by Denis Dettling Kalthofer.
What we are doing to the planet and each other
We face human-induced climate change (severe storms, droughts, fires, ocean acidification, glacial melting, mass extinctions, the spread of disease and rising sea levels)¹, loss of forests² and wetlands³. The loss of mangroves is damaging coastlines. Soil is being eroded and depleted⁴. Chemical fertilizers are choking waterways with algae⁵. Pesticides are killing bees⁶. Plastics are choking our waterways, and marine animals⁷. Coral reefs are dying⁸.
The gap between the richest and poorest is extremely high⁹. People are discriminated against or persecuted for natural differences such as “race”, gender, sexual orientation, sexual identity, national origin, beliefs and disabilities, while the artificial divisions of social class go unquestioned. Investors and lenders profit from wealth created by poorly paid employees (see CEOs vs employees, profits vs wages)¹⁰.
Businesses with the most capital, latest technology and lowest costs, put others out of business. Stockholders care more about return on investment than how companies make money. Financial institutions gamble with our savings. Large insurance companies stop insuring climate-related natural disasters.
A market cycle¹¹ starts with employing people. Once markets are saturated, companies lay off employees, causing recessions. In the “degrowth” model, wastefulness is reduced, yet the essentials of human life are provided universally and sustainably. This is different from recessions, which also reduce the provision of life’s essentials.
Environment destruction, systemic injustice and inequality are relatively new. Many indigenous peoples still live in traditional, sustainable ways¹².
Common sense solutions
As long as hunger for energy grows, renewable energy can’t save the climate or slow fossil fuel use. Renewable energy, from solar and wind, is more sustainable. However, the rare minerals in batteries hurt the environment and human health. We need to reduce emissions from wasteful practices. Nuclear energy from fission is not the answer because nuclear waste is toxic for billions of years and supplies the nuclear war industry; the consequences of nuclear war are unthinkable¹³.
Some developers cut down trees for solar panels. Trees provide shade, cooling and oxygen, reduce runoff, increase rainfall, and draw down CO2. Solar panels are better placed over buildings, parking lots, landfills, oil fields, and train lines.
In addition to converting from gasoline to electric vehicles, we could electrify commuter rail, subway and bus services and expand bus and rail services between cities. In rural areas, we could add public livery services.
To reduce homelessness we need to make housing affordable for everyone¹⁴. Corporate landlords raise rents and evict tenants. We could ban corporate home ownership and multiple personal homes, and make all vacant units available to everyone based on their needs and preferences, at rates based on their income. Electrification of heating must be accompanied by more renewable energy and greater reliability.
Despite food insecurity, small farms are struggling and there is food waste. Factory farms cram animals into small spaces. Artificial fertilizers and pesticides pollute the environment, and along with single crop farming, make crops vulnerable to disease, kill beneficial organisms, and deplete the soil. Healthy soil practices (minimal tilling, crop rotation, cover crops, organic farming, etc) would draw down carbon and supply healthier foods. Growing crops high in protein for people uses less energy, land and water, and creates less greenhouse gases than growing food for livestock¹⁵. Farmers need the support of strong legislation and funding for the transition.
Everything needs to be compostable, reusable or recyclable. We could make manufacturers recycle and clean up the waste from what they make.
The richest pay the least taxes¹⁵. Yet we subsidize fossil fuel projects and war industries benefiting them. We can close tax loopholes, cut military spending, and provide free universal health care and education, low cost public transportation, affordable housing, childcare and eldercare. Relying on growth to pay interest on debt is not sustainable and allows lenders to dictate our priorities. Printing more money fuels inflation, hurting the poor and elderly. We can stay within budget, have what we need, and save the planet.
The military-industrial-intelligence complex shapes our economy. The US military budget is more than half of the discretionary budget¹⁶, greater than the next several countries combined¹⁷. Soldiers want to serve their country, and hope to get education and jobs. They deserve adequate health care and housing.
Most military actions are outside our borders, expanding the power of corporations¹⁸. We took land from other nations and intervened all over the world. Dependence on oil compels interventions in oil-rich countries. The military carbon footprint is enormous.
Richer countries control the world’s finances. With little capital and infrastructure, poorer countries must export raw materials, parts and single crops, and import expensive finished goods and foods, and cut social services to pay interest on loans. Richer countries need to shrink their economies; poorer countries may need to grow to meet their needs.
We cannot repeat the shameful history of racist eugenics. However, per-person waste and pollution in wealthy countries, is not sustainable. Educated girls have fewer children¹⁹. Poorer countries need support to educate girls. Poverty and laws must not restrict access to birth control and abortion.
Many immigrants flee climate disasters, political persecution or extreme poverty. We need to deal with these problems instead of restricting immigration. People are people, we are all interdependent and vulnerable and have the same needs.
There are many resources available and many organizations doing good work. However, each organization does its own fundraising and organizing, focusing on one or two issues, without addressing the over-all picture. We need to present a united front and work together with a common vision. For a green, sustainable and just society, we need to share ideas, planning and leadership.
The opinions expressed in the text do not necessarily reflect those of R&D, but are those of the author.