An Interview with the author of The Memory We Could Be, Daniel Macmillen Voskoboynik

by: Sara on 10/05/2018

This week's author interview is with Daniel Macmillen Voskoboynik, the author of The Memory We Could Be: Overcoming Fear to Create Our Ecological Future. In it he links history with biology, economics with physics, to join the dots between our overlapping crises, illustrating in human terms the world we could lose and the world we can still win.

Paul Hawken’s new book, Drawdown offers a mosaic of 200 climate change solutions based on extensive research of which actions will have the greatest impact.  Do you feel if people involved in all of the sectors he mentions take action, climate change will be controlled or reversed?

 The solutions outlined in Drawdown are certainly a remarkable array of tools, and if deployed rapidly and at scale, they would be formidable contributions to the mitigation of emissions. But given the unpredictable nature of feedback loops, contemporary atmospheric science offers us no certainties as to whether we can “reverse” or “control” climate change. The climate is not a controllable machine, but an impossibly intricate system.

Secondly, the mitigation measures offered in Drawdown are only part of the necessary response to climate change. With severe climatic impacts already locked in place, we also need to be devoting much attention to confronting the injustices, deprivations and poverties that leave us vulnerable to climate violence. This work, drawing down inequities while we draw down emissions, is crucial.

What model do you recommend for instigating a polluter pays policy?

Polluter pays policies often include a range of instruments – from ecological taxes to the introduction of strong production standards. Although it’s not my area of expertise, I’d advocate a plural model. We need a raft of diverse and mutually-supporting policies, that can secure reparations from fossil fuel companies for historic climate damage, incentivise cleaner production techniques, and wind down industries incompatible with a liveable planet. Nonetheless, all polluter pays measures have to be designed with a view to their associated socio-ecological consequences. We cannot have measures which callously cut jobs without transition plans, or increase energy prices for families living in fuel poverty; neither can we accept corporate tax cuts repackaged as ‘polluter pays’ measures.

What kind of international trade agreements will we need to overcome arguments of protectionism when a country has strong environmental legislation in place?

The Memory We Could Be (2)

To overcome charges of protectionism, and prevent the problem of “carbon leakage”, we need global regimes that converge international social and ecological standards. Already scholars and activists have advocated for policies such as a global minimum wage or a uniform universal carbon price, that would strengthen global legislation, instead of encouraging a race-to-the-bottom, where countries gain competitiveness through deregulation and the loosening of standards. This is obviously an ambitious and long-term goal, and in the mean-time, international trade agreements may be used to promote the exchange of technologies relating to carbon mitigation, or the implementation of tariffs to deter carbon-intensive products.

How would you encourage young people to enter agriculture and how can we transform the perceptions of the role of farmers?

Firstly, at a broader cultural level, we need to valorize the work of farmers, and honour the importance of growing food. Today, agrarian labour is undervalued, underpaid and underappreciated. The fact that one of the most indispensable activities for human life (along with reproductive care and healthcare) is so neglected speaks volumes about the flaws of our dominant economic model.

Secondly, rural areas cannot be simply treated as backwaters or monocultures fit only for machines. By investing in rural communities, offering creative educational schemes in agronomy and agroforestry, and nourishing the development of local agro-ecological economies, states can make agricultural work and life attractive for young people. Overall, we need bold schemes that can challenge the trend of rural abandon, and ensure that young people can see a healthy, stable, and non-precarious future for themselves in agrarian professions. Even securing relatively minor amenities– such as an Internet connection that allows for young farmers to watch football games and connect to Whatsapp – could go a long way.

Our book giveaway contest winner asked: What is the most critical and ethical action an individual can take to participate in creating a solution to our ecological crisis?

Thank you so much for your question – one that is recurrent across so many of our lives on a daily basis. I also want to apologize too, for I have no powerful or all-encompassing answer. I find that I usually return to a handful of reminders when reflecting on questions of individual action, and what we must do.

Firstly, there are no easy solutions to wicked problems such as climate change or the devastation of biodiversity, that have deep and multiple roots. Neither is our ecological crisis a separate or neatly-bound predicament; to fully understand its contours is to realize its intersections with other crises, from the endurance of entrenched inequalities, to the oppression of diverse groups. Given this complexity and inter-connectedness of issues, it is difficult to accurately rank or classify the effectiveness of actions. In essence, I believe we have to be in the business of boldness, doing all we can to diminishing the drivers of ecological devastation, and extinguishing social conditions that make us vulnerable to them. Reducing our personal ecological footprints, raising awareness amongst our close circles, confronting unjust policies in our societies, supporting the creation of local sustainable enterprises, raising funds for affected communities, demanding more of our representatives, all these are worthwhile endeavours.

Secondly, there will always be limits to our potential as individuals. We have to be asking the question – what can we do together as communities? – just as much as we ask that question of ourselves.

Finally, I find it important to remember that the purpose of striving for a better world stems for a desire to honour existence and ensure the possibilities of a dignified life to all. Our ecological crisis is bigger than all of us. Nothing we can do alone will be sufficient, and failing to realize this can often result in despondency, frustration, delusion, or exhaustion. The most we can hope to do as human beings is to attempt to contribute to a more beautiful world, and live the best possible lives we can, with our different circumstances and possibilities.

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