Environment

This Rare Historical Moment

While the Bush administration is bringing all efforts to bear on destroying the U.S. environment and economy simultaneously, the rest of the world is taking a more sustainable path.
When Frances Moore Lappe posed the question of why societies finally abandoned the divine right of monarchies, she found the reason was that people simply stopped believing in it. Ideas have real power, much greater than political or economic structures. It's what I like to call the B.S. factor -- belief systems.

And everywhere you turn these days, belief systems are crashing and burning like a meteor shower. From Enron to Arthur Andersen to the Catholic Church and even major-league baseball, people's faith in institutions is disintegrating.

People in this country are realizing that we have the best government money can buy. When Bush Lite proudly kicked off his regime as America, Incorporated, you have to wonder why he didn't propose reconstituting the Senate and the House as Fortune 100 and Fortune 500. If we enforced truth-in-advertising laws, Senators and Congresspeople would wear jumpsuits like race-car drivers sporting the logos of corporate sponsors. Then we could easily distinguish the Senator from General Electric and the Congressperson from Disney.

Corporate economic globalization contains the seeds of its own destruction, and we may well be witnessing the beginning of the decline and fall of the corporate empire. Enronitis is systemic. Arthur Andersen globalized fuzzy math, the arithmetic of corporate accounting in 1995, and they're going to have a heck of a time doing a factory recall. Whenever people say free trade, I always ask if free is a verb. What we actually have are highly managed monopolies that epitomize crony capitalism and insider trading as a way of doing business.

The rest of the world is certainly onto it, which is why European and Japanese capital is begining to flee U.S. companies. Consumer confidence is not looking too promising either when three-fourths of American citizens think big business has too much influence over government and society.

Around the world today people are rising up in defense of the Earth and demanding a democratic process over the decisions that affect our lands, our communities, and our lives. The pro-democracy movement is gaining momentum worldwide, and recent events indicate that it is only going to pick up steam, far sooner than many people may have expected.

Just over the last couple of years, countries across Latin America have generated a political groundswell against the failed experiment of so-called "free-market" capitalism. Popular uprisings have derailed the privatization of state-owned companies and utilities, because 44 percent of Latin Americans still live in poverty and the number of unemployed workers has more than doubled in a decade. And with China's acceptance into the WTO, the next giant sucking sound from the South is going to be jobs leaving Mexico for China.

It's going to get even dicier because the never-ending war on terrorism is anathema to economic globalization, which is predicated on the free flow of goods, services and workers across borders. This time they've shot themselves in the foot, or actually a little higher.

Ecology does not recognize national borders, and planetarization demands that we create a restorative economy grounded in healthy ecosystems and job creation. It also calls upon us to celebrate the world's rich diversity of cultures, and to forge a working community of nations committed to social justice. Without social and economic justice there can be no peace with the Earth.

This rare historical moment offers us a gleaming opportunity. It's up to us to step into the breach with alternatives, with solutions that work. We are finding over and over again that solutions residing in nature surpass our wildest conception of what's possible. There is great hope in how little we know and what little we do know.

We can start with a Marshall Plan to hasten the extinction of petrochemicals. Even oil executives acknowledge that we have entered the beginning of the end of the Age of Oil. Large companies including BP, Shell, Daimler-Chrysler, and Ford are making sizeable commitments to renewable energy, though it's still marginal to their core business. The emerging alternative energy industry may well mimic the vertiginous expansion of the oil industry just 100 years ago. Wind and solar photovoltaics grew around ten-fold in the past ten years.

While the United States political class tries to march us backward into the future carrying a sack of coal, much of the rest of the developed world is going green. Iceland is the first nation totally powering its electricity with renewable energy, and it's well on its way to breaking through as the world's first hydrogen economy to run its cars without gas. Germany has committed to doubling its economy by 2060 on half the power, using mostly renewable energy. Japan has seized the global market on photovoltaic cells. Denmark is the world's leading wind producer, a profitable industry employing more people than its entire fishing and shipbuilding sectors. But of course those Danes are crazy: They say environmental protection is more important than economic growth anyway.

Sweden will close a second nuclear reactor in 2003 in its plan to phase-out nuclear energy by 2010. Germany has committed to a phase out of its nuclear plants. It's worth remembering that those four hijacked airplanes flew perilously close to twelve separate nuclear plants, and that no private insurer will back the 103 nukes in the country.

Cars getting 78-235 mpg are already rolling off the line, and zero-emissions hydrogen fuel cells and hyper cars are close behind. Energy efficiency is of course the single most cost-effective approach, capable of halving our energy use by itself.

Wind power from seven Northern Plains states alone could provide all the nation's electricity needs. The North Sea winds have enough force to power much of Europe. Solar collectors in just 2 percent of the world's deserts could supply the hydrogen needed for the world's current energy consumption.

The technology is here now. Solar, wind, and hydrogen technologies are infinitely better proven than any Missile Defense Shield and they will give us true national security by removing the choke collar of OPEC and our own Oiligarchy. The only energy crisis is the energy to make the transition happen faster.

These soft technologies also lend themselves to localization and decentralization. They can be democratic by design. Power to the people is not an abstraction.

This same kind of transformation is starting to happen across the board, demonstrating our capacity to reduce human footprints by 90 percent while improving our standard of living and creating jobs, decidedly better than flipping burgers and telemarketing.

There are many deep wounds to heal, not the least those of the human spirit. This transformation also demands a change of heart flowing from an empathic connection with the fullness of the living Earth. It's about the sanctity of all life.

The choices we make today are going to have long-lasting and far-reaching consequences. As human beings, perhaps our greatest facility is how rapidly we re-invent culture.

Kenny Ausubel is the president of Bioneers. The Bioneers Conference in Marin last weekend drew thousands of participants. To learn more, read Bioneers: Help and Hope for the Planet and Eco-Conferences for Inspiration.