Why is “mainstream thinking” at the epicentre of our climate emergency?
How did we get it so wrong? How did we miss who was sitting across from us at the climate negotiating table?
Listen to a reading of this article:
In hindsight, immediate regulatory change should have been the redline at COP26. And if our so-called “leaders” failed to deliver, it should have set off a global chain reaction to overturn a corrupt and suicidal system of commerce.
So why didn’t that happen? Why was there no backup plan? Aren’t we in a “code red for humanity”?
Were we too hopeful? Did we convince ourselves that our familiar strategy of pleading, coaxing and begging - now with even more frightening science to support it - was finally going to jolt our elite-controlled leaders into taking decisive action?
Maybe, but we can’t pretend that we didn’t notice that our climate tactics have been an abysmal failure right from the beginning. Yes, the tone of the conversation has changed and there have been some promising “pledges” but carbon emissions continue to rise, the fossil fuel industry continues to receive trillions in annual subsidies (great video), biodiversity is being decimated and the list goes on. This is the exact opposite of success - you couldn’t design failure any better than this.
…our climate tactics have been an abysmal failure right from the beginning.
So why haven’t our tactics changed? What mysterious force is keeping us from making the necessary systemic changes? And don’t say it’s too overwhelming or parrot the scare tactics of the “mainstream” warning us that the economy will be destroyed. Remember, these are the same people who told us that tax cuts for the super rich would benefit us all, and besides, we’re talking about the destruction of human civilization and possibly our extinction — we don’t have the option to be overwhelmed. Shouldn’t we be thinking…“whatever it takes.” Wouldn’t that be the rational response?
Comfort Has A Price
The solution isn’t a secret. We know that an effective climate strategy would target carbon directly; the fossil fuel industry would be phased out in the next decade and all subsidies would end immediately. And that’s just part of the solution…we’d also have to address the “mainstream thinking” that’s at the epicentre of our climate mess and create a new system that’s regenerative and that creates wellbeing. In other words, we need real systems change. The type of change that would overturn a system that seems intent on destroying our planet.
But there’s a problem - humans are hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid pain - and in our current world, the most direct way to achieve this is to immerse oneself into the exploitative capitalist system. And besides, it’s not like we have a lot of choice. The products we use, the food we eat and the way we get around is all part of the conveyor belt that leads to an epic climactic disaster. The solution of course, is a new economic system that rewards the creation of wellbeing - but here’s the rub - to dismantle the destructive aspects of capitalism, which is to say the fundamentals of how it works, would force us to rethink all of our flawed assumptions and thus assault our comfort seeking instincts - and that doesn’t get a lot of votes at election time.
I also think it important to recognize that most of us who are reading this are relatively comfortable from within the capitalist system. You might even say that we’re among the “winners” of capitalism (not like hoarding billionaires of course) and we’re not anxious to give it up for a payoff that might be decades away.
So we rationalize. We gloss over the climate movement's failed track record and overlook the fact that our supposed “mainstream” partners (like the IPCC or any major government for that matter) are actively fighting against our ecological or social goals. And we take the safe path. We convince ourselves that we can work with this system because at the end of the day, we’re all just people and deep down we all want the same thing. We convince ourselves that initiatives like better sustainability reporting (GRI), bank-friendly ESG investing or incremental corporate sustainability can drive the necessary changes. We convince ourselves that Starbucks’ new sippy cup for adults (made of plastic) or Ford’s new initiative where a tiny part is sourced from recycled ocean plastic is a positive step in the right direction. We convince ourselves that we’re fighting the good fight and that we’re part of the solution.
And with the truth safely tucked away, we no longer have to question what we do. We can enjoy peace of mind as we put our skills to work into what’s comfortable and positive rather than what’s meaningful and effective. And it is precisely at that moment, while enjoying comfort and peace of mind, that we effectively remove ourselves from doing what needs to be done.
We could stop here and blame our comfort seeking ape brains for our climate mess but we’d be wrong…again. In fact, it’s ridiculous to think that striving for comfort and peace of mind could be the reason why we’re failing to protect our climate. To the contrary, it's one of the greatest attributes of our species. It motivates us to improve our lives and that of humanity as a whole. It should be encouraged and rewarded. But here’s the key - if doing so sends us down a path of ecological destruction and widespread human suffering, then we need to take a good hard look at the ‘prevailing logic’ that organizes our planet.
Everyday the term “mainstream thinking” is used to describe vague ideas of what most people want. It’s a relatively innocuous term and we don’t give it much thought. We tend to accept this loose definition because it carries a veneer of rationality, as if the ideas have been thoroughly vetted, but that’s simply not the case. Like a fish that doesn’t see the water in which it swims, we are equally oblivious to the sea of capitalism that surrounds us. And after years of brainwashing and being manipulated to think that despite a few flaws, capitalism is the greatest wealth creation and problem solving machine that the world has ever known…we’ve come to accept the big lie:
Poverty wages, contaminated air and water, obscene wealth concentration, political interference, species and biodiversity loss, and even catastrophic climate change are a reasonable exchange for the chance to “compete for a better life”.
But it’s not just the lies and false assumptions about how business should operate - it goes deeper. The constant brain-numbing propaganda impacts everything about us…right down to how we treat each other and the level of detached acceptance that allows us to watch as others are exploited and forced to struggle…just to meet their daily needs. Adam Smith and Ayn Rand would be proud. We’ve been turned into a species of selfish individuals under the guise that this is the pathway to creating wealth and making the world a better place. And just like a magical snowfall that makes the city look clean again, the line between mainstream thinking and mainstream capitalism has vanished. Mainstream thinking is Capitalism. And when you see the climate challenge through this lens - our failure starts to make a lot more sense.
From the beginning, climate negotiations were doomed. As the science became more stark, we mistakenly thought that “mainstream thinking” had turned the corner and now clearly recognized the urgency of our fossil fuel led climate emergency. But in hindsight that was just wishful thinking.
The climate movement never truly understood who was on the other side of the climate negotiating table. Whether it was at COP or any table that’s considered to be “mainstream” we never had an honest negotiating partner. We assumed that we were debating with the prevailing thinking of the day but that was just an illusion. The truth is that we’ve been negotiating with nothing more than a reflection of our society's twisted norms and values that celebrates predatory capitalism.
…we never had an honest negotiating partner.
It might seem strange to think of it this way but we aren't even negotiating with a human. We’re negotiating with a ideology that feels no remorse about destroying the planet to achieve goals that are completely at odds with the continuation of our species. And despite this negotiating partner’s suicidal tendencies and it’s combative stance against reducing carbon emissions, we pressed on. We continued to negotiate in good faith with a partner who at some level, we assumed, cared about the same things that we did.
But that just left us negotiating with ourselves because capitalism doesn’t negotiate - so we just ended up accepting less and less. We took small meaningless wins and celebrated them but we weren’t making any meaningful progress…and that miscalculation has led us to where we are today. Like a cancer that kills its host - capitalism is doing the same.
All In” On Capitalism
With time running out, we should be flexing our imaginations and having urgent conversations on how to immediately reduce carbon emissions and protect carbon sinks. We should be showcasing the best pilot projects on how to implement change with the least amount of social unrest. We should be looking at the underlying business model and have an honest debate about a system that rewards the destruction of ecosystems so that a tiny slice of the planet can seize an obscene amount of wealth and power. We should be discussing why capitalism is failing us, what alternatives might work better and perhaps most importantly - how we can replace the toxic ideas that have become mainstream. (Jason Hickel provides a possible pathway in his article, “What Would It Look Like If We Treated Climate Change as an Actual Emergency?”)
But instead, those efforts have all but been extinguished by the corporate owned media and their puppet politicians who relentlessly push the big lie…that all this harm is simply the “cost of doing business”. That while capitalism may not be perfect, it’s the best system that we have and with a few tweaks here and there it can still deliver us to a stable climate.
The corporate elite and billionaires…have decided that we’re going “all in” on capitalism.
And that brings us to the latest uncomfortable truth. Whether we’re ready to admit it or not, the decision on how to address climate change has already been made for us. The corporate elite and billionaires, and their useful idiot politicians who see a chance to gain more power, have decided that we’re going “all in” on capitalism. In their psychopathic view, the best pathway to a stable climate (and to retain their place at the top of the pyramid) is through the same system that created the problem in the first place.
True Toxin is Capitalism
For decades, the Earth has been negotiating with an ideology that was dressed up to look reasonable - we mistakenly called it mainstream thinking but it was pure unadulterated capitalism. A relentless, unfeeling and toxic ideology that has one goal - to grow profits and avoid paying for any harm created in the process.
We have a societal and cultural problem. There are far too many people who buy the dominant narrative and believe that the harm created by capitalism is the cost of doing business, and that somehow this predatory system can lead us to a stable climate. These ideas are lethal to our future and until we can dislodge them from mainstream thinking I don't see a realistic pathway to getting anything close to what’s needed to protect our climate.
Mainstream thinking is a mirror of an alternate reality that’s been inserted into our lives by a powerful group of people who have gained king like status from within our toxic capitalist system…and it’s the enemy of real change!
Our solutions don’t lie with “business as usual capitalism” and it’s glorification of the individual. Electric cars, fake meat and recycling which are perfectly suited to consumer capitalism are merely distractions that do little to address our immediate challenge. The lies of the elite are a feel-good trap that is sending us on a suicidal march to species extinction.
We need a collective solution. We need a complete change in our consciousness away from greed and towards the creation of wellbeing. We have the solutions ready to go but the first step will be a collective awakening where we come to understand that capitalism and the mainstream thinking that supports it is the true toxin that is destroying our civilization. And once that hurdle is crossed - anything is possible. I just hope it’s not too late.
Thanks for reading!
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