Humans are diminishing the Earth’s resources far faster than nature or technology can possibly replace them. We can stop, anytime. But it seems we won’t, not without a revolution. I spend a lot of time wondering what form will that revolution take… Occupy Wall Street, France’s Yellow Vests, the UK’s Extinction Rebellion, the students globally striking for climate change, the unlikely Princeton-professor led RadicalxChange, the Green New Deal…. None of them alone will accomplish the change that the human species needs to see, but perhaps if all of these efforts, like dynamite with their fuses twisted together, could be ignited at once….
Before he died, Stephen Hawking concluded with his fine mind that the greatest challenge to our survival is ourselves – our individual greed and collective stupidity, and the willingness of corrupted power to weaponize both. There are enough resources on earth that every human being could live a paradise-like existence. Instead, we continue to propagate a system that produces billions of paupers, while a few hundred gag on superfluity. If you are alive to read this then in your lifetime, one by one the last of the whales and the rhinos and the hummingbirds will die off and there will be almost no one to remark on the finality of their final breaths because we will be too busy arguing amongst ourselves about raising the minimum wage by fifty cents.
Our leaders are failing us, only a scant minority interested in a mission larger than the enrichment of their personal power and wealth. The sky will continue to be crisscrossed by private jets, ferrying capitalism’s winners to conferences on how to curtail carbon emissions and improve the health of the poor, even as black mothers will continue to die at higher death rates than white mothers. Banks will continue stealing the future of our just-graduated, the ill will continue to max out their credit cards. The despairing will continue to kill themselves in numbers that quietly, steadily increase.
What can we do, people shrug. When the gas pedal is tied to the floor and the car is barreling towards the cliff, it’s a hard question to focus on. When the cataclysm seems imminent and yet also unavoidable, a deadly apathy sets in, telling us in seductive tones: one person can’t fix all this and after all, things could be worse, and maybe if we just stop the wrong people from doing the wrong things, maybe everything can go back to the way it was, a place where things things feel familiar and therefore better.
But that’s a lie. After 2008, if there is one thing every American was sure of, it was that banking greed and malfeasance nearly toppled the country, the world. Yet since then, the bankers have prospered handsomely on the backs of millions upon millions losing homes and life savings. Since then, all of the economic gains of the country, not to mention the tax breaks, have gone to the top 1%, yet instead of focusing our eyes upward, where the real problems exists – in power that insists change can only come slowly, and not at the expense of the overstuffed coffers of the winners – we continue to focus our attention on each other and how best to curtail the freedoms of this group or that. As if incremental losses suffered within the masses will somehow make up for the great gulps of prosperity being swallowed whole by a smallish group that benefits from a system *that continues to be rigged* to maintain a status quo that is hollowing out American society ’til it is much like a balloon, a thin veneer of success stretched over nothing but air, achieving escape velocity as it rises and drifts out of sight.
So what will it take to stop from going over the cliff? A German physicist by the name of Max Planck famously said that science advances one funeral at a time: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”
The great thing about democracy is, we don’t need to wait for our failing leaders to die off. We can kill them politically by voting them out. And that’s what is needed – to replace our current leadership defending the status quo with leaders who have grown up in the ashes of winners-take-all capitalism and see that the system needs a reset; who see the brown faces around them not as enemies taking something from them, but merely classmates; who see healthcare as human right and the necessity of hospitals to be centers for healing as opposed to profit centers with the legal ability to bankrupt their patients.
Millennials are now the largest population cohort, larger than boomers. A better name for them would be the Internet generation – they have been connected since birth, and the world has, as a result, become a much smaller and more knowable place. Where does plastic go after it is manufactured used to be something no one cared to ask, but now with the Internet we can see for ourselves the Texas-sized patches of plastic garbage in our oceans, and we know the impact it’s having on the ecosystem of the earth. Older generations have become accustomed to ignoring these questions, figuring those in charge would handle it. The Internet generation sees very clearly that the people in charge – the people who allowed the system to devolve to its present never-before-seen-in-history state of inequality to happen – are not going to be the people to fix it, and from amongst their ranks will rise – are arising – the next generation of political leaders.
They won’t have all the answers, and they aren’t going to be immune from corruption, but as witnesses to the spectacular global breakdown of the current system, we can expect their solutions will have built-in resistance to the dangers of highly centralized power. It’s a start.