chapter  8
14 Pages

Alternative futures

Instead of wasting time and resources in devising adaptive capacities (impossible to do so for such an unknown, unknowable, inequitably affecting, moving and complex target), we should be pouring resources into planning a transition into a new economic system that is sustainable; that is, one that is equitable, just and life-enhancing. We must restructure our economic base and in doing so be prepared for higher taxes, wealth re-distribution and lower excessive standards of living to fund the massive transition required. We must begin planning and transitioning using the tools of a real world economics to a more equitable global society which discards the fetish of growth economics and which places caps on power, wealth and consumption. We need to move beyond simply putting solar panels on roofs, introducing light rail and public transport, growing food locally and organically – all nevertheless good and essential things to do as part of the transition. They will not, however, stop the entwined juggernauts of the economic system of globalised capitalism and its Siamese twin, the fossil fuel industry with its terminal consequences. The focus of this section is on what sorts of societies will best address global warming. It has been argued throughout the book that global warming is but one of a suite of interrelated issues and that we need to address the structural causes of the whole gamut of problems that constitute a convergence of crises that have been called the ‘crises of civilisation’. What sorts of societies can we build that might resolve these crises and most urgently address global warming? What are the key principles and values, structures and institutions for such societies? We need to be clear about where we want to go as we set out on the journey, and then have some idea of how we are going to get there. This chapter will suggest some major considerations in building theories and societies for the future, developing these ideas in part from the criticisms of the capitalist system. I use the plural ‘societies’ for diversity and localisation are key principles for any resilient, just and sustainable future. Attempting to devise alternatives to neoliberalism and capitalism more broadly is a challenging task. As previously discussed, the whole orientation of contemporary capitalist society has effectively sought to de-legitimise the possibility of alternatives, or to immediately conclude that one wants to institute the state socialism of Stalinist Russia or Eastern Europe under communist regimes. There is, however, as never before, an urgent need for alternative visions, perhaps even for utopian visions, or what Chomsky (2010: 309) calls a ‘rekindling [of] the radical imagination’ for humanity. The capitalist system is ¿lled with too many contradictions, is characterised by too much injustice, and has given rise to too many crises and now only promises climate chaos, the collapse of ecological systems and human civilisation, for it to continue. Particularly in the West, there is little institutional appreciation of the non-material accumulation concepts of development or that, beyond a certain point in material wealth, more goods do not necessarily equate with better, happier or more developed lives (Hamilton 2003). As argued earlier, there is little acknowledgement of the historical processes which have given rise to the enormous disparities in wealth distribution or that the vast majority of the

planet’s resources are owned, controlled and exploited for the narrow ends of a few; or that the issues of inequality and the exploitation of labour are key factors in ¿nding solutions to global warming. Nor is there a sense of transformative or revolutionary change. In the few pockets where (in the West) a sense of the need for change does exist, it is captured in large part by the various factions of largely marginalised socialist politics. In Central and South America and India, there are small-scale farmers’ movements, such as the Latin American Movimiento Campesino a Campesino, members of the World Social Forum, Bolivia’s Mother Earth and Indigenous groups calling for structural change to the global economy. In North America and Europe there is the movement that started as the Occupy Wall Street and the 99 per cent that has now spread to Europe. In Spain, Portugual and Greece, demonstrators have taken to the street opposing the imposition of undemocratic austerity measures, measures necessary to prop up the banks and the oligopolistic elites that are too powerful and too central to the system to fail. In Africa, there are many anti-capitalist movements and groups working for democratic change. The 2011-12 events in North Africa and the Middle East reveal the extent of the desire for radical change. The strength, pervasiveness and in a sense ‘solidarity’ of the power of the world’s rich, however, maintain the status quo globally – backed by state-controlled military and police forces and a powerful ideology. The power of global elites is dif¿cult to overthrow as it not only includes the hegemonic ideology but also (in the West) structural ties such as superannuation, pension funds and share ownership (albeit minority shareholdings) that support the capital accumulation process and capture the communities’ interests in the capitalist system, but do nothing for the redistribution of wealth or power or for laying the groundwork for sustainable futures. Conversely oppositional forces are divided – and this is nowhere more clearly evident than in unemployed right-wing thugs taking their revenge on even poorer, even more powerless refugees. Even in a wealthy, secure country such as Australia, the political elite has successfully managed to demonise refugees and remove their humanity and suffering from public sight, building a culture of ‘us’ and ‘them’ that is as cruel and dishonest as it is socially and economically vacuous. This is not fertile ground for deep and radical change. Further, we in the West too easily distance ourselves from what is happening in the South and have an almost pathological disassociation from what global warming really means in terms of the material and structural changes required. This chapter outlines the different worldviews that will be required in future and the constraints that future societies face. Acknowledgement of these constraints is important not only to avert extreme global warming but also to establish a realistic basis for what is available to meet the material needs of future societies. The question of institutions for the future is also addressed leading into the next chapter, which sets out the determination of the key principles, and values that must underpin future societies if they are to sustain a biologically diverse planet.