The reality we face in the coming decades involves three integrated crises: 1) the consolidation of the corporate state driven by the debt-based endless corporate-growth economy, which increasingly damages populations by isolating them from economic resources and destroys the environment we all need, in service to short-term profit and political power; 2) accelerating resource depletion which makes the conventional economic model of debt-based economic growth and expanding populations unsustainable; and 3) accelerating climate disruption caused by unrelenting carbon emissions resulting from (1) and (2). Unlimited economic growth is an illusion that is ultimately self-terminating. Our current path poses the utmost threat ever to human survival, making it the greatest imaginable challenge to an outlook of hopeful realism. If you recognize the existential threat facing us, how can you not be a hopeless pessimist? If you deny the existential threat facing us, you must be a foolish optimist. Both those options are useless.
Any solution requires both hope and realism. We must face necessary massive transformations in the ways we live on the planet if hope is to be sustained. We must sustain a huge dose of hope in order to take the drastic challenging actions necessary for survival. Most discussions that recognize the threat look for solutions that assume continuing on some “green” path of the consumer culture we have come to view as “normal.” That will not work. However, the Great Transformation that is now inevitable – though its outcome is unpredictable – need not require a Luddite approach that would simply destroy manufacturing technology. Instead, we must recognize that human technology has gone off in a direction of “creative destruction” and must be re-directed and transformed into a new human-scale enterprise. But that’s just one piece of the puzzle. It is not hard to come up with a list of imperative economic and technological changes, all of which involve freeing ourselves from fossil-fuel dependency. Here are just a few major items for such a list:
- Convert electricity production from coal and gas to wind and solar.
- Convert the hugely wasteful long-distance electricity transmission grid to interconnected local-community solar/wind electrical smart grids.
- Reduce much of capital-intensive production to labor-intensive production.
- Convert transportation from petroleum based to electricity based propulsion.
- Break up the Big Banks; re-institute the Glass-Steagall wall between commercial banking and investment (casino) banking, and while were at it, have the Federal Reserve re-sell all those casino junk bonds back to the Big Banks at the price paid; that will re-direct the Bad Debt back to where it belongs; then resolve those bloated unnecessary institutions and let those gamblers take the losses they earned.
- Establish State and local banks as public institutions in service to public needs.
- Limit international trade to products and materials that are not capable of being produced in the receiving nation; convert all shipping to non-fossil-fuel propulsion systems.
- Etc., etc., etc.
Obviously, this list could be extended considerably, and much detail would have to be worked out. But you get the idea: massive transformation of international, national, and local-regional economies in line with the energy requirements of stabilizing the biosphere to achieve stable local and planetary ecological systems. Well, that was easy. But wait. How can these things be accomplished? Conventional political processes are controlled by the very corporations that continue to resist such changes in order to grab as much short-term profits as they can before being forced to change. But if we wait for the force of nature to stop the insanity, then it will be too late to stop the acceleration of climate disruption beyond the limits of human habitation on the planet. Many corporations see the climate writing on the wall, but they are compelled by their own internal logic to grab all they can before the end of the era of endless growth.
The only answer left is popular resistance, and that is a long shot because the popular culture is largely controlled by the corporate media that promotes only its own short-term interests, and we will have to change the way we live rather quickly to make enough difference. Yet, people are not nearly as stupid as politicians and CEOs think they are. We know we are in crisis, but most just don’t know what to do personally and most still believe that we can somehow have a “green” economy and still consume all that stuff the corporations are selling us. The most important result of the Occupy Movement – and the Arab Spring as well, for that matter – is that it really scared the political-economic power elites. Occupy has dispersed, but many local actions based on similar principles are occurring. History shows that the power of numbers can overcome the power of elites. No guarantees; we have so much to do and so little time. In Part III of this essay I will discuss the sources of hope in this sea of harsh reality.