Sunday, December 22, 2019

Futile Musings About Saving The World

It's going to be unseasonably warm here in Toronto for Christmas. There'll be no snow on the ground. I heard it's going to be around 5 or 8 degrees Celsius. I don't think we'll have a "white Christmas" in this part of the world for the rest of my life. (However long that will be.) I recently asked a group of highschool boys if anyone had ever told them that up until the mid-1990's, in this part of the world, if they made an outdoor ice-rink in a public park that it would persist from at least December 1st to February 1st. They hadn't been told that. (One of them thought that would have been "pretty cool." I'm not sure if it was a joke or not.)

Australia is burning and will be doing so for another couple of months at least. Destroying habitats. Destroying air quality. It's a national disaster. Their current prime minister is a climate change denier. I remember seeing a report about bats in Australia dying from the heat. Consider this thought experiment: "Average" temperatures for the year stay in the 1.5-2 degrees higher than at present. But ONE 24-hour period in one year sees temperatures soar to levels that overwhelms the bodies of every mammal and bird under the sun and they all die. What are the subsequent long-term impacts of that? (I don't know about the abilities of insects to withstand high temperatures. But we appear to be wiping them out with glysophates so let's say it's a wash.)

(I fear that in around five years or so, the most vocal of our current climate change deniers are going to be identified to the populace and then beaten to death by mobs of enraged humans who will string their bodies up on poles and subject them to days of abuse until the stink gets too bad whereupon they'll be thrown into garbage pits.)

Aside from the fact that it's too late, why don't I speculate on what sort of civilization we could have if we were a democratic society that took global warming seriously.

First of all, we would have to become a civilization more dedicated to leisure. How much of the work of industrial (and post-industrial) society is centered around making and selling useless junk? How much is made on responding to planned obsolescence? How much is devoted to faster processing speeds for computers (including cellphones) to compel people to discard their old super-computers in their pockets for the latest models? How much effort goes into conning people to buy financial services they don't need (or even want) or telecom products they aren't asking for?

What to do with the free time? 1. Relax. 2. Garden. 3. Exercise. 4. Get to know your neighbours. Connect with friends you hardly see anymore. Visit family members you actually like. 5. Study. Courses could be provided for simple enrichment (not degrees) where you can go and learn about anything you want. 6. Etcetera.

We must also become a culture that frowns upon excessive consumption. I don't know about ... well, even if the starting prices aren't as high as they are in Toronto, I've seen enough pictures of new housing in other parts of Canada to know that far too many of us seem to think we need palatial living rooms and 12 & 14-foot ceilings, finished basements and huge bedrooms on the second floor. And surrounding these mini-palaces we obviously need huge green lawns of constantly mown grass.

Clothes. Both sexes. We buy too many clothes. And so many clothes are now comprised of plastics. PLASTIC! Choking the earth. Literally choking animals to death. And we won't stop producing it or consuming it and discarding it.

We eat too much meat. We should consume 90% less meat than we do. There shouldn't be an processed-food industry at all. (I'm talking those frozen/microwaveable chemical-laden abominations you buy in a slender box.)

Central to any democratic transformation of the economy is workplace democracy. It's one of the reasons why I fixated upon the issue so much. I simply don't understand the antipathy of leftists and progressives to even think about elevating workplace democracy to the top-tier of concern. Say (against all the odds) we managed to elect a socialist government in Ontario or Canada. One that had the courage to pass necessary environmental and labour laws. How do you ensure that a business isn't going to respond to government-mandated regulations and tax increases by slashing jobs or relocating to more compliant countries? By taking such decision making power away from a small group of self-centered individuals and putting it to a vote of all those affected by the decision.

And how do you make it so that each business in Canada, every consultancy group, every factory, every retail chain, every grocery chain, becomes a site of democratic and environmental regulation? By empowering all the workers within the business! Instead of being inert recipients of decisions made elsewhere, workplaces could come up with their own innovations, based upon workers advocating for reforms without fear of sanction or dismissal. "Laboratories of Innovation." That was the phrase I was looking for!

So, so far, we'd have less people driving to work every day. We'd start building smaller homes. We'd produce less junk. Less cars. We'd be growing less corn to put into toxic soda-pop and force-feed to unhappy beef cattle, chickens and pigs and etc. Shrinking the meat industry would obviously necessitate killing the animals that had been raised up til then. But they were going to be killed anyway. Afterwards, some small-scale farms with regulations and conditions amenable to everyone but vegetarians/vegans would replace them.

Some industries would shrink or shut-down. What then? Well, there's about $18 TRILLION in offshore assets currently looking for "investments." Calculate the actual economic benefit that offshore banks have for a place like the Cayman Islands (or even Switzerland) and grant them an annual subsidy. Then, simply expropriate that money from the insanely selfish oligarchs who own it. And use it to pay the mortgages and annual salaries of people made redundant by political-economic reform. Those individuals (and businesses) could then direct themselves to employing their talents to create a better world.

The fact of the matter is that we have MORE THAN ENOUGH money to build the world we want to build. The developed countries can lead the way in showing how through modern technology we can build a world of comfortable leisure. China and India are still desperately poor. Life was a struggle for most of the history of humanity. Perhaps it still would be. But we don't have to inevitably destroy the planet's capacity to sustain life.

Except that we have. It's too late.

Apologies to anyone who has actually articulated a coherent path to get from the doomed status-quo to something sane and sustainable.

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