We are in a state of global emergency that not enough people recognize:
Few would doubt that we are living at a time of emergency. The world’s population presently stands at 6.7 billion, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. That ﬁgure is projected to rise to 8.5 billion by 2030. It is understood now just how quickly the earth is warming, because of the increase in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases arising from human activity. If the earth continues to warm at its present rate, we know what our fate will be, and yet we seem set on destroying ourselves. Meanwhile, we are experiencing a fundamental shift in power away from the West; the emergence of China, India and Brazil, with their new wealth and aspirational middle classes, is putting an intolerable strain on the world’s ﬁnite resources. As I write the price of oil has reached $128 a barrel. It has never been higher. One need not be a pessimist to predict some kind of Malthusian denouement to the human story if we are unable or unwilling to alter our ways of being: scarcity wars, famine, large-scale environmental degradation.
Likely not a day goes by that I don’t ask myself why there does not yet exist a critical mass of people who are demanding that our governments, local, national and international respond to our state of global emergency. I believe the answer is complex and thus multi-faceted as well as perhaps still partly hidden. Perhaps some of us are too comfortable, yet that explains neither the inability of the comfortable to perceive adequately the threat to their comfort and the comfort of their children and grandchildren; nor what is sometimes understood to be the quiescence of those who are far from comfortable yet not powerless.
Just to get started on an answer to that question, for myself, I think that the interests of the very comfortable are fatally aligned with the source of that comfort: global capitalism. Joel Bakan has written convincingly about the psychopathy of the large scale, usually multi-national and interrelated corporations that advance mercilessly toward the goal of maximum profit with little to no ability to respond to long-term degradation of both the labour force and the environment. [See The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power and The Corporation Film]
Those who are identified with global capitalism by virtue of their own ability to maximize personal profits may well be engaged in folly or their own psychopathy, having convinced themselves that unregulated capitalism will inevitably prove capable of handling any difficulty thrown in its path, despite the facts; or simply because they’ve lost their ability to care about anything but enriching themselves.
What of those who are merely comfortable and increasingly less so? And those who are assumed, by many, to be simply too ignorant to know better, or powerless to do anything about it, though their “comfort” has been seriously compromised?
From that psychological viewpoint used by Bakaan, I wonder if we aren’t all either suffering from some horrible combination of mass post and ongoing trauma, accompanied by combinations of dissociation, numbness, and learned helplessness; if many of us aren’t simply overwhelmed by the fuel crisis, food crisis, global warming crisis and other forms of environmental threat, unwinnable wars all over the world, various forms of oppression caused by totalitarianism or legitimated coercion and resulting inroads into the power of democracy and the rule of law as well as failing economies in the West and just general malaise. To what should we pay attention? Whom should we believe about both the proper identification of the sources of our problems and adequate resolutions? What avenues of power can we access to force our leaders into addressing our problems? What forms of organization will draw us into effective alliances across lines of gender, race, “class”, ability, ethnicity and nationality? Can we address all of the emergencies at once or do we need to prioritize them? If the latter, how do we prioritize such an impressive and pressing batch of emerging issues?
Just asking the questions can be overwhelming and depressing in itself. It can lead to outright despair when we realize that our means of collective thinking, decision making and action have been seriously eroded by the advances of “post modern” capitalism. We are more and more forced back upon ourselves. We no longer live or meet together as communities of people living or working together in the same numbers that we did when we actually had cohesive neighbourhoods and communities; fewer and fewer of us are organized into unions of working people who can identify interests and act together to force the changes we need. The complexity and amount of information we need to gather and synthesize in order to craft realistic solutions is unheard of in history. Post modern life keeps us busier and more distracted than we’ve ever been.
At the same time, we are discovering new ways of organizing and connecting with each other through advancing technologies. I do believe that we will, inevitably, act on behalf of humanity and the planet and all it holds. My question is, will we do it in time? And when I ask that question, yet another question surfaces: in time for what? At this point in the questioning, I come to rest on hope and the small contributions each of us makes to the greater good. And at this point, I wish I believed in a beneficent creator who has the best in mind for each of us and for all. But I believe that “we” are in our own hands. And I believe that is the most difficult thing to accept of all the things we face.