These are exciting times. While every week I have a conversation with someone who feels despair at the ecological and economic crisis unfolding around us, I have come to an acceptance of the inevitability of this crisis. So I focus instead on the uplifting responses emerging around the world as people build new approaches and gather support for them.
The so-called global financial crisis is in fact a blessing for humanity. While it is causing significant dislocation, it is bringing into sharp relief the idiocy of our consumer culture and the unsustainability of our economic model. It is a blessing because the sooner we face up to this, the less suffering there will ultimately be. A short sharp shock can help us to wake up.
And waking up we are. While these ideas have been proposed for many decades, the debate has stayed on the fringes. Now we have mainstream commentators starting to question the fundamental assumptions behind the global market. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author Tom Friedman is one such example. Tom has long been an advocate of globalisation and free markets and is widely read all around the world. He argued in a recent column:
Let’s today step out of the normal boundaries of analysis of our economic crisis and ask a radical question: What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.”
So that’s why I’m excited, because after decades of involvement in social change I have come to trust my intuition and at this time it is screaming at me that our time has arrived. We are now going to tackle the big issues.
Yes, it’s happening for the wrong reasons. It’s happening because the Arctic ice cap is melting, because Australia’s Murray Darling river system is dying, because severe droughts and floods are damaging food supplies and so on. Every day we hear more news like this. So I recognise how hard it is for us all to hear that and yet stay positive and optimistic. I too have struggled mightily with that challenge. However in the end I have come to a point of acceptance of that being a reality I can no longer change. I now find life is much better lived in a space that sees the opportunity inherent in the crisis.
Without the global financial crisis we may never have got Barack Obama. We now have a President of the world’s most powerful country arguing for world wide nuclear disarmament, arguing for a culture of service in our communities, reaching out to the Islamic world and appointing science based advocates for action on climate change to key positions. I feel great optimism that America is going to play a very different role in the world when Obama appoints people like Nobel Prize winner Steven Chu as Secretary for Energy and Harvard Professor John Holdren as his chief Science Advisor. Obama described Holdren “one of the most passionate and persistent voices of our time about the growing threat of climate change”. He’s now in the West Wing!
Sounds good to me.
In China too, where we all focus on the very real problem of rapid expansion of coal fired power stations, we also have great reasons for hope. Where did the world’s first production plug in hybrid go on sale for just $22,000? China. With even Toyota struggling to catch up, and Ford and GM firmly left in the dust, a Chinese company BYD is building the capacity for 500,000 electric cars and buses per year by the end of 2011. Some rumours suggest a tie-up with Wal-Mart to sell them into the US. Roll over in your grave Henry Ford!
So yes, it’s going to get ugly in the ecosystem, we are going to see some very unpleasant consequences of our failure to act, and we are going to see some significant suffering as food supplies dwindle, oil prices spike and governments scramble to respond to climate disasters. But all over the world people are getting ready in a bottom up community based movement to make their world a better place to live.
Growing out of the US and the UK the transition towns movement now has over 150 towns and cities working on the philosophy that between Peak Oil and Climate Change, the crisis is inevitable and we should get ready for it. Rather than being victims they choose to take control, with the view that:
“by shifting our mind-set we can actually recognise the coming post-cheap oil era as an opportunity rather than a threat, and design the future low carbon age to be thriving, resilient and abundant – somewhere much better to live than our current alienated consumer culture based on greed, war and the myth of perpetual growth.”
Thriving, resilient and abundant. Sounds good to me. Let’s live there.