(Green) I was walking down by the lake the other day, as I had not been there for some time, and I wished to see how it was faring.
(Grey) And how did you find it?
I found it lonely. The beauty that surrounded it was gone, there was no birdsong, no frogs. The wildlife had all but vanished from the area. It was like visiting a foreign place.
— There is a festival tonight, said Purple, in honour of the new year. We should go. There will be fireworks, and dancing and music.
That is a fine idea. But first, let us eat.
And so we went to the house of Purple, and there were many others, Orange, and Yellow, and Pink, and Blue, and Blue sat with me, and we talked, and he said to me, ‘I noticed that you were at the market the other day. What was it you and the others were shouting about?’
(Green) Well, I am surprised you ask.
(Blue) You are not possibly still insistent upon protesting this. We have talked about it at length, and nobody can deny that it is important for our society to have a reliable source of energy — a source that is, as yet, untapped, simply waiting for us to release it to the people.
(Green) And therein lies the problem. You say that we have talked about it at length, and then jump swiftly into claims that you know I cannot refute: namely, that we need energy and that the reserves are the ideal solution. You use words such as ‘people’ and ‘untapped’ to imply that it is our right to take such a resource, without considering whether there are other consequences in doing so.
(Blue) And you would deny us that right? Who has the right to it, then? Some supernatural power? Some mystical earth-spirit?
(Green) Here, you mock me. Is it not possible to be concerned for the impact of such an operation, without it bearing any relation to spirits? And why should you bring that up, when I did not even mention it? You wish, perhaps, to discredit my argument, by showing that my brethren may find solace in gods and goddesses, whereas yours have only interest in science.
(Blue) Is that not true? Several of your ilk believe in a mystical being.
(Green) Whether or not that is true, it does not prevent us from also having concern for the planet. There are other reasons to contradict what you are saying — the health of all involved, concern for other beings than humans, conservation of the wilderness, … and none is more important than the other, rather, each has a vital part to play, which cannot be dismissed so easily. Yet, I digress, and you know this. My argument was, that you are moving from a point on which we both agree, to a conclusion which is by no means self-evident or logical. Simply stating that there is something we need, and then concluding that your method is how to achieve it, is but a fallacious argument.
(Blue) How, then? Our society grows, flourishes, and you would have us live as cave-dwellers?
(Green) Again, it pains me to hear what you are saying. I know that you are learned, and perhaps this is what perturbs me most: that you would pretend to ignore any other solutions than that which you are proposing. When you claim we would return to uncivilised society, you are fear-mongering, so that those who listen feel they must agree to all your reasons, lest they give up their modern conveniences. But you do not allow that there may be other ways — the sun, the wind. I hesitate to suggest that this is because there is so little financial gain for you?
(Blue) But such cynicism! There are a myriad of examples of how we give back to society.
(Green) Cynical I may be, but I would argue that these examples are mere token gifts, in order to further your cause.
(Blue) You wound me, with such distrust. Have we not agreed that we desire the same ends?
(Green) Agreed. We both desire that society would have the resources it requires, but the means to such ends, that is where our desires diverge. That you would not only poison our waters, but also lie about doing so? That is where my disdain for you is deepest.
(Blue) These accusations are unfounded. Where is your evidence? You accuse me of false conclusions, and yet you have nothing to reinforce your own?
(Green) It is true that I have little proof, and I cannot help but believe it is your deception which prevents me from gaining it. Yes, I realise: yet another unfounded accusation. But you insist on using money, fear, to promote your business. Surely, if there were nothing to fear from the way in which you conduct it, that would not be necessary.
(Blue) You believe we use tactics. As we do. This is a business, after all. We succeed in it, we deliver on promises. The people demand a resource. We supply it. That is all that needs to be said on the matter. How could you deny us this opportunity to supply a demand?
(Green) For the reasons I have mentioned before: that it will be a short-lived resource, and it does not guarantee supply for our future. That it is damaging, and you are paying to hide this. You argue that there are those among us who believe in gods and so must be dismissed, you argue that our claims about poison and destruction are invalid, you disagree with our evidence because we cannot prove that your work is the cause of it. Yet I put it to you, that such arguments are based on lies.
(Blue) I will not defend myself against this, nor should I need to. So far, commerce has spoken in our favour, and if you would wish to prevent us from harvesting this resource, then it is commerce to which you must appeal.
(Green) Perhaps the truest words you have spoken all evening, my friend. I do, truly, believe that I can celebrate the ethical validity of my position, yet as much as it saddens me to concede, it is money, not morals, which will convince those who dictate the machinations of our world. However, I can only appeal to those who would give them power. Surely, in the absence of the gold you possess, the threat of removing our leaders from power would be persuasive?
(Blue) Ha, you show too much trust. We represent the way it has always been. For you to change it, requires more people than you yet have, more voices, from a louder public.
(Green) This has been done before. We have managed before.
(Blue) That was in different times.
(Green) The times are not so different, neither the people. It can be done. I sense your scepticism, but I have powerful hope. Change is indeed a strong and powerful promise, and time will tell my story.
(Blue) With such rhetoric, you may win over some. But still: it is money, and only money, which will lend success to your cause. Time may tell your story, but the present belongs to us. Let me lend you advice: you must appeal to these elements within our society, you must gain the ear of the rich and the powerful with messages about riches and power. Then, the benefits of which you speak will follow.
(Green) That is, if the greed for riches and power do not corrupt us first. It grieves me that our appeals to the better natures of those who wield decisions, must come in the guise of money.
(Blue) That is the way of the world.
(Green) Still, I hold on to hope.
OK, so it’s not really a Socratic dialogue! There are too few characters, and I’ve written it more like a script, because I worried that it would be otherwise too difficult to follow. But the point is, one of the problems, when discussing environmental issues, is that they tend to be emotive, and that fits poorly with the economic model by which we seem to run our countries and our lives. It is often not considered ‘worth’ saving a species or an area, because we are not getting any net profit from it. Such intangible concepts as diversity for the sake of diversity, or the importance of green areas on our mental health, don’t have direct economic consequences. This makes it difficult for the economist (or the company spokesperson or the accountant) and the environmentalist, to come together in dialogue. But here, I force them together! Yay for philosophy! If Socrates and Plato would have wanted anything, I’m sure they would want us to use interrogative thought and introspection and discussion, to try to find common ground, and work around the problems of economic growth versus environmental conservation.
(I was trying to come up with some Greek-sounding names to give to the voices in this, but my Greek is… non-existent! And they were awful! So I’ve just given them colours. It makes it easier to tell who’s who, anyway, and avoids gender and cultural bias to boot.)
Our federal elections are in a few weeks’ time. I’d love a debate about fracking, the future of our energy supply, and how much money is going to be invested in alternative energy sources so that we can wean ourselves off fossil fuels. But that’s unlikely to happen. No doubt, once we can light our water on fire, people may start paying attention. Wouldn’t it be a shame if we had to wait for that?