This is an important – essential – topic and I will bring it to a new thread. It belongs in the political because the conversation is essential in We need a realization that consumption and inequality levels are a threat to the human species and the leaders of the wealthiest countries have to ask there people to do with less if the planet is to survive.
I accept that this might be difficult, perhaps impossible. But this means that our survival may be exactly that difficult, if not impossible. I hope that a realization that we are staring over a cliff brings this change. I worry that it may come too late and that denial, a very human instinct might prevent it. I admit that the courage for world leaders to express this is enormous but I feel that once stated by the political structures it would be a logic impossible to completely ignore.
It is not just wealth that is concentrated beyond sustainable levels, the use of the planet’s resources and tolerance for pollution is also heavily concentrated. This is turned into material wealth for the fairly well off (not just extremely wealthy). This type of subsidy must be removed in order for the planet to survive on reduced sustainable consumption.
North Americans often prefer to point to a 1% of their population and pretend that this is the only place where excess lies. Those of us without any global context can choose to deny our role and limit the problem to these oligarchs. However, most of us are in the global 1% and the environment is a global issue not a national issue. There are a few studies on this one statistic sets an income of $32,400 US as the floor of the global 1%. This is roughly the bottom of what people here call the middle class. It is close or at the median Canadian income. So when we talk about the 1% in a global context we should make sure we have a mirror. This understanding is essential to progress.
I am not saying that we have to have income parity in the world but we need to address the disparity as a part of creating an economic and social environment for climate action. This needs leadership and people are unprepared as we approach what will soon be a climate emergency. So long as there is no social license built from leadership that this is needed, people here will think that climate action involves government action that either will not affect them or be changes that are neutral with respect to lifestyle. We have to consider choices for sustainability that mean some short term excesses must be dialed back.
The idea that the planet can see reductions in emissions to safe limits without addressing the disproportionate wealth, consumption and footprint of well off people (including the average North American) is a significant obstacle. We have to reduce the footprint of humans on the planet drastically and quickly. We have to do so beyond what technology can accomplish in efficiency. This reduction cannot happen proportionately in all wealth/income levels because those at the bottom would find their lives too compromises. It means that those who have more, consume more, and waste more have to reduce more. I used the term sacrifice and I believe that this is a word that means you give up something you like in order to reach a greater good.
That greater good is not going to accrue to the most well off in proportion to what they have to give up because it would accrue equally to all peoples. But sacrifice is not always a negative thing and never has been. You sacrifice one thing to get something else. What we are talking about as a civilization is sacrificing things that tend to be more material in order to get things we value more -- like having a hope that our children's children might survive. We are at the point where our consumption remains a threat to the survival of our children's children. Perhaps our children and ourselves as well.
There are many nice things about a growth economy -- including the ability to manage a level of inequity without extreme hardship. When we can no longer grow in material, we have to ration. This is the response to shortage. Rationing in this context means the people who use the most, regardless of their privilege and status will have to learn to use less and they will not have an immediate material benefit in exchange.
We can grow the economy of non-material things so that the wealthy can have places to enjoy and express their wealth other than through material and pollution excess. Unfortunately, while benefits may be explored the rate of conversion from a wasteful world to an unlimited one (culture and thought) will involve a sacrifice because it takes time to make the change.
The sacrifice I am talking about is not unpalatable. It will not stop us from having happy lives if we do it. But it will mean that we have to give up a lot of the excess we are use to and as we do this some of the disproportionate inequality will need to be closed – to give the planet the time. Once we have a less material world economy with other values, there is no doubt that the competitive human will increase inequality in that area perhaps to the levels it is now. But the present inequality in a material world will surely kill us if we do not take steps to reduce it with sacrifices from the global 1% (read those with incomes of $32,400 and above).
It is true that we can and may ignore these realities. There is nothing saying that human civilization must endure. It has been said for a long time that human greed is the greatest threat to the continuation of the species. If we are able to check this greed a difference may be made but it is also true that we may not do that.
This is why I have argued -- and will not stop arguing -- that there is a direct connection between social justice, inequality and environmental sustainability. This is tied directly to racism and sexism as planet resources are very much disproportionately tied to amuse and bring enjoyment to a wealthy, older, male white demographic. Most of us acknowledge these injustice exist but when we reach limits to growth and limits to the capacity to absorb pollution we have a direct relationship between these injustices and environmental sustainability. Sustainability when it comes to climate change means we can’t keep doing something. Now of course we can until we go extinct but what unsustainable wealth concentration and pollution means is that we cannot continue and survive.
Some people will never grasp the gravity of the situation and want to deny the essential connections between social sustainability and environmental sustainability as the planet has to consume less material and pollute less. But this message is one that is at the core of my political and social vision. I have read much about it and even edited and published on it. I am not about to stop this argument generally. I do accept that there are people who will want to fight this until the very end and sadly some of them might even come to progressive websites and even pretend to be progressive.
When it comes to what the planet must do -- these people are noise. We have to argue with them sometimes and may do so as walking away from this fight is to accept extinction as the only possible outcome. But this does not mean that we may not walk away from particular exchanges that are not productive and are just wasteful as we realize these people are not part of the solution, they are there to distract and advance their own propaganda. So sometimes I think we have to engage and sometimes we can't continue to answer. They will declare a deluded victory in those moments and we can hope that satisfies them for a bit. But it is important to talk about these things.
Those who are interested might want to read Life, Money and Illusion a book I edited for Mike Nickerson: http://www.newsociety.com/Books/L/Life-Money-and-Illusion
The book takes a positive outlook but certainly recognizes that we cannot live as we have in the past and we will need to sacrifice some things to gain others. Technology cannot preserve equivalent functions and benefits – we have to look to others. It also addresses the connection between money, wealth, materialism and the environment.
I will close by saying when people recognize a reason they are willing to sacrifice. Many air travelers willingly give up conveniences in exchange for a perception of safer travel. We just might convince people of the sacrifices needed materially in order to secure the more important good- our survival. Our political leaders must start talking about this and that was the argument I made that started the latest conflict between a progressive vision and a pretend progressive vision. This concept has long been accepted as foundational among progressive people – this link and need to address sustainability and inequality at the same time. It is remarkable that it would be necessary to argue this here.