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226 Laozi and the New Green Paradigm MARTIN SCHÖNFELD A curious feature of this century is that we are facing a biospherical crisis, while the cultural pretense is being made, most remarkably in the United States, that this crisis is either not real (according to the political right) or not requiring real responses (according to the political center). Rightwing climate denial persists together with a bipartisan downplay of the crisis. Meanwhile the crisis is transforming from a threat to the natural environment into a threat for global civilization. It is humanity that is now in the crosshairs. The transformation of the crisis redefines what it means to be green. One can speak of a paradigm shift: there is a distinct before and an equally distinct after. In the 20th century, environmentalism was about wilderness preservation and endangered species protection. Environmentalists fought against pollution and degradation. But in the 21st century, these concerns integrate into a bigger picture, framed by worries such as biospherical stability, and queries of how to bring the requisite socioeconomic sustainability about. Environmentalism today is the struggle to slow down climate change, to rein in resource depletion, and to head off possible social collapse. Current debates, such as the pros and cons of geoengineering , reflect a larger problem, namely how aggressive, invasive or interventionist the needed solutions will have to be.1 1 An example of such new topics is the conference on Religious/Spiritual Perspectives on Climate Engineering, by the Institute of Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) and the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research (PIK), in Berlin, 24-26 April 2013. Schönfeld, ‚The New Green Paradigm‛ / 227 With its emphasis on nonaction, nonviolence, and gentleness, Daoism clearly belonged to old-style environmentalism, before the transformation of the crisis. But just these traits are raising now questions. How can gentleness be the proper response to ecological overshoot? How can climate change be reined in by nonaction? How can there be effective biospherical geo-engineering without doing violence to Mother Earth? At least some of the features that had made Daoism so attractive to environmentalists in the first place are now those that the shifting green paradigm seems to be leaving behind. That, in theory, Daoism is essential to a green paradigm, no matter its shifts, strikes me as a foregone conclusion. I think Laozi offers us an evolutionary roadmap to a sustainable future (see Schönfeld 2012; 2013a; 2013b). The Daode jing 道德經 is one of the very few manuals of wisdom with genuine sensitivity to the dynamics of nature, and there is hardly another philosophy as clear on environmental values as that of Daoism. Still, in reality, how can Laozi be part of the new green, since the crisis makes his ideas look dated, especially nonaction (wuwei 無為)? Tricky in the study of this problem is its interdisciplinary character. Solving it requires reasoning that is both macro-level and yet deeply integrated . That is to say, determining whether and if so, how, Laozi still fits the new green, needs settling a set of subordinate issues, about the crisis, about culture, and about environmentalism. On the one hand, these issues need to be settled, otherwise the attempt at a solution begs questions (such as, is there really a crisis? Is it so really so bad? And why blame culture? Is it not a scientific problem? Why will culture have to change, and change so much? And why will noninterference not do the job anymore? Why resort to intervention?). On the other hand, successively settling these issues will give the inquiry the appearance of going off track—after all, this is supposed to be about Laozi. There is no way around this, and the goal can only be to integrate interdisciplinary information so that each step of reasoning furthers the inquiry. Since the burden of proof rests on those who advance claims, no question must be begged here, even at the risk of adducing too much empirical evidence. The first question is, what is the crisis about, and how has it been changing? Second, how is the crisis a cultural problem, and how is our culture in denial? What paradigm shift—and this brings 228 / Journal of Daoist...


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pp. 226-241
Launched on MUSE
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