We're just too set in our ways to have any real hope of tackling the basket of looming existential challenges facing mankind and, for that matter, pretty much all life on Earth.
Forget everything else. Forget overpopulation, over-consumption of essential resources, terrorism and nuclear proliferation, forget everything except climate change. The thing is, if we can't respond effectively to climate change we don't have a snowball's chance in hell of resolving the others. As a global civilization, we're going down.
Which leads me to Andrew Simm's essay in The Guardian in which he explores the self-defeating process of using conventional thinking in response to the climate change dilemma.
The problem with ...scenarios that emerge in the mainstream, is the intellectual editing that occurs before they even begin. Most share two overwhelming, linked characteristics that strictly limit any subsequent room for manoeuvre. Firstly the demand for energy itself is seen as something innate, unchallengeable and unmanageable. It must be met, and the only question is how.
Secondly, the assumption remains that the principles and practices of the economic model that has dominated for the last 30 years will remain for at least the next 30 years. There is no sign yet of the ferocious challenge to neoliberal orthodoxy happening at the margins of economics shaping mainstream visions of our possible futures. The merest glance at the history of changing ideas suggests this is short-sighted.
There are reasons why we need to get a move on with tackling energy demand. Extreme weather events abound. Record flooding in North Carolina in the United States follows record flooding in Louisiana earlier in the year. While no individual event can be described a direct cause and effect relationship, increasingly heavy rainfall and flood events are consistent with climate models for a warming world.
But we should go further to assess the pros and cons of radical scenarios for changing how we live and work.
Rarely considered but important variables come from new economics, including the shorter working week, the share economy, shifts in corporate ownership and governance, and intelligent but deliberate measures for economic localisation. Compare these to the “stumble on”, or business as usual scenario, in which we give up control of our future to a permanently destabilised climate change, but also assess seriously the consequences of the argument for planned so-called “de-growth” of the economy.
At the height of the 2008 financial crisis, the UK government promised to “go beyond the conventional thinking” to put things right. It never did, but with the climate crisis there is no choice. Conventional thinking is off-course and contradictory.
Without a balanced, comparative assessment of strategies to align energy use and industry with inescapable climate action, we won’t be able to choose the best possible future.
Now, assuming that climate change became an imperative at least 20 years ago, look at how each of our governments, Conservative and Liberal, over that period approached this problem. A good place to start, perhaps, is to look at where Canadian government has come today. Today they're talking about some token carbon price that may or may not take effect in 2018. I think Simms could have been describing the Trudeau regime when he wrote, "Conventional thinking is off-course and contradictory." Yet that is where we are and, so long as our petro-pols on both sides of the aisle pack the House of Commons, that's where we're going to remain.
This is Canada where our environment minister proclaims she is "as much an economic minister as I am an environment minister." Dame Cathy doesn't even grasp the inherent conflict in that. It's as though she's the minister for tobacco production and the minister of health in some blended portfolio. She's oblivious to Canada's urgent need for a full time and powerful environment minister ready and able to go toe to toe with reluctant premiers and with her cabinet colleagues who are entrusted with economic matters whether that be trade, resources or foreign affairs. We're a petro-state, Cathy, and we can't get by with a part-time environment minister who folds at every scowl of some provincial tyro. Maybe that's why Trudeau singled her out for that portfolio. Maybe he wanted a reliable milquetoast. If so, he chose wisely.