By Jim Miller
Last week the Pope came to America and delivered his groundbreaking message about the interrelated problems of climate change and economic inequality as well as the moral imperative to act to address them.
We heard this message at the same time we learned that we have lost half the world’s marine animals since 1970 and that Exxon’s own research had confirmed the human role in climate change decades ago even as they were heavily funding efforts to block solutions. During all of this, we were also reminded that every GOP candidate for President has absolutely nothing to offer in the face of this deadly threat.
Clearly we need to change the game and do it quickly. But how?
In one of the many interviews that Naomi Klein gave for the recent release of the documentary film version of This Changes Everything, she made the point that “we need to grow out of the story” that traditional politics will save us from the existential crisis that climate change presents us with.
Indeed, Klein argues, the kinds of stories we have been telling ourselves are part of the problem. More specifically, she observes that:
I feel like we’re in this moment where we have this sort of all-knowing “serious” political class that’s constantly saying what is an electable issue, who is an electable person, that is constantly pushing us to this utterly untenable mushy middle where it’s guaranteed that we’re going to stay on this suicide path.
So in the wake of calls for a more moderate vision that is achievable in our current, deeply limited political context, Klein, along with a host of Canadian environmental, social, labor, faith-based, and indigenous activists, released the Leap Manifesto, a remarkably utopian call for a new world:
We could live in a country powered entirely by renewable energy, woven together by accessible public transit, in which the opportunities of this transition are designed to eliminate racial and gender inequality. Caring for one another and caring for the planet could be the economy’s fastest growing sectors. Many more people could have higher-wage jobs with fewer work hours, leaving us ample time to enjoy our loved ones and flourish in our communities.
Canada is not this place today – but it can be.
The time for this great transition is short. Climate scientists have told us this is the decade to take decisive action to prevent catastrophic global warming. That means small steps will no longer suffice.
So we need to leap.
This leap would entail following the lead of indigenous communities and rethinking our relationship to nature and the nature of our society. It would mean moving away from the present global trade regime, localizing our economies, and becoming more truly democratic with regard to natural resources:
The time has come for energy democracy: We believe not just in changes to our energy sources, but that wherever possible communities should collectively control these new energy systems. We can create innovative ownership structures: democratically run, paying living wages and keeping much-needed revenue in communities.
Of course this radical transformation to a clean energy economy would require a huge investment in “high-speed rail powered by renewables and affordable public transportation in every community.” This massive new investment in infrastructure could also address economic inequality by creating living wage jobs. And a clean energy economy might also give us the opportunity to shorten the workweek and expand sectors of the economy that are already low-carbon such as “caregiving, teaching, social work, the arts, and public-interest media.”
This might seem a ridiculous notion in the neoliberal era but as the authors insist:
We declare that “austerity” – which has systematically attacked low-carbon sectors such as education and health care, while starving public transit and forcing reckless energy privatizations – is a fossilized form of thinking that has become a threat to life on Earth. The money we need to pay for this great transformation is available – we just need the right policies to release it. Such as an end to fossil-fuel subsidies. Financial transaction taxes. Increased resource royalties. Higher income taxes on corporations and wealthy people. A progressive carbon tax. Cuts to military spending. All of these are based on a simple “polluter pays” principle and hold enormous promise.
One thing is clear: Public scarcity in times of unprecedented private wealth is a manufactured crisis, designed to extinguish our dreams before they have a chance to be born.
Stirring stuff to be sure. And in the same interview Klein cites the victory of Jeremy Corbyn in the British Labour Party and Bernie Sanders’s recent surge as evidence that there may be a taste for a more visionary politics in the air.
That might be true but, as the Clinton camp’s recent move toward red-baiting Sanders illustrates, those still wedded to “moderate” pragmatism in neoliberal clothing may be just as much of an obstacle to saving the future as the lunatic right.
But, as the authors of the Leap Manifesto argue, we can’t wait for these old stories to change themselves or to be rewritten by a political messiah on a white horse. We need to be bold thinkers and reject the temptation to confuse the ideological hegemony of our market-driven world with wisdom. We need to allow our dreams to be born or resign ourselves to the suicide path.
Demand the impossible–everything depends on our ability to imagine a new world.
leap graphic via