We have reached a pivotal moment. I think we can be certain that governments and other powers, such as corporations and their promotional arms, such as the BBC, are set on destruction. The powers have made no appropriate attempts to act on climate change, or on the current ecological catastrophe. It is plain that those in power think climate change is not real – rather it is a bee in the bonnet of just enough of the electorate to make it politically worth the posture of a response. Since the first world climate summit in 1990 carbon dioxide emissions have risen steadily, so that by 2017 they were 60% higher than when nations first pledged to act. Argument within governing systems is without hope of being heard, or even vaguely understood.
But there is hope. It is (as it has always been) in living the good life. Though such a course may fail, until it does so, it remains a source of happiness. It is now the only productive course we have to mitigate the worst of climate change. By all means speak to the powers – you never know – and this writer is frequently wrong – but without rapid and then hopefully fashionable personal change, there’s not a realistic hope in hell…
If political engagement means that we become distracted from the problems of our own lives, then that engagement will be more destructive than productive. To consider that social change comes more from hierarchical instruction than personal consideration denies laws of physics. Crowds, electorates, gangs, or societies are made up of the physics of people – one by one. A crowd is five people, thirty people, a thousand people with those specific weights, energies and substances. But the crowd; the electorate; the corporation; the government are also imagined – they are ideas in our singular heads. The politically-engaged proposition (political influence is more powerful than the good life) suggests that to live well, we lobby an abstract authority to permit us to live how we choose and then, because consensus denies our request, we can continue to live how we do not choose. Oh democracy, we say with a sigh – it’s bad, but not as bad as the alternatives. We propose that we are not moral beings – that we are a part of the moral consent of the crowd. We misname that permission as liberality – we’d do better to accept it as permissiveness.
And so, climate change “authorities” jet to so many climate conferences, that they may be among the most climate-destructive groups on Earth. Likewise, I may vote green, while taking holiday flights. I say that I lobby for the greater good, and propose that my small footprint is insignificant relative to the power of a green cross in the ballot. Meanwhile political consensus (the amoral permission) is an idea. It does not exist. People exist. One by one, we have physics, ecological connections, unique dreams and also, of course – common dependencies. We are responsible for all of those things. Our own causes generate unique effects, which only we can understand. No greater good will remedy them. The greater good cannot see them. We walk in personally-imprinted landscapes.
People cause climate change. Governments cannot do so. Governments are communally accepted ideas (accepted by coercion, violence, inheritance, fearful prudence, or the ballot). Ideas have not the physics to cause anything.
Living the good life in that landscape is the greatest contribution to the greater good, since the greater good is the physical, moral and spiritual addition of our unique experience and contributory action to all the other unique experiences, which together make the whole. Culture is what I do. Of course, I converse with others about my effects. It is cellular. I am both complete and incomplete. I am myself and my society and in the end my species. My species has evolved within groups – as a social species. Ours is a eusocial evolution. Even so, every experience which enters the commons of folk memory, or tradition has first entered the senses of an individual. No-one can experience birth, death, wind, sunshine and rain, but on their own. Yet my and all our yearnings are also to properly belong in family, friendship, neighbourhood, religion, tradition, memory…
Before it is too late, we must pay attention to our unique and lonely senses – to what we love and to what feeds us in taste, scent, sight, sound… We must be attentive. Those things will be modified by our inattention; by our distracted attention to more powerful notions of economic governance. Climate is warming by my actions. The casino does not register it. If we listen we’ll hear the change. Already, at the dawn chorus, some small birds have ceased to sing.
We inherited a living culture. Our lives are the culture. We, not governments, pass that culture to our children and beyond.
The household remains as the model for the economy as a whole. The economy is a collective of households. It is true that the casino of rent, currency manipulation, usury, trade in shares and bonds and so on is not related to the household. But the casino is not an economy. It is a casino. Modern economists – even most green economists live strategically inside that casino to manipulate it for the better. They are misguided. The following are also disconnected from the casino – pillaged soils, pillaged ecologies, pillaged resources – that is: capital is not connected to the casino. But pillaged soil, ecology and resource and also diminishing infrastructure capital are very directly and sensually connected to the household – and to me. They are my responsibility. Their cause is my diminished responsibility.
Listen! – The household is ingenious and fierce and is rooted in family and folk tradition. It is limited to the restraints of wage, local resources and neighbourly opinion and is a dynamo for the pursuit of what we may call the most appropriate distribution of happiness. Isn’t that what we want for an economy?
Yet, modern European and American households have abandoned those restraints for what they see as the larger and progressive world of the governing casino. Even so, modern households are responsible for cascading ecologies and climate change. They provide the physics to the casino’s abstraction. The abstraction can fix nothing and it causes nothing – doughnut economics, or true cost accounting fix nothing. Only by fixing the household – the physical acts of the sensual, sensitive household, can we can fix ecology and economy. Only through the household do we have a landscape which is worth the governing. But here’s the thing – who does not want to come home? We are prodigal sons and daughters unravelling threads to our various and anxious ways home.
Don’t forget that restraints give shape and meaning – borders can be drawn to be beautiful and true. We are placed within them. They trace the possible forms of home.
Rationally (abstractly) climate change is already beyond technological recall and settled cultures are set on almost certain unsettlement. The most populated cities and communities are coastal communities, which must soon migrate to higher land. Nearly all central government offices will be beneath the tide. Yet those government offices are (almost universally) making no attempt to guide their dependent populations to act on climate change.
The miracle could be the household.
Most of us agree that we are part of a collective madness and so attempt to manipulate and reason within the madness – by petition, at the ballot and by consumer-choices. I disagree. Why don’t we school ourselves to be sane? The governing psychosis oversees a changing physical landscape of people and resources. The physics is where we should be. Physics reacts to our tools and teaches us how to belong. People change the physics. Corporations? – they are a part of the governing psychosis and they are also abstract. Has anyone seen a corporation? – they don’t exist beyond an idea and our consent to it. It’s late – but there may still be time to bail out and descend to solid ground.
The casino (which we pretend is an economy) will collapse – unless beforehand, ecology, or climate change wreck the culture as a whole. Money flow and the power of what we do – that is energy flow, are directly related. Perhaps 95% of that energy is from fossil fuels. Even so, current debt-created and quantitively-eased money-flow has exceeded even that vast fossilised under-pinning. In a sense fossil fuels had suspended time and negated laws of nature – we dreamed that history had ended. It had not. Instead, history accumulated invisibly in cultural effects, which were quietly sequestered beyond our collective imagination. Most in positions of power and their academic and journalistic sycophants, or critics remain inside that collective. That collective imagination will not be changed. We can reason within its borders, but reason from the real world of sunshine and rain will be treated as nonsense. Inside the casino, it does not rain. Meanwhile, nothing can replace fossil fuels. They came and money-flow vastly expanded. Now they must go and money-flow must dramatically shrink, to within limits of natural physics again. Collapse is inevitable. When the casino collapses, companies fold, unemployment soars, tax revenues crash and infrastructures of social security, health-care, building and road maintenance and so on, crumble. The casino will bring down the real economy.
Once again, households can be lifeboats in the wreckage.
After the crash, what will change? Looking around at fields, crops, houses, roads, bridges, harbours… – nothing – nothing at all. The ideas will have changed – corporate structures, currency values, the complacency or anger of the crowd, the excitement or despair of the stock market… All that is physical will remain, while all that was polemical, coercive, psychotic, or despotic will be in chaos. The same food will be on the shelves, but we may have no wage to buy it. The same crop will grow in my field, but my tractor may be short of fuel to harvest it. The ecological means to the needs of an economy will remain unchanged. The sun will shine and the rain will fall. Trade’s people will have retained their skills. Though money-flow will have lost its fossil power, still, all that is essential will remain – food, shelter, good conversation, people gathering to sing at the piano… Yet, they are a tiny percentage of what we used to buy, just yesterday, as we pillaged the Earth. We can be happy – rich in good things – without asking for more.
If I’ve lost my wage – still, all that is best of what a wage could buy will remain. My friends, family, neighbours, colleagues… will remain. All will be unchanged, but for the money, the governance and the high-pitched shrieking of share-holders and currency manipulators.
That is why, rather than pushing for a more benign casino, which registers natural capital, eco-system services and so on, we should divest from the casino and step by step build a real economy of people and resources, which can emerge alive from beneath the coming rubble. I don’t mean baked bean tins and bunkers. I mean that we shop with businesses which are not financed by the amoral stock market, but simply by me, the purchaser. A community of trade’s people, proper shops, village/corner shops and stores, street markets and farmers’ markets, pubs, libraries, theatres and concert halls, meeting houses, churches, temples mosques, synagogues, council buildings… can be revived in the transition town manner- perhaps with a protective local currency and perhaps via locally issued (non-tradeable) shares, or bonds. If I don’t find what I need by my local pound, then that lack is revealed and it may be to someone’s advantage to learn the missing trade (perhaps myself). Step by step we can divest from the garments of the casino (are we sure it had any clothes?) and put on what we can find in our terrain.
Am I fixated on aviation? – Yes – because it is both the least necessary and the most destructive of all our activities. Everyone, everywhere and forever could stop flying with very little effect on their lives. We’ve no need to wait, while we lobby for carbon taxes, air traffic duty, or against runway expansion. Family connections? – jet-propelled connections will impoverish the lives of those we’d connect with. Love? Filial bonds? It’s an easy equation to understand. Trans-oceanic family duties contain a very near betrayal of still deeper bonds. Air freight? – It’s frivolous and unnecessary. Those conferences (business, political, scientific)? – Nothing results without all parties carefully writing and reading the documents – why not begin and end with documents? Air-born climate authorities are not speakers, or performers, but writers, readers, data gatherers and statisticians. Politicians, scientists and business people would do better to turn away from the posturing mirror – they’d achieve more and have more time to do so. Travellers? – Why travel without travel? Why not discover cultures and terrains in between?
Many, or perhaps most of our destructive activities can only be changed in concert with others, but aviation is marvellously different – we can remove it on an instant.
Electric aviation is a fantasy. We’ll have trouble generating enough for more pressing needs, such as domestic heating.
With regards to government – had we had proper governance, then all aviation (apart from the pleasurable hang glider) would long ago have been made illegal. For all their earnest lobbying, those who’d propose this, or that reduction in aviation, will still be ridiculed as lunatic fringe.
Aviation came with oil and must go with oil. The super market, the family car, suburbia and so on are the same, but more problematic in ascending degrees. Many can abandon the super market on an instant, but others may have no alternatives nearby (until they are created). A family car, tied-in to work and pleasure is as destructive as occasional aviation. However, ditching the family car is a more difficult proposition – it is tied to existing infrastructures – such as suburbia, lack of public transport and inconvenient work places. We can only change those things in concert with others and so conversation of some sort (by no means, party political) becomes necessary. Earth has not the capacity to power the electric family car. Wind, hydro and solar generated electricity is the answer to many needs, but within absolute limits. The car is redundant and must be made so by personal change, assisted by communal change.
Suburbia? – Well clearly, that’s an epic adventure – re-centring into new (or revived) towns and villages, accompanied by mass migration to coast and countryside and then re-cultivation of new hinterlands into farms and market gardens.
With regards to climate change, another powerful, easy and instant effect is to switch our general electricity supplier to a green supplier – making sure the source is wind, hydro, or solar – some use biomass, which is utterly destructive. We can also decide on an instant to farm and garden organically. If we are fortunate to have land, we can plant trees on an instant – and we can let our existing hedges grow up – to flower, berry, nut and photosynthesise! For these important things, we need no advice from authority and need lobby no-one politically.
Other good personal activities such as re-using, re-cycling, refusing plastic packaging and so on have a tiny beneficial climatic impact relative to the large impact of refusing to fly, ditching the family car and switching to a green electricity supplier (or contributing to a community energy project). Nevertheless, they do have very important ecological consequences and they are an essential part of the good life.
How do we find a way of life which is not powered by fossil fuels and which sits happily inside its ecology? For me, it is firstly, a society organised so that both work and pleasure are walking, or cycling distance from anyone’s door. That is a society, which has removed the need for personal transport. It is also a more egalitarian society. The wealthy, by the sheer weight of their energy-bloated behaviours and purchases, cause the bulk of climate change, resource depletion, ecological destruction and social depravation. A common ethics, followed by common law may control what is anti-social wealth. So political engagement is a part – but I maintain the secondary part of firstly discovering what is the good life and then living it. That will be a process of trial and error – new truths are discovered by new errors. How do we know where to begin? Why not start with the question – what is happiness? Only my reader can know the answer.