Out of kindness, I suppose
In our societies, the way we access our inputs (i.e., everything we put into us and accumulate and maintain around us) is a mix of pushing and sharing.
By sharing I mean those situations where you have agreed with other people quite strictly what each one contributes in terms of behavior and how access to the outputs of the situation will be divided between each other. Working in organizations belongs to this type of getting access, and participating in governments and family life are respectively weak and strong forms of it.
By pushing I mean the situations in which we each individually and without much mutual arrangement try to access the outcomes of it. Competing, free trade and sport belong to this type of getting access. Choosing a partner or obtaining housing are also typical forms of it. There are usually some rules to which the players must conform, but it is mainly the span of possible outcomes that has traditionally tempted man to enable this game in social reality. Associated with it are appreciations such as heroism, freedom, choice, opportunities, to score prestige, to impress, to rule, to triumph over others, to dominate, to elbow out others, to take revenge. Blocking others is a crucial potential of this type of giving each other access to inputs. Why? The very important implication of this game is that accumulation of outcomes (everything you gain) can continue indefinitely as long as there is potential (i.e., situations that produce outcomes). So anything you win, others can't get. And by cumulating gains, you are building buffers for future loss. Safety, in other words.
Okay. I want to focus here particularly on the moment when people collectively recognize in a situation, "You can't push here anymore, now we have to share". In the climate situation looming before us, I don't suspect that moment far off. Climate instabilities are not only pulling our familiar earth out from under our bums, they are also changing our view on our fellow man. To the perception of a great many people, we are increasingly squeezed into one lifeboat in which a few still want to maintain the freedom − out of kindness I suppose − to regulate access to supplies through pushing, and thus to let personal qualities (such as strength, ability, and influence) be decisive for the amount of inputs (and thus emission space) that a person can drag in.
The big question is: How soon will the proponents of sharing start to share their feelings, and from thereon jointly organize a session in which they put the proponents of pushing to the choice: "Either you are going to share or now overboard".
In our past, whenever too much misery came together at once, such a collective bypass operation has never been considered too indecent to prevent smooth implementation. The big landowners in Russia, the nobility in France, the generals in South America, and the whites in South Africa, one by one they have been either cleaned up or put on a sharing track.
However our current situation - even if the looming misery is huge - has some very discouraging aspects. Rethinking your familiar situation has never been easy, but the large scale and unusual direction of the remedies to prevent fatal warming drive almost every reasonable person to despair. The vision on that escape pathway gets sharper and more oppressive by the year, as warming comes at us unexpectedly fast. If you take the core problem seriously (i.e. that you need to reduce emissions massively and very quickly − that is, downsizing very safely and very quickly) all the main features of the solution follow logically from there: namely (a) no more privileges: inequalities in the use of emission space are finito, (b) local low-emission production and consumption of basic provisions must be made possible for everyone, (c) and so the local available resources, assets, tools, facilities, and technologies must become equally distributed among young adults.
That triple jump (a → b → c) is the only safe way to reach zero emissions worldwide in time and to let all natural (including human) life continue to exist until the end of time, because only in that set-up you can kill ninety percent of the energy consumption of international flows, of the global long-chain productions, of the mining activities, and of all unnecessary research and pointless innovation.
Yes, it is true, this way out is enormously drastic, and evokes an awful fear of change. Yet we would be quite willing to sink our teeth into it (as evidenced by countless courageous attempts in the direction of rural and simple living and working), if two other forces did not discourage us even more, and kept us in a grip.
These discouraging forces are hiding in the two following anchors under the status quo:
- The first dragging anchor is the possessing ruling elite and their research and innovation armies. For 30 years, these rulers and scientists have been injecting us with their technical wizardry of climate solutions to keep us sweet and neatly within the ranks of the purchase armada, and thus to inflate the global flows through pipes, cables, waterways, highways, aviation and satellites to unprecedented heights. Look at the recent offensive in the form of climate-resolution plans that are currently coming at us from every corner of power (billionaires, universities). Since science only wants more science, and their solution direction plus scope (extent of research) is being set by those in power, solutions that implicate a downsizing of universities and/or make those in power superfluous, undesirable or impossible, cannot come from their pen. However, the only seriously feasible and safe solution (see above) does have this nature. And so, for 30 years now, specialised scientific thinking has kept us trapped in the idea-fixe that without the swelling global flows, without the absurd constant innovation to push each other out of the markets, there would be no survival solution.
- The second anchor under the status quo is the energy addiction of the high-carbon lifestyle people. They (i.e. we) are served daily from all parts of the world and are enjoying convenience, sensuousness and wellbeing. Their voluntary sedation and distancing from uncomfortable and difficult aspects of reality is causing an insensitivity that paralyzes their perception (and sensation) of enough. And that paves the way for a blind expansionism to more and still more. Limitation is unthinkable for the fanatics among them ("Back to the Middle Ages") and therefore out of the question. No, we are fully allowed to give the world's climate and the earth's atmosphere a heart attack with all the risks that this entails, but we are not allowed to ask about 30% of humanity to abandon superfluous convenience by reducing global production and consumption to a level that is absolutely necessary and sufficient for everyone. Duly noted.
So, is our situation hopeless? No, of course not. Organizing is our greatest skill. Together we can face the situation and bring it safely to a good ending. We have the potential to change societal rules about the distribution of access to assets and about limitations on consumption and investments. This path through radical reforms in the social dimension can be completed much faster than a techno-fix of energy supply, and need not cost the earth.
But first declare war. Out of kindness.
Jac Nijssen, 2021
This article has been written April 2021.
A Dutch version was published on duurzaamnieuws.nl april 2021.