One Minute to Midnight
How shall we nurture humanity, and the living Earth,
in their hour of need?
April 9, 2008 abstract, Greg Mello
Today the world faces unprecedented crises that threaten all of humanity and much of the life around us. These crises are not in the future; they have already begun.
On a smaller scale, the so-called "American Way of Life" is showing the final credits. American global power is in clear decline.
These developments open new political and moral possibilities, for good and ill.
The present economic decline is real; in material terms it is permanent. Behind the crises on Wall Street and Main Street -- more serious than any since the 1930s -- serious global energy and food crises have begun. The data strongly suggest "peak oil" has arrived; in North America peak natural gas has also come and gone, masked by industrial offshoring.
In the Southwest, "peak water" is likewise past; the best current predictions are for more or less permanent and intensifying drought, starting about now. Authoritative paleoclimate research shows that earth's climate as a whole already exceeds dangerous tipping points. To confidently avoid apocalyptic changes worldwide it is necessary to lower existing greenhouse gas concentrations.
At this juncture the economic, environmental, and social well-being of New Mexico and of the U.S. as a whole requires a rapid and massive redirection of resources -- capital, labor, and attention -- away from consumption, militarism, and debt and toward infrastructure, in the broad sense, that can sustainably support our society as it transforms. Few of the currently-discussed energy and climate plans are salient; most are being overtaken by events.
We need to protect the vulnerable in society as well as in nature; indeed the effect on the poor is our single best policy compass across the entire suite of issues we face. The sooner we understand that justice is required of us, that it is not optional, the sooner we will understand how it is that we and our children can survive also.
We need to use our still-abundant material resources, while we have them, for the highest social purposes we know, for the protection of nature, and to quickly prepare for the day, coming very soon, when key resources will be much more expensive, scarce, and unreliable.
In the process we will rediscover our connections with each other, with the living landscape, and with generations past and future. We will be poorer, but we could also be much happier -- and much wiser.
Even in the best case these crises and the restructuring of our political economy that is coming with them will shake our country to the core. They threaten the physical and mental health of all the world's children. No one is rich enough to make another world for their children.
Worldwide, it appears that about one-third of humanity could slowly be priced out of existence if existing policies are not changed, based on the price of food alone.
"National security" in our present context means household economic security, freedom from apocalyptic climate change, and above all the protection of vulnerable people, communities, and ecosystems. War under any pretense is the farthest thing from an answer. Nuclear "deterrence" has no more credibility and practicality than it does morality, and for the same reasons. Only 2% of 3,400 senior military officers in a recent poll would invest in new nuclear weapons. Why are we planning to build new factories for these weapons now, and why are New Mexico's elected representatives fighting for these factories? Building them would be a very big economic mistake for New Mexico, as surely they know. The consumer economy is itself an engine of mass destruction, at home and abroad. It alone is killing us all; nuclear weapons are superfluous.
Instead of consuming and destroying we need to start building: communities, infrastructure, relationships, churches, civic organizations, and government. We need to convince New Mexico's leaders to rapidly liberate the creativity and productivity of our people as a whole, rather than focusing on our bloated "laboratories," if that is actually the best term for them. Our communities are the real laboratories now. We don’t need or want an energy “Manhattan Project,” as some say, which would only enrich a few on the basis of false hopes. We need an energy “New Deal” that would open doors for everybody, place an energy safety net in place for the poor, and create a practical, positive vision for our youth, so they don't turn from us in despair and anger just when we need them. They have gotten precious little leadership or direction from us. We are on the verge of handing them a burnt-out desert of a planet.
Much as in war but in quite a different key, and whether or not we like it or even accept it, our society now has an overriding purpose, which our very survival plainly requires. Call it stewardship if you like. It's an old-time word, like something out of the Hebrew Bible. Well, Moses' admonition seems oddly modern and terribly exact: "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants."
We need to build a bright green economy now, turning from suicidal fantasies of “full-spectrum dominance” to a life-affirming commitment to “full-spectrum sustainability.” We might as well give our all because we have -- and we have always had -- nothing to lose. That freedom is far more creative and transformative than we can understand from our present state of hesitancy and fear.