The Cracks Are Where The Light Gets In
The cracks in our current economic model offer a point of leverage for a new system to emerge.
Sometimes this work is energising …
Earlier this week I published the last piece in my three-part series on Imagination and Possibility. It was fun writing those three pieces, which you can find here, here and here. It energised me. In some cases it filled me with awe for the people that managed to achieve wonderful things, and in other cases it set my imagination alight, daydreaming about how different the world could look if the policies or initiatives were adopted more widely. I know the series had a similar impact on at least some of the readers, because they told me so.
… And sometimes it’s not
I finished the last article with a bit of a primer about the piece I plan to publish next week. Next week’s one is about the times that a Global South socialist government was democratically elected into power only to be undermined by Western governments who were looking to “protect their interests”. I thought it would be disingenuous not to cover these off too, given that they tick the box of incredible things that are possible, they simply no longer exist because of the imperialist nature of the global economic system. Plus, these events are really important to talk about because we need to have a full understanding of the situation we are in if we are to keep the planet habitable. But, as one reader said in an email to me, it’s a “heavy” topic. Learning about these events is unlikely to inspire nor energise us. In fact, it may well leave us feeling overwhelmed, deflated and disempowered.
It won’t be easy, but there are cracks we can leverage
As much as we must face into the heavy stuff too, I write this today in anticipation of next week’s article. I want readers to be aware of the ‘cracks’ in the system so that these are in mind when you read about the harsh realities of the extractive, violent, imperialist system we find ourselves in. These cracks are our opportunity to delegitimise the system and help usher in a new one, one that puts people and the planet at the heart, not capital and growth.
Where are the cracks in this system?
The cracks in the system are important because they become self-reinforcing. Systems theorist and co-author of The Limits to Growth, Donella Meadows, says that the two greatest levers for systems change are “the mindset or paradigm out of which the system … arises” and “the power to transcend paradigms”. As the cracks I describe below make us more aware of the injustice and unsustainability of our current model, the legitimacy of capital and growth being at the heart of our economy starts to crumble, further weakening the foundations on which this system exists. We begin to decapitalise our minds, if you like, giving opportunities for new systems to emerge. The cracks are many, and come in two distinct forms: social and environmental.
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The social cracks
There are many ways in which this economic system is failing us socially and people are noticing. Many of them relate to money and the way in which it is distributed and deployed. For example, the wealthiest 1% of the world’s population owns 38% of the world’s wealth, while the poorest 50% only owns 2% of the world’s wealth. Despite decades of economic growth, which is supposed to ‘lift all boats’, half of the world’s population live on $6.85 per day or less. Furthermore, people earning the minimum wage often pay more tax than the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, which seems more than a little unjust given the billion dollar revenues of these corporations.
The youth of today are feeling it more than any previous generation. Wages have not meaningfully increased in decades, while house prices continue to rise across most of the world, making first time home ownership out of reach for many. Today’s younger generations will also suffer the consequences of our inaction on climate change, giving them little faith in an economic model that is clearly doing nothing for them. Additionally, Global South countries are saddled with debt by the IMF, debt which is offered to them on the proviso that they will implement policies that benefit private investors, simultaneously impeding the government’s ability to provide for their citizens who continue to suffer under ‘austerity’.
Our democracies are broken. Major parties are beholden to big business (a situation known as ‘state capture’) and so policies get enacted that benefit the wealthy rather than the many, regardless of which party is in power. Instead of doing what is needed to avoid climate catastrophe, governments are rushing through harsher penalties for protesters while providing eye-wateringly large subsidies for fossil fuel companies and approving new, biosphere-busting, coal, oil and gas projects. Honestly, there are so many cracks in this system its hard to pinpoint something that is working.
The environmental cracks
Our life support systems are in free fall, and the current growth-based capital-centred system has proven itself not only incapable of remedying the situation, but is actively making it worse. Greenhouse gas emissions are likely to reach their highest levels ever in 2023. This is after knowing about the problem for more than three decades and holding 27 COPs on the topic. It is expected that 2023 will be the hottest year in over 125,000 years, and likely one of the coolest years of the rest of our lives. There has been a 69% reduction in Earth’s wildlife population since 1970. Scientists say we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction and we are transgressing six of nine planetary boundaries, of which climate change and biodiversity loss are just two.
There is a garbage patch full of plastic three times the size of France in the Pacific Ocean, and yet plastic pollution doubles every six years. We have plastics in our blood, in the breastmilk of mothers, in the rain and places as yet untouched by humans. Geologists may look back on this era as the ‘plastic age’. We are also losing our forests at a rate of 27 soccer fields per minute and our industrial activities are likely to turn the Amazon Rainforest into a savannah. We’ve crossed the tipping point for the Arctic and we will see a blue ocean event in the next decade or so. I could go on, but I think you get my drift.
Perhaps the biggest crack of all when it comes to our environment is our complete inability to do anything about it: every ecological metric continues to get worse, and has done so for decades. Our governments remain committed to ‘economic growth’ as their entire reason for being, even though more growth means more energy use - at a time when we are trying to reduce emissions - and more of our living world is destroyed as our material footprint increases. What is the point of having all of this knowledge if we are not going to do anything with it? What kind of system grows itself into extinction?
There is space for a new system to emerge
Even if at times it may not feel like it, with every passing day there is growing space for a new system to emerge. The more we expose these cracks and widen them, the greater the chance of bursting this system that’s chewing up our living planet for the monetary gain of a very small percent of the world’s population. It will not be easy. It will likely be the greatest feat humanity has ever achieved, but the alternative is unthinkable.
This piece was inspired by this ‘The Climate Pod’ podcast with Majorie Kelly, founder of Business Ethics Magazine and currently a Senior Fellow at the Democracy Collaborative.
Leonard Cohen wrote a song, Anthem, where he talks about cracks letting the light in:
"Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in."
Perhaps you are aware of more cracks in the system than I have outlined above? If so, please do let me know in the comments.
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