I want to connect a couple dots here. First, not only is global warming real, but it’s going to be with us for the next thousand years:
It appears that we’re locked into sea level rises and droughts for the next thousand years as a result of past greenhouse gas emissions. … even if policy makers and the general public get on board with drastic CO2 emission cuts, it’s already too late to prevent serious changes to the planet’s climate, and those changed will be remarkably persistent.
The science is not in doubt, folks:
Skeptics and denialists often bring up the topic of consensus in an attempt to muddy the waters surrounding climate change. Fringe voices are often bandied around, but of more than 3,000 earth scientists, 90 percent agreed that yes, global temperatures have risen, and 82 percent agreed that the cause was man-made.
If you hear otherwise, someone is suckering you, or is in denial, or trying to sell you something, or all of the above. If 90% of scientists told you that neckbelts were a bad idea, you’d only remain a skeptic until your first fender-bender. Well, not to worry. The granddaddy of doom James Lovelock thinks after a 90% culling of the human population, humans will carry on at the poles. How cheering.
Second, see this hagiography for the 6-hour workday. Not only is it possible, but it’s actually been profitably done, by the Kellogg Company in 1930. (That’s the Great Depression, you’ll recall.) It’s not impossible to work less and still turns a profit. It just requires some vision.
By 1991 the amount of goods and services produced for each hour of labor was double what it had been in 1948. By 2006 that figure had risen another 30 percent. In other words, if as a society we made a collective decision to get by on the amount we produced and consumed seventeen years ago, we could cut back from the standard forty-hour week to 5.3 hours per day—or 2.7 hours if we were willing to return to the 1948 level. We were already the richest country on the planet in 1948 and most of the world has not yet caught up to where we were then.
The fact that our society is so stressed, overworked, indebted, and uber-consumptive is because we choose it to be. To opt out of the craziness, you have to go live in the woods with survivalists and religious crazies, or live in a closet-sized apartment in San Francisco with 20 of your like-minded best friends, or go abroad. If you do this last, the American lifestyle follows you over. I wear a tie to work. I have a 9 to 5er. I have a house and a car. In short, I fit in pretty well with my rural Thai neighbors. Sure, there are peasants living remnants of the traditional lifestyle, but, believe me, they don’t do it by choice. They’d be jostling for inches of asphalt on my morning commute if they could.
My point: we could have made better choices in the past. So we could do better for the future. I’m talking a radical reworking of our society. Tear down the gods of workplace and money and the pursuit of gadgets from their altars. Replace them with family and a committed citizenry, liberty and justice, and the pursuit of (creative) happiness.
Look, I’m not a bleeding-heart socialist pinko. Actually, I’m a conservative, in the true sense of the word. Money, the workplace and the pursuit of gadgets have their place. Just one much lower in the hierarchy. I’m hearkening back to the earliest values of the American republic and Western civilization. Where an individual enjoys rights and liberties but these rights and liberties are not more important than the good of the polity. Where money does not trump justice, nor economic “growth” the value of a decent life. Our endless pursuit of material good is destroying our ability to have a civilization. You can’t have a free market, or a nationalized market, or any other market, if you don’t have a society that goes to the marketplace. It is time to stop taking the short view. If we want to our grandchildren to live in a civilization we recognize.
As far back as 1835, Boston workingmen striking for shorter hours declared that they needed time away from work to be good citizens: “We have rights, and we have duties to perform as American citizens and members of society.” As those workers well understood, any meaningful democracy requires citizens who are empowered to create and re-create their government, rather than a mass of marginalized voters who merely choose from what is offered by an “invisible” government. Citizenship requires a commitment of time and attention, a commitment people cannot make if they are lost to themselves in an ever-accelerating cycle of work and consumption … We can break that cycle by turning off our machines when they have created enough of what we need. … We can create a society where people have time to play together as well as work together, time to act politically in their common interests, and time even to argue over what those common interests might be. That fertile mix of human relationships is necessary for healthy human societies, which in turn are necessary for sustaining a healthy planet.
What would such a society look like? Couldn’t tell you. Is BHO going to do it? Not a chance in hell. Are we going to collectively make any of these changes without being forced into them? I’m not so naive as to hope so.
But we could. We could start right now.