Neoliberalism is not conducive to our health or to our survival.
Neoliberalism has brought us to a place where we have to choose to either step back or accept the butcher's bill to keep it going. We're running out of room, we're running out of stuff, somebody - a lot of somebodies - are going to have to die to keep this party going, to keep us in our big trucks, to keep us in our McMansions. There's simply not enough to go around.
We cannot pretend to bend the Earth to conform to our politics any more. We must now reconcile our politics to the imperatives of our planet. We are going to have to harness consciousness to conscience.
Even in generally affluent Europe there's a movement of people who say, "we can't see a future." These people, from across Europe, are suing the EU for failing to protect their fundamental rights to life, health, occupation and property. They are acting in their own right and on behalf of their children and generations to follow. They are saying that all governments have responsibilities now and to the future. Nobody gets to wreck the future. No government has that right. Not even yours. Implicit in that is that governments must heed "should" as much as "can." Yes they can do things, especially vote-winning things today, but should they do them if the immediate benefit is outweighed by future consequences.
Imagine you're in a lifeboat (which, as I'll explain you now are) and you're in command (you've got the pistol). All of the survivors, a dozen in all, haven't eaten for a while and they're getting hungry and thirsty. You've got enough water to slake everyone's thirst and enough food to fill their tummies. They get angry and tell you they want that water and they want that food and you had damn well better deliver. You know if you go along they're not going to be happy by Day 3, the days following will be worse and by Day 6 they may be turning on each other. So are you going to ration that food, make it last, or will you let everything go all to Hell? Or, Option 3, you've got six rounds in that revolver. You could shoot the six people you like least, toss them over the side, and relieve the pressure - for a while.
We live on a very finite planet, Earth. It's our one and only biosphere. It operates much like a space ship hurtling through the universe at astonishing speed. (When you combine the speed Earth turns on its axis, the speed of Earth's orbit around the sun, the speed of our solar system's transit through our galaxy and the speed of our galaxy's travel through the universe, it's mind-boggling.) The point is, Earth is still our one and only. Earth - not Elon Musk, not Jeff Bezos, not the Koch Brothers - provides everything you own, everything you use, everything that keeps you alive and happy - the lot. The point is that you, me, all life plant or animal, have to live within the limit of what Earth provides. Go beyond that limit and your chances are about the same as an astronaut going on a spacewalk and removing her helmet. Not good - at all.
Here's the problem. We want everything Earth provides, all of it. We want all of it and more. We have found ways to get more. We now use the Earth's resources far beyond what the planet can sustainably provide. We do this by pillaging the Earth's resource reserves. You can't really argue with that because the evidence is tangible, calculable, some of it is even visible to the naked eye from space. It's visible in deforestation, the clearing of vast tracts of forests. It's visible in desertification, the exhaustion of once fertile farmland and its transformation into barren desert. It's visible in dried up lakes and rivers that no longer flow to the sea. NASA's Grace satellites record it in the subsidence of surface levels caused by the draining of freshwater from aquifers below. We see it in global fisheries that are being collapsed, one by one, as the industrial fishing fleet "fishes down the food chain." It's visible in the algae blooms that now regularly appear in our lakes and along our coasts. It is manifest in the global collapse of biodiversity of both terrestrial and marine species.
The signs are everywhere. They're inescapable, irrefutable. There ain't no getting around it. This is a planet in peril. We're now using the Earth's resources in excess of the planet's carrying capacity by a factor of 1.7.
The neoliberal model of political/economic governance holds that if you can still stock the store shelves it's okay, don't stop. The neoliberal model of governance cares little if at all for the future. That's what has those "we can't see a future" folks in Europe up in arms. They can't see a future. The difference between those brave few and the neoliberals who govern them is that those few have bothered to look to the future. Neoliberals don't look up. Neoliberals look down. Neoliberals can't look up because they know what they'll see utterly contradicts their ethos. It puts the lie to their mode of governance. They won't have that. They're already in too deep to worry about the future.
Look at what's happened during the era of neoliberalism (in addition to all that business about desertification, deforestation, fisheries collapse, etc.). We have doubled in population. We have significantly extended human lifespans. We have substantially increased our per capita consumption. So, more people, living longer, consuming more. As an equation that's more people X living longer X consuming more = the mess we're in today. It has exhausted Earth's resources and caused other life, terrestrial and marine, to plummet in numbers by 50%, half. The bottom is now falling out. The 2016 LivingPlanet Report found that we're on track to lose 67 per cent of wildlife by 2020. This has all happened since the era of Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney.
Over that interval, China's population has grown from 982 million (1980) to nearly 1.4 billion. India has gone from 696 million to 1.324 billion. The US grew from 226 million to 323 million. Consider this. It took all but 200 years of the 12,000 year history of human civilization to grow our entire global population to one billion. It took the past 200 years to grow that to 7.5 billion and we're expected to hit 9 billion in just another two or three decades.
China's GDP grew from 192 billion (1980) to 11.2 trillion. India grew from 36 billion to nearly 2.4 trillion. The US grew from 543 billion to 18.6 trillion. India today has almost five times the total GDP of the US in 1980.
In 1980, GWP, Gross World Production, was about 18.8 trillion. In 2000, GWP was 41 trillion. By 2014 it had grown to 77.8 trillion dollars. By way of perspective, in 1900 GWP hit a blistering, all time record 1.1 trillion dollars.
Do you see a trend there?
Those figures - population, GDP, GWP - they're exponential. That's the course neoliberalism has us on, exponential growth. Not for nothing is it called "The Great Acceleration." And that's the biggest problem with neoliberalism - it only comes with a gas pedal, the steering is shite and there ain't no brake. But even the most powerful locomotive, the greatest ship will stop - when it runs into something.
When I began this post I started with the title "Living On the Edges." Only we're not really living on the edges any more. We're dying on the edges. We don't notice it because we're killing off the rest of nature first. Those other species are dying so that we might live this way a little longer, but only a little. It caused George Monbiot to ask why mankind has chosen to go to war on our living world.
...In a society bombarded by advertising and driven by the growth imperative, pleasure is reduced to hedonism and hedonism is reduced to consumption. We use consumption as a cure for boredom, to fill the void that an affectless, grasping, atomised culture creates, to brighten the grey world we have created.
We care ever less for the possessions we buy, and dispose of them ever more quickly. Yet the extraction of the raw materials required to produce them, the pollution commissioned in their manufacturing, the infrastructure and noise and burning of fuel needed to transport them are trashing a natural world infinitely more fascinating and intricate than the stuff we produce. The loss of wildlife is a loss of wonder and enchantment, of the magic with which the living world infects our lives.
...A system that makes us less happy, less secure, that narrows and impoverishes our lives, is presented as the only possible answer to our problems. There is no alternative – we must keep marching over the cliff. Anyone who challenges it is either ignored or excoriated.
And the beneficiaries? Well they are also the biggest consumers, using their spectacular wealth to exert impacts thousands of times greater than most people achieve. Much of the natural world is destroyed so that the very rich can fit their yachts with mahogany, eat bluefin tuna sushi, scatter ground rhino horn over their food, land their private jets on airfields carved from rare grasslands, burn in one day as much fossil fuel as the average global citizen uses in a year.
Thus the Great Global Polishing proceeds, wearing down the knap of the Earth, rubbing out all that is distinctive and peculiar, in human culture as well as nature, reducing us to replaceable automata within a homogenous global workforce, inexorably transforming the riches of the natural world into a featureless monoculture.We are dying on the edges and we're killing off everything in our way to cling to our suicidal lifestyle for just as long as we can.
...farmed poultry today makes up 70% of all birds on the planet, with just 30% being wild. The picture is even more stark for mammals – 60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are human and just 4% are wild animals.
But comparison of the new estimates with those for the time before humans became farmers and the industrial revolution began reveal the full extent of the huge decline. Just one-sixth of wild mammals, from mice to elephants, remain, surprising even the scientists. In the oceans, three centuries of whaling has left just a fifth of marine mammals in the oceans.The important question isn't how did we do this but rather why are we still doing this? If this neoliberal trap leads to our possible extinction, why don't we stop and find other ways of organization - political, economic, industrial, social - that can bring humanity back into harmony with our planet, our one and only biosphere?
We have a shared responsibility for our predicament and some bear more responsibility than others. It stops when we say it stops. It stops when enough of us say, no more. There's a lot to undo and it won't be painless or free of sacrifice. But when you're in a lifeboat, your ultimate survival depends entirely on sacrifice.