Friday, August 29, 2014

A Cure for Climate Change

originally published on CounterPunch

As Easter Sunday melds into Easter Monday, and as technophiles and other overly zealous techno-fetishists prattle on about their market-based (that is, their faith-based) and tech-based fixes for climate change, a foolproof, low-tech and (dare I say) “shovel ready” solution is already at hand: the time-honored institution of the vacation. Recognized as vital at least since biblical times (when the sabbath – a word derived from the verb ‘to rest’ – was introduced) the vacation not only enables people and other animals to rejuvenate, the planet itself benefits from being left alone.

To be sure, people the world over have for millennia recognized that leaving fields fallow (or at least rotating crops) allows fields to recover their vitality. And who can deny the fact that limiting the introduction of pollutants to the ground helps the earth to repair itself? The soil, people, and other animals, though, are not the only things that benefit from rest; the seas, also, heal when left alone. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, for example, North Sea fisheries were over-fished to such an extent that, by the 1930s, they were all but depleted. The vacation imposed by World War II, however (which virtually shut down the industry for the war’s duration), allowed fish populations to recover. On the brink of deforming into a worldwide dead zone today, a global moratorium on – and mandatory vacation from – industrial fishing (not to mention a vacation from the introduction of various toxic pollutants into the seas) could not only lead to the recovery of the world’s oceans, because the oceans are responsible for converting most of the world’s CO2 into oxygen, such a policy could significantly mitigate climate change as well.

In addition to the seas and the soil and the people of the world, the planet’s skies would also greatly benefit from a meaningful vacation. As demonstrated by the cessation of air travel following the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland in 2010 (not to mention shut downs and slow downs from labor strikes, and the limitation of automobile traffic, among other things), vacations from our ecocidal economy lead to vastly improved air quality. In other words, beyond improving the soil, the air, the seas, and people’s health and quality of life, vacations of various stripes and types alleviate climate change in general.

And while such improvements (to health, for instance) alone should lead reasonable people to adopt something akin to a secular sabbath (two or three mandatory holidays per week, perhaps), when we factor in what we know about climate change, and the harms we collectively face, the adoption of such a policy should amount to a socio-economic priority for all but the most disturbed sadists and masochists among us – a priority, by the way, with very few downsides. Indeed, while in earlier times vacations may have compromised people’s health to some degree (since vacations could impede the production of food, among other necessities), vacations pose no such problems presently. Modern agricultural practices enable the production of easily enough food to feed the world – the demands of profit, more than anything else, are what determine that millions of people should be deprived of sufficient nutrition.

With the capitalist economic system’s voracious requirements in mind, though, it takes little to recognize that ten, or so, extra vacations per month will result in both 1) less income, and added harms, for workers and 2) less profit for owners. Like the climate change problem, however, this apparent problem has a simple, low tech solution: the decommodification of housing, food, electricity, transportation, and other “necessities” will correct problem 1). As for problem 2) – well, the owners will just have to take a “haircut.” With economic inequality at historic highs, there’s little question that they can afford it.

And though we should not overlook the fact that climate change is merely part of a larger problem, stemming from a culture of domination and alienation (from which capitalism itself is but an outgrowth), and though we should note that, within such a context, a couple of vacations a week can only amount to a short term fix, a couple of mandatory vacations a week, and the decommodification of necessities, may nevertheless not be a terrible place to begin.

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