2020 is turning out to be a momentous year. The COVID -19 pandemic combined with record fire, heat, and hurricanes, as well as millions standing up for justice in the face of systemic racism and violence by the police has made it pretty obvious the old order will not/must not stand. We have no idea yet what will replace it, but many of us know what we would like to see. A Better World is possible.
The crisis/opportunity is throw more sharply into relief by the Presidential campaign. The right wing in America and the Republican Party (and many other places around the world)has clearly stated that justice, the environment, and democracy are no longer on their agenda. White Christian (you can also substitute right wing Hindu, Judaic, and Islamic for Christian in other parts of the world) Nationalism is their new creed, built around violent macho bullshitters, with the prime example being the orange headed liar spreading Covid-19, while the rest of us want liberty and justice for all. The Democratic Party has chosen a career politician with a rather weak record on progressive issues, but is sort of rising to the times by offering up a fairly progressive platform on climate change, racial justice, and democracy, though not the war machine and the empire. The Republicans win, the planet dies. It is that simple, and as it dies, all of our communities die with it. Democrats win, we die a bit slower.
The pandemic, mostly by mirroring/emphasizing the injustices that the climate catastrophe and systemic racism are exacerbating, has woken up millions of people to more and more of the issues that face us. Poverty kills. Low wage workers cannot work from home and are much more susceptible to the ills of civilization because we are still “Dumping in Dixie”, BIPOC neighborhoods have fewer trees and amenities, populations are denser, and the things other neighborhoods use to cope with excess heat may be unaffordable. Then toss in more chronic illness due to diet, stress, and all the other factors that are reflected in the statement that life expectancies match up with zip codes, despite the USA spending more on healthcare than anyone else in the world by a country mile.
The pairing of the pandemic with all of the racist crap and racist policing in the USA that brought forth a new burst of Black Lives Matter activism has upped the ante even further. We cannot solve the climate crisis without solving the lack of justice, the problems an economy designed to hand everything to the rich creates; the long term defunding of programs to reduce inequality, the harassment and disenfranchisement of voters, police forces and persecutors who selectively send black and brown men to jail, the nuisance laws used to create a school to prison pipeline. That is correct, you read it right. We cannot solve the climate crisis without simultaneously ending poverty and injustice.
The jobs machine has broken down. Even when unemployment is low, as it was pre-pandemic, millions of Americans are struggling to support themselves and their families. Housing is unaffordable, energy is both polluting neighborhoods and expensive, our health care system leaves 80% of us in the dust. It is not as if we, or the earth can afford to up the ante on consumerism to rescue the economy. Ecosystems are already overtaxed, with soil, nutrients, forests, fish, and wildlife all rapidly disappearing. And then we have the world on fire with derechos, hurricanes, floods, and ice shelf collapses demonstrating how fast the climate catastrophe is moving. Keep a sharp eye on the food systems. They, like other supply chains, are breaking down. Especially in places most dependent upon agriculture .
So if we have all this breakdown with the dominant approach (neoliberal economics), being one that increases inequality, promotes white nationalism, maintains the empire, underfunds schools, turns housing and healthcare into businesses that only serve the rich, undoes agriculture, trashes forests, and allows police departments to smash heads in Black neighborhoods or when the government decides that protesters seeking democracy, justice and a livable world are illegitimate, then clearly the only antidote is something like a Green New Deal focused most on frontline communities, but including everyone that needs help transitioning to clean energy, and an economy based on equality, justice, public health, healing ecosystems, and peace.
For the last 35 years or 40 years I have been explicitly linking the issues of healthy ecosystems, healthy communities, democracy, and peace. The facts are that if the war machine and Wall St run rampant in the streets, neither our communities nor Planet Earth will be healthy and able to support most of us. For years most of us who have discussed the real issues in America, peace, justice, ecosystems, communities, racism, and the war machine, and explicitly linked them, have been relegated to the margins of community life, except maybe when our neighborhoods have been faced with the prospect of a nuclear waste dump.
One colleague recently acknowledged that he used to consider much of my work marginal to what was going on, but the world had finally caught up and those things I highlighted and linked years ago are becoming main stream concerns. In other words the storms of 2020 mean that many more folks are starting to realize that the breakdowns in the economy, democracy, our communities, the forests, and the climate have to be remedied together, that solutions in one sector of the struggle have to align and fit together with the other components and issues of the struggle, or it will simply perpetuate the power relationships and problems that are killing communities and the planet now. That ecology, justice, and communities are inextricably linked and healing requires all parts to heal together.
For many years one of my main foci was ecological economics. I focused on what was truly sustainable for the ecosystems of planet Earth, and how to help modern economies transform into those that do not deplete ecosystems. I always get ticked off when someone offers up some growth scheme and tells us it is sustainable. The bottom line is still that we are using 1.7 times the annual productivity of the planet to meet human needs, plus vast and ever growing quantities of minerals and fossil fuel deposits. I do not care how you want to view this, but it is an on the ground fact leading to a depletion of global environmental capital at rates exceeding 1% a year, with the rate increasing each year as more is depleted and more is stolen, and the capital stock is lessened in a reverse of compound interest. Someone tell me how this is sustainable for several generations or stop using the word to describe what you are doing.
The pandemic comes from exactly this sort of equation in which people are emptying forests of anything people can eat, and the incredible forests of Asia that are disappearing along with the wildlife have been such cauldrons of evolution that even the microorganisms and viruses can overwhelm unprepared systems, human immune systems and societies that do not pay attention to equality, justice, healthcare for all, and hunger.
I am finally starting to learn how to articulate this. It came to me on a walk.
We are dealing with a double problem. We are told that economic growth is the answer to all of our problems, and that to get to faster growth we need to cut taxes and regulations and unleash the capitalists.
The only unassailable fact is that we need to raise the incomes of those at the bottom of the economy.
To some the idea that we can raise the income of the people in the bottom strata of the economy without growth is absurd. Here is why raising incomes at the bottom while shrinking the overall impact of humans on the planet is the only way forward.
Ecosystems are already in collapse. Climate is getting worse ever faster. The only way to stop ecosystem collapse and reverse it is to use less stuff. You have to cut fewer trees, kill fewer animals, catch fewer fish, use less land, mine less, manufacture less as well as doing the dirty work of healing ecosystems such as planting more trees, building soil, and using clean renewable energy. For all the talk of dematerialization, every year people use more stuff and deplete ecosystems faster. In some parts of the world people absolutely need more to eat, they have inadequate shelter, little health care, and the list could go on for quite a while. They need MORE. The way to balance this is to have those who have much to use less. Much less. For many resources the ratio of per capita use is greater than 50 to1 between rich and poor. What if the ratio was only 10 to 1. That could be achieved by halving what the rich steal and doubling what the poor have access to. For many resources that already means we are using less. For others, we will have to go a bit farther to reduce usage to what is actually sustainable on planet Earth.
I have yet to hear a right wing plan to restore the economy, or at least one based on reality. While it is an article of faith in the modern world, even among progressives and environmentalists, who more and more try to link ecological healing to improved economic conditions, cutting taxes and regulations do not increase the growth rate, and often, in fact nearly always, have unintended consequences that add to the burdens of our communitiesbeyond the slower growth. In other words the entire basis of neoliberal economics, the policies that dominate the American landscape, are based on ideologically driven lies created by white supremacists. And we have already shown that growth will not solve the problems, so building a society around helping the rich get richer faster while using more stuff clearly will not work.
(References: two compilations I wrote in the last few years contain many references to the original materials making this case https://prosperityforri.com/business-climate-mania-in-rhode-island https://prosperityforri.com/business-climate-or-real-climate-which-is-more-important-for-rhode-islands-future-economy )
The onset of the pandemic coincided with an outburst of publicity around a number of heinous acts by police officers against Black People in the United States. Breona Taylor, George Floyd, and many others were shot or otherwise killed by police officers under circumstances that when captured on film, demonstrate a completely out of control system that systematically and unsystematically violates the rights, and destroys the lives, of people in very discriminatory fashion. Justice has not been served, and will not be until Black Lives Matter.
The economy around the world has suffered due to the pandemic. People who do all their work on line or phone, just started working at home. It is the people who work with customers and patients or in manufacturing or food processing that cannot work from home. Much of the work is poorly paid. The work we demanded happen was labelled essential work. Many of the people doing that work have sickened and died. The others have been cut loose, and many industries will be much smaller down the road, leaving many unemployed. We need a plan to move the economy towards healing the planet and communities, and clearly there is much work to be done if we spent our money on the right things.
The economy is also suffering from the overuse of fossil fuels. The heat waves, fires, floods and storms are creating billion dollar disasters every time you turn around. The number goes up each year and the impact on the economy is ever larger. This year California and Oregon as well as Australia, Brazil and Russia had record fire seasons, while the US has been hit by 10 named tropical storms. Louisiana had not recovered from a hurricane 6 weeks ago when the same part of the state got hit again this week. Real transformation is hung up both the need to power our communities with less power than we use now and by the fascistic demand that governments not spend money into creation, that it can only be created by banks lending it so that governments are always having to hand money over to the banks (read the billionaires) in order to boost the economy. It is a system that is both inefficient and subject to great corruption. It also guarantees that the rich will get richer, the poor poorer, and the rich will undermine democracy to keep the power in their hands. And the climate will burn us. Maybe that sums up 2020 in a nutshell.
Watching the world since the pandemic entered human consciousness and bodies after it was brought out of the forest last year, it is sort of good that sort of mainstream commentators are starting to link democracy, justice, public health, deforestation, climate, and the economy. Some of us have been pointing this out for years, and were looked upon as members of some strange cult, totally irrelevant to the public policy needed to create livable communities, and are sort of smiling at how the rest of the world has caught up to us, and are working to get these policies put into practice. As usual, Americans are great at doing the right thing, but only after everything else has been exhausted and the crisis is at hand. But between the pandemic, the collapse of some of the economy because people have to stay home to slow the spread of a deadly disease, the unwillingness of the government to make sure everyone has the essentials of life (food, shelter, clothing, healthcare as well as lights, heat, and a way to cook food), the openness of the violent systemic racism, and a presidential election in which the incumbent is trying to rig the system and insists that he will not abide by the voters decision if he loses, I guess you could say we are at the crisis and it is up to the American people to put it right.
And they are rising to the occasion even as the President and the Republicans in Congress are doing everything they can to prevent voting, remake the judiciary, and lock in pollution and inequality. Americans have gone through this type of strife and trouble before. So far we have always found a way to move forward, to make real progress towards justice and a better world. Usually when the young decide they have had enough and take to the streets. Black Lives Matter, Sunrise, and so many other movements, organizations, and assemblages in the streets is probably the only thing that gives me any hope. No wonder the orange headed toxic infected asshole in the white house has lost his mind and the racist old guard is freaking out. May we have a tsunami on November 3 to provide a few years (maybe even enough years to lock in the end of the fossil fuel era) in which progress is possible before the criminal rich start to buy the politicians successfully again and American politics is again for sale to the highest and most criminal bidders. I sure hope so, and I am doing what I can to make it happen.
Greg Gerritt October 11 2020