The Neo-con Bush Administration has been bad for
the United States in many ways. Naturally, then, the presidential
candidates are calling for "change."
In a sense they need not be concerned, since with
rising oil prices and global warming, with calls for endless war
and the economy in trouble, change is assured.
Of course, change for the better
is not assured. The particular change
we want is from national self-destruction back to the path of relative
peace and prosperity. We want our country to be respected again,
with a foreign policy that is thoughtful, ecologically sensitive,
and generous-spirited. We would like continuing economic growth,
good jobs, and our freedoms restored.
We want things back to normal, for a change.
However, growing numbers of us now know about
climate change, with droughts, floods, fires, severe storms, and
disruptions to agriculture. We know that rapid melting of Arctic
ice may speed climate change, and create refugees from Bangladesh
to New York City.
We know about the coming oil crunch, in which
world oil production peaks ("peak oil") and heads down
while India and China industrialize, and need more oil, potentially
leading to soaring prices and disruptions of supply. We know it's
high time for the U.S. to join the industrialized world's move toward
independence from Middle East oil, through efficiency, wind turbines,
solar, cellulosic ethanol, and plug-in hybrid cars.
A lot of us know we need to grow the number of
good domestic jobs, save more, borrow less, reduce the control of
corporations over government, and insulate the press from its corporate
sponsors and from government.
In other words, we can't return to the "normal"
of the past. We can't solve our problems by getting back to that
"normal," because what was considered normal has been
the source of the most critical problems facing humankind.
Changing our leaders is necessary but not sufficient.
What has to change is our underlying paradigm-the cultural framework
we were all born into-our cultural stories.
From earliest childhood we learned cultural stories
about scarcity, competition, hierarchy, aggression, and progress.
Unsustainability was not an issue; we would pollute, use resources,
grow the population, and enjoy endlessly rising prosperity. That
was what "normal" meant, and it was darned good to us
for a very long time.
We must change our cultural stories about what
is right, what is possible, what is sustainable, and how to get
there. We must devise and adopt new cultural stories suited to a
successful human future.
People say behavior is influenced by "nature"
and "nurture." We can expect that the part of human nature
that is coded in our DNA will lead us into behaviors that represented
survival in the past, sometimes the ancient past. Our DNA-nature
will take generations to change.
Fortunately our "nurture," the cultural
stories we are taught as children and which can be updated by experience,
can change quite fast. People alive today believe that human beings
are capable of flying through the air, and traveling to the moon.
Those relatively recent beliefs occurred quickly. In the Internet
age, new cultural stories have the potential to change human thought
Change to our cultural stories might occur in
three ways. First, we can simply make an adjustment to an existing
conceptual frame. For example, once the first airplane was demonstrated,
large numbers of design changes came quickly, continuing forward
to the sophisticated jetliners and warplanes of today. Each incremental
advancement was not different enough from the last to jar society
into a whole new way of thinking.
Secondly, a whole new frame can be devised. The
invention of the scientific method might be an example. Before scientific
inquiry, things were seen to "just happen," or to be caused
by divine action. Written language might be another example, or
the discovery of metals.
Of course, whether a change is considered merely
an adjustment or a great conceptual leap depends on your frame of
reference. One could argue that the discovery that the Earth revolves
around the Sun was a great leap, but the discovery that our solar
system part of a galaxy, and there are very large numbers of galaxies,
was merely an adjustment.
The third way cultural stories might change is
through collapse. Easter Islanders had a complex culture, which
built giant stone statues. But they cut down all the trees on the
island, hunted the animals to extinction, and died themselves. They
left behind artifacts, but their cultural stories are lost.
In the hundred or so years of cheap oil, we have
doubled the world's population twice, to 6.7 billion human beings.
We have invented and deployed doomsday weapons. We have mined and
polluted in unsustainable ways. So we need basic change.
The change we need has to be more than an adjustment,
but less than extinction. We will need to devise a whole new conceptual
frame for society-reinvent society-as a way to carry forward what
is most valuable in the human experience past the end of the oil
Fortunately, we know in broad outlines what this
new society will have to look like. We will have to cooperate with
the Earth, in a partnership rather than dominion. We will have to
give up the war system of dispute settlement, not only to avoid
become extinct, but because we can no longer afford its environmental
costs. We will need non-coercive incentives and disincentives leading
to smaller families, because after the oil age, the present world
population will be unsustainable. We will need to create walkable
and bikeable neighborhoods, on a human scale, with food grown locally
and local jobs, to minimize our need for energy. We will have to
find new ways to take care of each other, because getting from here
to there may be difficult.
Unfortunately, knowing things about the way a
post-carbon world will have to look does not guarantee that we can
make the transition easily. Our American economy, our infrastructure,
our institutions, our economic system, our government, our religions,
and our secular cultural stories all strongly resist change. People
depend on the services they are getting (or hope to get) from society,
and determinedly resist as heresy any idea that threatens their
personal survival or their prosperity, and threatens to plunge society
into the chaos of the unknown.
So the new paradigm trying to be born is being
ignored, denied and ridiculed. The profound change we need will
be opposed, by wealthy and powerful people who cannot imagine they
could be winners in a sustainable world, and have no intention of
finding out. People who oppose change are not bad, or our enemies,
It falls to you, to the thoughtful, to those who
understand the problem, to make room in your own thinking for the
change that the human family needs. Just think about what changes
you are already convinced are necessary, and what they imply for
the larger society. Think like a resident of your neighborhood,
a citizen in your town, your country, and the world.
The changes we are talking about are so profound
that no one who publicly declares them can be elected president
(Dennis Kucinich, Ron Paul, Mike Gravel). But when the next president
is elected, the scope of the change we need will have to be discussed
and acted upon quickly.
It is up to us to lead, using the cooperative
tools of the new paradigm. We must read, think, talk to people,
listen to people, and help society create the change we need.