Comment of the Week: consumption, capitalism and climate catastrophe

I call them doorstoppers. Back-and-forths in our comment sections, extended debates which often veer off-topic and, because of the WordPress page design, take inches on the screen, feet maybe, to scroll past, with the “collapse thread” icon being of limited use to reach their other side.

Here’s the thing though, sometimes those discussions end up being really interesting.

That’s what happened on our post last week on the heated exchange between an Interstate Bridge Replacement project official and a critic. An extended discussion about consumption, capitalism, and climate catastrophe arose between Watts, John, Damien, 9Watts, ShadowsFolly, Jake—did I leave someone out? People want to talk about these issues, and they will do it where they can.

BikePortland’s (ongoing) discussion about how many people our planet can support, and how we should live, is age-old. People engraved it on stone tablets millennia before it became ephemeral bits of text on a blog. Which isn’t to say that everything is going to turn out fine. A quarter of the world’s children under five have so little to eat that it stunts their growth, both physical and cognitive. Yet the world has enough grain to feed them. That is real.

The debate on BikePortland tends to happen between Watts, who views himself as a clear-eyed realist who believes that technology is on the cusp of solving many problems, and a shifting cast of commenters who disagree with him.

This week’s debate engaged a lot of people, and there were many good comments to choose from. This comment from 9Watts (not to be confused with Watts) is as good a place as any to jump in:

Watts’ theory of change denies people agency, refuses to allow that all progressive change has always come from the bottom, from exactly those places he refuses to look. It is a Panglossian worldview that enshrines/hopes for/celebrates technical progress while refusing to allow the possibility of social or political progress.

Being dazzled by goodies, goodies that aren’t good for us or the planet, is part of our condition, our curse, but it is not all there is to know about us either. We are able to evaluate our preferences after all, recognize that plastics and pavement and popsicles and porn are not what we need right now, that to have any chance of avoiding the inferno we can, indeed must, choose more wisely.

And conversations like we sometimes have here are one way to understand this better.


Thank you 9Watts and everyone else who participated in the conversation! You can read all the great comments under the original post.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero is on the board of SWTrails PDX, and was the chair of her neighborhood association's transportation committee. A proud graduate of the PBOT/PSU transportation class, she got interested in local transportation issues because of service cuts to her bus, the 51. Lisa has lived in Portland for 23 years and can be reached at lisacaballero853@gmail.com.

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Bill McGair
Bill McGair
1 year ago

Shigh… what’s wrong with popsicles? Just another thing good liberals are supposed to scorn cuz some guy says so?

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
1 year ago
Reply to  Bill McGair

and porn – and especially *popsicle porn*!

Carrie
Carrie
1 year ago

Thank you for pointing out this comment. It was beautiful

Serenity
Serenity
1 year ago

Yes! This is a great comment. Thanks for pointing it out.

The debate on BikePortland tends to happen between Watts

Yes, I’ve noticed that.

who views himself as a clear-eyed realist

Really… OK, then.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago

Watts, who views himself as a clear-eyed realist who believes that technology is on the cusp of solving many problems

I think that’s an accurate description of my views.

Serenity
Serenity
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

I see. What do you believe is driving this technology is on the cusp of solving many problems? What shapes it? For instance, why do you think takes one form, and not another?

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Serenity

I think it is driven by some combination of 1) wanting to save the world; 2) love of invention; and 3) wanting to get rich.

9watts
9watts
1 year ago

Oh!
After, I don’t know, four thousand (?) comments here I never expected that. But thanks!
I wonder if I could ask a favor, since I have your attention?
In the old-old-days one could subscribe to a thread/discussion by posting a comment. Then one could subscribe by checking some boxes (even without commenting). That feature no longer works, at least for me. Participating in threads that go past a few comments is tricky indeed without that feature. If someone can fix that I promise I won’t overdo it, post as much as Watts (imitation = flattery?) does.

9-(lower-case)-watts

mc
mc
1 year ago

Technological and human progress are inter-dependent. Fire, language, agriculture, the wheel to name a few have distanced homo sapiens from other animal & mammal species by light years, much to the detriment of all life forms on the planet we all call home.

I worked as a telecom/computer network engineer for decades. To the layperson, I was basically an internet plumber. I find it interesting that we spent untold amounts of money and hours of human labor to build something that mostly gets used so we can throw poop at each other, just like the primates we evolved from, from the comfort of our home w/o getting it all over us.

We humans are the most dangerous living creature walking this planet and we’ve perpetrated far more violence, damage and destruction than other species in the last 4.5 Billion years.

We’re going to be the bringers of our own demise because we’re simply unable to stop, slow down or even contain the monster that human civilization is. Good night, and good luck.