I'm usually a part-time environmentalist, but I'm starting to think that environmental concerns are direct symptoms or driving factors of every worldwide problem. However, too many discussions of these issues end the same way: people say "China and India" like they're pronouncing a death sentence on the world. China and India are clawing into our standard of consumption with a combined 8 times population of the United States. They say that as China and India flex their growing muscles, any meager progress America takes to clean up will become irrelevant.
I couldn't disagree more.
China and India are following *our* path to wealth. And it has been a miserable path, and built on old technology, moldy ideas, and without the hard-won understandings of how we affect our world. Today, with thoughtful policies and better technology, we can all win, and the natural world with us. If we forge a new path, they will follow.
But incremental progress won't cut it. We need to kick a few bad habits, but our lives will be better without them. Like all addictions, the American mode of consumption, exploitation, and war is overdetermined and self-reinforcing. Nothing can be blamed for the way things work, and no single policy change will fix things: everything works the way it does because of how everything else in American society works.
The solution is to fix our paradigms, and the first step is to believe that there is a solution. Here are the pieces I think need to be thrown out of our worldview:
1. Consumptionism. As much as consumption and war do wonders for the economy, drive innovation, form our choose-any-product conception of freedom, we don't want them. Consumerism and consumption don't make life better. The god of economic growth busies himself with expanding wealth gaps and exploiting people and the environment-- we want a zero-growth economy. Innovative progress is largely a waste; in food, where it affects us most, it has been an outright disaster. The biggest exception is progress in the essentially non-consumptive area of communication.
2. Corporation. Corporation is a weed strangling society for its own senseless benefit. Of all the ways that human beings can organize themselves for collective enterprises, the publicly traded corporation may be the worst because it disconnects the enterprise from its reason for existence. Businesses exist because they make money, and because of the role corporations have our entire society is directed toward that humanless aim. The maximum planning timespan of corporations is 20 years, and this willful shortsightedness is destroying our planet.
These two social creations help form every aspect of our lives, mainly (I claim) to our detriment. If we could convince everyone to just *stop* doing them, after a little confusion, we would be a happier world.
We're closer to being able to do that today than ever. We largely know how to solve the world's problems, and more answers are formed every day. Download the beautifully composed Rough Guide to a Better World. Buy WorldChanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century the work of the WorldChanging blog group. And there are zillions of other blogs, magazines, mailing lists, and action groups built around each issue. For a system-wide approach, find a copy of the 3000 page Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential.
Plus, with the power of the internet, these ideas are spreading faster than ever. Any day, the right new conception of the world will come along, take fire, and we'll wonder what took us so long... but not unless we're all looking for it, and believing it when it stares us in the face.