Things a sane society could do if it wanted to survive.
“Hope is like a road in the country. There never was a road, but when many people walk that way, the road comes into existence.” Lin Yu-Tang
Suppose your new party won a big election on a platform of healing climate and society, and imagine two million supporters, mostly armed, many active duty military, came to capitols around the world to back you up. Their signs and chants say “We want our children to live. Get out of our way.”
Suppose the rest of the military stood down, and the rulers and the billionaires ran for their bunkers and left you temporarily in charge. [Where those two million people came from, we’ll discuss later. For now, we’re imagining.]
What would you do? If you had the power, what could we do to save Earth from environmental destruction and create a world where people, animals and plants can thrive? We’d have to think very big, wouldn’t we?
We need to cut emissions of greenhouse gases and consumption of natural resources, but we know that’s not enough. Life mediates climate, and we have to help Nature restore the life which has been lost to industrial civilization. Such changes require us to heal ourselves and our societies of the war, racism, cutthroat competition, and materialism that drive over-consumption and endless conflict. We have to reconnect with Nature and make Earth sacred in all we do.
I’m going to throw out some rough ideas, gathered from various philosophers, scientists, Indigenous leaders, and history. The ideas are rough because most haven’t been studied or refined, but most of them are being practiced somewhere or other, at least at small scale.
See what you think might work and what ideas you can add, because whatever we would do if we had power, we should start doing and demanding now.
Jobs for all in service to Earth
Changes made to create a better future have no chance if they cause mass suffering in the present. To stabilize the climate, millions of jobs in the military and in polluting industries have to go, so we need to find work for those people and others who need work. The good thing is, we also need millions of workers just to undo the violence we have visited on our living Earth, and millions more to create a society where people can live without doing new violence.
This work might be harder and much more rewarding than most current jobs. Wouldn’t most people rather be restoring a beautiful river than selling cosmetics at Target? There would be no problem finding work for climate remediation in departments like these:
● Department of Forests– planting trees and caring for them from seedlings to adults, as Wangari Maathai has done in Africa and filmmaker John Liu has documented in China and Rwanda. The idea isn’t mono-crop tree plantations to grow lumber; corporations can do that. We want to restore forests with all their plant, animal, and fungal life that regulates climate and brings rain.
● Department of Food — Get people started in regenerative agriculture or permaculture, growing healthy food that regenerates soil, and so absorbs carbon and brings back insect and bird life. Permaculture includes harvesting water, planting trees and cover crops to make soil richer.
This work might not take the form of jobs; people could be funded to start new regenerative farms. This is another area where indigenous farmers and elders would have a lot of wisdom to teach. We would give them more land to work with.
● Department of Water — Water is life, and, according to Charles Eisenstein in his book Climate: A New Story , it is the most important molecule in dealing with climate change. We need to restore wetlands as sources of life and as protection against storm surges and rising sea levels.
We need to conserve water against droughts, harvest it with pools and trenches, protect it with cover crops. Barren land doesn’t hold water, so it runs to drains and gets wasted or causes floods. In urban environments, we could create sponge cities that prevent floods, and get whole districts through times of drought, as 200 of them do in China.
● Department of Unbuilding – Projects like sponge cities or urban farms often require removal of pavement and what’s built on the pavement. We might also consider removing some highways and dams, so fish and animals can move freely.
With too much land paved, cities become heat islands that raise temperatures for everyone. What good do giant parking lots or mega-malls do? We need to unbuild wasteful structures and replace them with green spaces.
We also will need to rebuild. Instead of building endless new housing, we could be redoing existing stock to make it more livable and sustainable. Take over unused housing for people who need it.
We need to rebuild the suburbs, where everyone relies on gas-guzzlers to get around. Some suburban land could be converted to farms, ponds, or forests. Individual homes could be linked in community compounds. Small-scale public transportation could take people around. Local business hubs could replace shopping centers far away.
● Department of Permanence — Ramp up renewable energy such as solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, and possibly, thorium reactors, which are nuclear power plants that can’t melt down and don’t create radioactive waste. Emphasize conservation of energy, water, and resources, instead of wasting things as capitalism promotes. Ban all products that can’t be usefully recycled.
Healing human environments
We have many crises besides the environmental ones, and social crises drive people to consume far more than we need (as capitalists want us to do.) We could heal social wounds and live happier lives with ideas like these:
● Department of Creativity — Unleash people’s creative powers and pay them for it. I imagine art, entertainment, and other cultural programs funded by governments, starting in school and continuing through our lifespan. This was done extensively in the Great Depression of the 30s, and some of those creations still beautify America today.
● Department of Community — So many people are isolated. Many become homeless; many become depressed or violent. Our society isolates people, makes them miserable, and calls it freedom. Instead, we could organize people into communities with structured food, health, and infrastructure maintenance. We could hire mentors for restorative justice programs, so troubled people get some guidance and supervision.
In San Francisco and many other cities, we have community safety programs like Urban Alchemy, which employ formerly incarcerated people to actually protect and serve poor people.
We could train and hire far more mental health workers. We could put communities in charge of their own land, with power to manage unused property, to house the homeless and to start growing food on unbuilt land.
Do you see how this relates to climate? Alienated individuals won’t come together to restore anything. They’ll get in their cars and drive away. Poverty-stricken people are too busy surviving to pay much attention to Earth. People suffering in the streets make everybody else scared. Community can replace consumption.
● Universal Basic Income (UBI) — will greatly reduce crime, poverty, mental and physical illness. Give everyone enough for a very basic life, and most of the poverty-related problems we see would go away. Eventually, everyone could get some kind of job restoring Nature, but that will take time to set up. UBI could be done now, as President Nixon proposed in 1969.
UBI should be global. My way-out idea is a global currency, which would not replace national currencies but be alongside them. The UN or the World Bank, or possibly national governments could distribute a UBI in the global currency or in national currencies. A UBI paid in global currency is a way the colonizing countries can gradually pay back what they stole from the global South.
● Debt — Our new government would forgive all unjust debt, which means slashing interest rates (perhaps to zero) and forbidding compound interest, as Eisenstein suggested in Sacred Economics. Most people’s mortgage and student debt would shrivel under these rules.
The international debt owed by the global South needs to be forgiven now. Rainforests are being cut down and rivers polluted by oil wells to pay off loans that were usually fraudulent in the first place. Debt is a major driver of climate change.
If we want to heal land and let land heal us, we need to give Indigenous people power to make land use decisions. Indigenous groups are organizing and according to those with whom I’ve talked, would love to do this. I would structure government at every level to include panels of indigenous leaders and thinkers to advise and sign off on all decisions.
Stop wars and preparation for wars — Think how much labor and technology peace would free up for restoration. Change the Department of Defense to the Department of Peace. Let soldiers teach self-defense to people everywhere. As a nation, stop trying to dominate the world while calling it “defense.”
A long walk to freedom
I get that this is more a dreamscape than a program, but that’s because we’re just starting. Philosopher Lin Yu-Tang said “Hope is like a road in the country; there never was a road, but when many people walk that way, the road comes into existence.” When more people start thinking and acting and writing about how we can walk on Earth in healing ways, perhaps this road will also come to exist.
Let’s start walking and talking, working, writing and organizing. Hopefully, those two million armed people from the first paragraph will join us on the way. Of course, we’ll need to reach out to them.
One caveat — my subtitle is Things a Sane Society Could Do If It Wanted to Survive. I don’t have much confidence that our society is sane or wants to survive. But some of us certainly do.
If you want to start now, references for all these directions can be found on the Web. My list isn’t ready yet, but will be pretty soon.
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