederick Buell suggests that we should not only be aware of these risks, but that we should embrace the current environment as kin, “…to consider intimacy, nurturing, education, caring, embeddedness, embodiment, exposure, and vulnerability as crucial aspects of environmental as well as social-human, experience.” (207, From Apocalypse to Way of Life)  If we can embrace the earth and the biotic systems within it, maybe we can stop laughing, and address all of that built up ecological karma we’ve been hoarding. (Buell, 194)