So wildly has humanity as a species been blown off her evolutionary course towards a deliberately chosen destruction, that all we can hope is, since our understanding has been so commonly wide of the mark, that today will prove no different – that there may come a chink of surprising natural redemption through our own gathering clouds.
Economic activity has currently affected at least a projected two degrees of global warming – and increasing floods, droughts and storms. Two degrees may, or may not be beyond a tipping point, but unless we utterly change how we live today, then three degrees and accelerating to utter chaos, are inevitable. Nevertheless, today’s consensus remains – that we live today as if there is no tomorrow – that tomorrow is an abstraction, while today is real. We have elected as a society, that our children will take care of tomorrow – our brilliant children. Climate change is an idea. The day to day problems of my life are real.
Now, while GDP is a useless measure of economic health, it remains an excellent measure of economic destruction – the faster we spend – the faster we remove the ground from beneath our feet – as spending increases, assets diminish – as spending continues, so suicidal anthropogenic CO.2 swells in the atmosphere. What’s more, though a two percent annual increase in GDP means a two percent increase in trashed assets, it also means, more or less, a two percent increase in CO.2 emissions – which, in turn, means a step closer to throwing away all statistics as climate balances topple chaotically.
Of course, that climate balance is a life balance. An annual two percent rise of trashed asset only makes mathematical sense when we consider assets as lifeless gases and minerals with isolated and measurable properties. When we consider the ecologies on which all economies utterly depend, then again, we throw away all statistics as species and relationships between species cascade. Man is just one species within that cascade.
That relationship is a beautiful thing – a lacework of immeasurable wonders. It is a source, not only of economic well-being, but of happiness. It could stimulate a renaissance of economic activity – and a hubbub of exited conversation as economies attempt, by both trial and error, to integrate with their ecologies. Fossil fuelled societies had become divorced from Earth. Now that we know our folly, we must suit for a new relationship – without the mirrors and with far, far fewer demands. All that we take must now be returned – biomass for biomass. The web of connections recedes into complexity beyond our limited perceptions, yet when the horizontal sun shines through, as through those spider webs in the early morning grass – invisible at mid-day, all we can say is holy!
Tragically, NGOs, corporations and governments turn away from that relationship towards mitigating our currently bad behaviours. We lower vehicle emissions, green new public spaces, reduce pesticide use, encourage recycling, garden organically, discourage plastic packaging and create markets for renewable energy. But although these activities are benign, they also do real moral harm – they suggest that we can continue our way of life, but in a nicer, less destructive way. They distract from the real problem, which is that our current way of life (however green) is utterly self-destructive. They provide the illusion of transition, but in truth, provide the opposite – a justification for a slightly more benign status quo – in which there is no transition – and in which we stay exactly where we began.
Those benign activities suggest that what is deeply immoral (destruction of future cultures for the temporal comforts of our own) is the opposite – that we are living a personally-considerate and moral life.
We’ve become so accustomed to bungled “top down” solutions to economic and social problems; to those qualified “experts” arriving on site, that we’ve forgotten that all effective solutions have been “bottom up” – from where a tool actually touches its materials. That forgetfulness means that we do those nice things, such as recycling and refusing plastic bags, while petitioning governments and corporations to contribute what we imagine is their – that is, the important, organisational bit. We believe governments and corporations are the primal tool-makers. Our belief in democracy suggests that a badly-behaved government will (if we lobby hard enough) be replaced at the next ballot by a better one. So, we recycle, sign petitions and continue as before.
Our faith in “top down” may derive from a communal faith in the power of hard-fought democracy – even consumer-choice is a personally-empowered vote for top-down provisions – so that responsive corporations act rather like responsive, democratically-elected governments. We elect, by our purchases what will soon appear on the shelves. Even though our chosen political party is not in government, we say we have done our bit – democracy chose against us, but democracy is important. Similarly, even though as much of our chosen produce as we’d like, is not on the shelves, some is and we’ll continue, by our market signals (as in the ballot), to change all that.
It would be easy to characterise our passivity as positivity – as optimism. In truth it is as black and tragically-negative as any event in history. I go too far? Slightly – there is little deliberate evil done, but nevertheless unprecedented evil is done by that passivity.
Consider this – the passivity is justified by a deeply suppressed lie. We deny that governments and corporations are ideas – that they have no physical qualities. We pretend that they powerfully shape our lives and that we and our personal decisions are insignificant. We deny that cultural and economic changes are affected by people shaping their own lives and work-places – that skill and ingenuity are there, at the bottom – not at the top. We deny that the changing forms of culture are actually the shaping hands and dreams of ordinary people.
And here’s a larger thing – we deny what we do in common – a pub chorus shares the same song – individuals find the pitch, discover harmonies and gain the joy of the whole.
I am not insignificant. I am the physics of the culture.
People exist, but connected by ideas of governance, justice and behavioural codes. That is why we become shocked by the sudden appearance of a governing personality (or dictatorship), whose hubris ignores those codes – Henry VIII, Tony Blair, David Cameron, Donald Trump… All solutions to our current predicament – that is finding ways to live within our means – must be applied by ourselves. Parliament is supposed to be a collection of voices gathered from the constituencies – bringing news of religions, philosophies, pleasures, trade and the trades – to together devise some collective actions (taxation and infrastructure spending), to remedy injustices and to maintain all the colours of a national identity. Currently there is no news from the constituencies, because the constituencies are waiting with rusting tools for never-to-be-released directions from central government.
Slowly and everywhere shops and workshops are boarded-up as corporate sea water washes murkily into the emptying spaces. So, the message to government is what remains – the corporate message and so, in turn, the consumerist message. Our members of parliament are not sent to Westminster with post bags of constituents’ actions and thoughts on trade and the trades; with news of species loss in our regions, or the cultural methods, specific to our regions, which we’ve devised to mitigate climate change. And there are no governmental directions, because government, being but an idea in the heads of citizens, has not the means to affect anything without the physical contribution of those citizens. Economic reactions to changing soils, weathers and resources are frozen in a tableau – a two-dimensional silhouette of the doctrine of “our proud democracy”. So, we have the ballot, consumer right and consumer choice. We’ve desolate town and village centres, where people once gathered for work, trade, study, experimentation, companionship and pleasure. We’ve fields abandoned by the intelligences of real people and occupied instead by a cynical tide of a handful of corporate, patented drug pushers. And we’ve a binding moral idea of overall governance – a governance which does not exist. Imagine the moral landscape as a physical one, in which morally abandoned ground is the low ground and hills are independent thought. Imagine the corporate brine (or low life) slopping wherever gravity pulls it. Look to the hill tops and how far dispersed. What has to be done, can only be done through the dykes, sluices and filters of the moral imaginations of citizens. Yet, dry land is shrinking, with little defence against the turgid waters
This is a nightmare that needs the genius of Charles Dickens as narrator – not Kafka – too narcissistic; too personal; too narrow… George Elliot would do it pretty well, or E M Forster. We need humanity – sticking to English language (like this essay), Shakespeare’s; Chaucer’s words are like bequeathed commons of soil, rock, green growth and moral light in the swirling obscurity of swamp fever. Today, we are as Dickens’s mud larks at the low tide of the dead waters of Victorian Thames. Naming flower, tree, birdsong – actually we need Everyman – you and me. We need to gather at the pub piano – at the community hydro project – at the skills of joiner, cabinet maker, weaver, knitter, farmer, brewer, baker… gathering at the river…
We need to assert commons – commons are those immutable islands in the stream of economic growth and technological progress. What is that progress? It has been accelerating use of fossil fuels. It expands today, by mining tomorrow. It will be the retreat – the rapid deceleration of burning things and the rapid shrinkage of GDP. Then, the progress will be in the diffident resettlement of the always part-mysterious ecologies of which any economy is one small part. An untouched and sacred tomorrow will be the central purpose of progress – that is – the happiness of children. Of course, shrinking GDP will mean collapsing money, share and bond markets – we can endure those things only by the solid physics of renewed earthly connections and by connecting with each other. That also means the collapse of the rent-gathering middle class. The middle class goes as the money goes.
Are we brave? If not, then no bravery will be brave enough to face three degrees of climate warming and rising. That is the current trajectory. IPCC (the world’s middle class) has chosen that trajectory.