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Job One, Day One: Bright Green Economic Recovery
Alex Steffen, 14 Oct 08
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"We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late."
--Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

With the U.S. presidential race in its final few weeks, and momentum towards a possible Obama/ Democratic landslide building, it's worth beginning to ask, "What next? What happens here in America after the election?"

The world needs a strong and future-focused United States, but what we have is a U.S. nearing complete collapse. Our financial institutions have nearly failed, our dollar is weak, our government is in deficit spending, our people are neck-deep in debt. Our infrastructure is literally falling apart. Our military is in a shambles. Our health care system is the joke of the developed world, our education system fails half of our children, and we imprison more people than China. Meanwhile, we are the world's worst polluter, having built a car-dependent suburban way of life that pumps money out of our economy and planet-threatening emissions into the sky.

Many Americans, especially young Americans, see this nation's future disintegrating in front of their eyes, and realize that we no longer have options or time to debate. We have only one choice: launch ourselves immediately into a bright green economic transformation, or sink into a potentially irrecoverable decline.

We know that transformation is within our grasp. We know that we can move quickly to transition to smart growth and urban revitalization, green building, efficient electric cars, power generation from renewables, sustainable farming, ecological restoration of our wild lands and rivers, green taxes (with a carbon cap) and a strong commitment to education, public science and diplomacy. Solutions exist to the problems we face.

We know that making this transition quickly and strongly will produce millions of green jobs, and propel America back into the lead of the global economy while benefiting people everywhere. We know too that making this transition will leave Americans healthier, more prosperous and safer, while restoring fiscal stability to our government. A bright green transformation would not be a drag on the economy, but the means of its rescue. Finally, we know that only an all-out effort to make our prosperity sustainable offers us any hope of staving off a planetary ecological disaster.

With all we know, and all that's at stake, you'd think a strong, outspoken and immediate commitment to building a green economy would be something we could take for granted. It's not.

There's an old joke told to those going into a legislative process for the first time which goes something like this: "Write down a list of your expected accomplishments. Cut the list in half and put each half in a different envelope. Throw the envelopes out and take what you can get."

That kind of thinking now will destroy this nation, and the planet, in the very short term.

But that kind of thinking may be what we get. The next U.S. president and congressional leaders will find themselves under immediate fire from neo-conservatives, reactionary businesses and industries that are irredeemably unsustainable (like the Oil and Coal Lobbies) and will find themselves very quickly pressured to scale back their plans, to speak in the most triangulated language possible, to confine change to the smallest, most halting steps. Those in the U.S. who oppose change are strong, wealthy, unprincipled and ruthless. They're already gearing up to demand that given the tough times, change must be weak, small and slow.

But we don't have another decade to embrace change. We may not have another election, even. Indeed, we need a president and congressional leaders who stand up on their very first days on the job, and commit this nation to big, bold, rapid and visionary change. We need to set the terms of the fight at a level with the order of magnitude of change we need. The stakes are a nation transformed within the next couple years. Without that, even a landslide will prove to have been meaningless.

We are rapidly coming up on the rusted sign by the side of the road that says, simply, "too late." We need to demand action before we get there. If we don't win action now, there's no point in preserving power to fight for change later.

The task for all of us, over the next few months, is to figure out how to raise the largest ruckus imaginable in the public debate and in our communities and workplaces, demanding real change and articulating the kinds of solutions that are within our power to implement immediately.

Critically, we lack a real vision of what a bright green American would actually look like -- that's why we're hard at work on a book that explores what this nation could make itself into in 20 years, and how it might feel to live in that country.

But we needn't wait for the whole vision to advocate real change and the politics of optimism, and on that, expect more here soon.

The election was just a prelude. The fight that matters has not yet even started.

Image credit: Brendan Lee, Gerald Bodziak, Justin Kwok. This design was created for the White House Redux, an international challenge hosted by the Storefront for Art and Architecture.

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Let's do it. I'm ready to take part.

Posted by: Daniel Bachhuber on 14 Oct 08

Wow -- that's a great call to arms, Alex! Will forward widely --

Posted by: Skip Mendler on 14 Oct 08

I was just thinking about this *very* topic! I'm looking for a female speaker in the Washington DC area who can address what steps the New Administration should take to develop a green economy. This is for a meeting of DC EcoWomen. Reach me at susanna.haas.lyons [at] gmail [dot] com

Posted by: Susanna Haas Lyons on 14 Oct 08

I'm in too! The question in my mind is: How do we raise a ruckus that actually gets taken seriously? We need to be loud and forceful but we can not risk alienating those in the majority who do not yet understand the magnitude of the crises we face. There are a lot of people out there who, while not "climate skeptics", are not exactly ready for the radical changes that readers of this website know are necessary.

Unfortunately, in order to put enough pressure on the government to act appropriately, we need lots more people to learn and accept the truth.

In my experience, people are hesitant to accept radical changes in worldview. Usually changing "hearts and minds" requires subtlety - at least a few years of steady, incremental change. Unfortunately, as Alex points out in this article, we're already a few years too late.

"Subtlety, subtlety, subtlety" is my mantra. We don't have a lot of time, so our arguments need to be all the more well-reasoned, thorough and emotionally appealing in order to bring people around.

Posted by: Andy Lubershane on 14 Oct 08

The US election is a prelude... but a very necessary prelude.

The politics of optimism is badly needed. It will only come when the vampires are thrown out and the sunshine let back in again.

Dare I ask what the bright green publication date is likely to be? (hopefully this side of the rusty sign)

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 14 Oct 08

Humanity needs "green" now and needs it fast because grotesque greed and widespread corruption run rampantly in the global political economy.

Perhaps powerful people with great wealth and the huge human institutions they manipulate are driving the relentless, soon to become patently unsustainable expansion of the global political economy, that in our time appears to be requiring unbridled increases of economic production/distribution capabilities, conspicuously unrestrained per-capita overconsumption of limited resources and the unregulated growth of absolute global human population numbers.

But why?

As we having been observing in recent years, another huge "bubble" has been consciously "manufactured" by economic powerbrokers and allowed to grow ominously and uneconomically within the world economy. Not unexpectedly, this sub prime bubble has done what other financial bubbles do eventually. The subprime bubble burst. We can readily observe how the credit markets of the world banking system are frozen, stocks are tumbling and the value of the dollar is gyrating. Who knows, a meltdown of the human community's financial system as well as damage to the real economy could be in the offing.

How could this be happening?

For a moment, let us consider that the organizers, managers and whiz kids overseeing the global economy (and the unraveling of the worldwide sub prime financial swindle) are running the artificially designed financial system of the global economy as a pyramid scheme. This is to say that the international financial system is arranged so that most of the wealth rises pyramidally into the hands of a small minority of people at the top of the world economy where this wealth is accumulated and consolidated endlessly. At the same time, the vast majority of people on Earth, near the bottom of the global economic pyramid, are left with very little wealth. In the 1980s, this method of operating global business activities was called a “trickle down” economy. We have been told over and over again how this economic scheme "raises all ships." And yet, from my limited scope of observation, the billion people living on resources valued at less than one dollar per day and the additional 2.7 billion people being sustained on two dollars per day of resources now appear to be stuck in squalid conditions. The 'ships' carrying these billions of less fortunate people among us do not appear to be lifting them out of poverty.

Could anything be done to beneficially change these unfair, inequitable and, in billions of instances, intolerable circumstances?

Of course, there is plenty to do. The global economy is undeniably a manmade construction. Because the world’s economy is an artificially designed product of human thought and action, our economic system is known to one and all to be imperfect. Afterall, human beings can better themselves and their imperfect products can be improved. Only works of God are perfect, I suppose. With this in mind, if it is so that the manmade economy is not a perfect construction, it is just as obvious that the global economy can be re-designed, modified and otherwise changed, as necessary. The system of economic globalization can be reorganized, "downsized" and "powered down" so that the global economy sustainably meets the primary needs of majority of people. In this way, the economy of the human community could be sensibly conceived, systematically operated and realistically structured for the conduct of sustainable business activities as well as for a more complete realization of the principles of democracy.

Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population,
established 2001

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony on 15 Oct 08

Great article, but I wonder what you mean by "and our military is in shambles."

The nearly $1 trillion we are spending on the military each year (which, while already more than all other nations together, still motivates other countries to spend more) could solve virtually all of the material problems facing humanity.

We have been wasting this kind of money since the end of WWII, our last semi-justifiable conflict. Imagine again how much more secure and prosperous (not to mention comfortable, moral, free) if that money had been continually invested into sustainable resource use and guaranteeing basic human needs.

Military spending is the idol of the US on which we sacrifice not just our own children's future but the future of all of humanity. Rather than trying to condescend to the level of mainstream politicians by paying lip service to the greatness and necessity of this beast, we as progressive and science minded people need to tear this down, one myth at a time.

Fun Reference:

Posted by: Leif on 15 Oct 08

Nice post. As I have traveled around this country I wonder, how much oil, gas, coal use could be reduced if we just turned off the lights and let the stars shine through. Conservation it seems to me is the first big step in addressing the energy needs of America. Here where the wind blows, in Montana wind will be a primary source of electricity very soon. Our Governor is a very motivated politician who is also willing to take action. I have been inspired by the fact that even our most conservative representatives are on board with change here. Some how they have found away to reach across the abyss of politics and work together. As for the bail out, what if we had invested all those billions to rebuild the American infrastructure. Many people are worried about America becoming a social democracy today, but capitalism is a failed program. Maybe it is time for a totally new idea. An idea that rewards good works and conserves resources. How many little plastic toys does it take to get the grand kids to eat the trash food of today. Why do we need to bribe them to consume. Is it that the young children instinctively know junk when they encounter it, that is until this failed program re-programs their nature instincts. That is how it is with all of these things you talk about, we need to reprogram and reboot. And as a side as I drive the open prairies and see those wind mills spinning I see hope.

Posted by: David E on 18 Oct 08

BRIGHT green: brilliant... bright as in smart, bright as in optimistic, bright as in tapping into the deep Western cultural meme of the shining light on the hill, the light at the end of the tunnel...

Contrary to what other posts have said, it is possible to change people's worldviews radically and swiftly -- but only if one gives people another WORLD to VIEW -- i.e., fills in the details of 'a day in the life' of the bright green future. The "subtlety" that works is Story, imagery, metaphor, creating the alternative world to change TO (which also helps the fear-of-change factor).

Argument works, but only so far, as these past decades of cogent, clear, reasoned argument have demonstrated.
As I have explained here before, rational, cogent argument (as Andy above urges) gets us to step one: concern about the issue. But we can remain stuck at step one for years (as we have been) because the brain requires that an issue be presented as the individual human case, i.e., a story/drama, with concrete, simple, vivid imagery to "stick."

Toward that end-- creating story, imagery, drama - let me know if I can help with the book. I'm a playwright and author and have spent the past five years or so researching the archetypal plot lines of tragedy and comedy, developing a performance-presentation piece and a practical, pragmatic model of action to address climate change. These archetypal dramatic plots lay out a very clear course of action from ignorance to consciousness to transformation, including what TYPES of actions dramatically reverse a 'tragic' human situation into a flourishing 'comedic' one-- i.e., what the incoming administration needs to do (as Susannah asked).

(Folks interested in contacting me about my T/C Climate change talk & workshop:

Again, if you want help writing the book, I'm here.


Posted by: MimiK on 18 Oct 08

looking from afar, halfway around the globe here in New Zealand,... where we have our own elections coming to the boil over the next couple of weeks, the anticipation of a significant change in the US, gives hope that it will ripple around the globe.
Great article, should Obama be your next president it could make putting the call out for a global rukus. Now more than ever we are required to realise we are in this together.
keep doing it

Posted by: Bruce Hopkins on 28 Oct 08



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