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Economies seem inevitable and natural. They present themselves as the very structure of the world. We suspect that this is how the world works, and that we simply inherited the natural order of things. We see this modern industrial capitalist culture as inevitable, natural, and invisible. It is the air we breath. It just is.
The good new is that this is an illusion. The bad news is that the illusion is unsustainable. Modern carbon capitalism is not natural. It is a fairly new construction.
And what we are witnessing is an illusion bumping up against physics and chemistry and empathy and reason. The illusion cannot sustain the barrage of evidence that nature is lobbing at it. Our greatest task is to recognize that we have options and we need not cling to illusions.
But we do cling. We cling because we are in a hell of a bind, and because we are afraid.
But here is the thing about fear. Fear is perhaps the greatest and most powerful illusion of all. Fear holds us back from believing what we know to be true. We know that ‘business as usual’ is not an option. We know it, but we don’t act on it. We don’t act on it because we are afraid to believe it.
Every time I’ve walked up to a fear and challenged it, every time I’ve forced my way through its obstructions and stood up to my own anxiety, what I find on the other side is relief and wonder. It always amazes me how all my dread and anxiety wisps away like vapor. When we finally see ‘Little Man OZ’ on the other side of the curtain we laugh at our past selves for believing so passionately in the illusion.
Climate change is pulling back the curtain. What we find when we have the guts to look is a culture and economy that, as Naomi Klein says, ‘is at war with the planet’.
The best advice we will ever receive from the establishment is how to fine tune the machinery of our economy. They will double down on policies that are demonstrably harmful and counterproductive. They do this because they are wholly committed to illusions. Illusions make them a lot of money. What they offer is a laundry list of failing fixes. You might recognize them: Austerity, Militarism, Tar Sands, Deregulation, Growth, Free Trade Deals. But Science tell us that ‘Business as usual’ is no longer an option. Science has always been good at tearing holes in the fabric of illusions.
If we hold on to the fraying illusion, we face a hideous dystopian future where people of privilege and resources hold on to what they see as theirs through propaganda and arsenals and gated communities, while the rest of the world falls into a deep and violent poverty, and 100‘s of millions people flee unsustainable homelands and a refugee crisis unlike human kind has ever seen floods the world.
This vision of the future seems extreme, but I’m afraid it is not really debated. It is the logical consequence spelled out in the best science that we have. It is a picture that children entering our school system today will see in their lifetime.
This future does not come in the shape of a Donald Trump or a Steven Harper. To reach this vision of the future, all we need to do is nothing. Just keep listening to Rex Murphy, invest in your RRSP’s, buy the Globe and Mail, repeat the economic orthodoxies about growth and security, and more than anything — keep ignoring the irritating feeling and overwhelming evidence that the world view we defend is killing us.
This narrative might lead to cynicism. Cynics often jump to the conclusion that our world is sufficiently screwed up and there is nothing we can do. The powers that be are too entrenched and that the patterns and process of our culture and immutable, and we are too late and probably too greedy to do anything about it.
With due respect to the cynic, I disagree. Cynics have good data on their side, but they too give too much credence to illusions. Economies and cultures do change when people take to the streets. Here is a list of evidence: Emancipation of Slaves, Suffragettes, Civil Rights, Vietnam, the Berlin Wall, South Africa, Gay Rights… 10 years before any of these pivotal moments of change cynics would not have given credence to the hopes of activists.
We need to open the curtains wide and shame OZ. We need to admit to each other and to ourselves that his propaganda and illusions have kept us baffled, fearful and cynical. Then we need to get our hands on the gears and levers and construct our own sustainable and sane economy. The good news is that when we start moving the levers on our own economy and energy grids, we already have the technology that will get us damned close to zero carbon.
So let me paint an optimistic picture that is our better future: Wicked awesome self driving electric cars. Robotic train infrastructure moving all or our goods about in green corridors, massive publicly owned wind and solar farms, animal free lab grown meat so no more industrial slaughter houses, no wars for oil means less terrorism, lots of high paying jobs, a democracy run by the people not money, way fewer billionaires, and a huge and healthy middle class. An engaged, healthy, motivated, citizenry. Our grand kids can have all of this if we give up on illusions and embrace creativity.
When the nay sayers in the media and in our own heads stop defending ‘business as usual’ we will be able to re-imagine our world. We will be radically open to new ideas and will freely discard dangerous and disproven ideas.
When this new openness gains a foot hold in our culture, we will see that our species has oceans of untapped creativity. Climate change is our chance to design a future motivated by our best selves.