The United States of America clearly faces many challenges. For starters, it is still involved in two wars, it is politically divided and it is hooked on high consumption lifestyles of largely imported goods racking up the biggest trade deficit in history. However, there could be no clearer sign that the superpower has lost its way then the shocking scenes of the country locking up their leading environmentalist.
The bankers and financiers in the USA who orchestrated the ‘biggest swindle of all time’ setting off the global financial crisis were not only let off the hook, they were rewarded for their actions via a multi-trillion dollar government subsidy (‘bailout’). As any good parent will explain, if you reward bad behaviour, you can bet your bottom dollar what you will get a lot more of.
Amoral individuals driven by greed have been handed unfathomable extra wealth and the unsustainable economy has been given fresh gas to splutter forward for a few years longer. In contrast, Bill Mckibben, who has the knowledge, skills and experience to shift the country decisively towards a healthy, sustainable future in which citizens can flourish has been locked up. He has been languishing alone in a tiny cell. Talk about arresting the wrong guy!
McKibben has written over ten books. His most recent Eaarth is a practical guidebook for how to live on a new, harsh and unpredictable planet. He has campaigned for two decades on environmental issues and recently has been making a stand to block the construction of the 1,600-mile long Keystone XL pipeline that will lock in the States to arguabley the most environmentally destructive form of fossil fuels for decades to come.
Surely a fair an decent society is one in which we reward those who add value to the lives of others? We can see the USA has a faulty moral compass because currently selfish greed is rewarded even when it harms the lives of millions of people and endangers civilization. The people taking a longer term position that is better for society go to join the USA’s vast prison population. Last month Tim DeChristopher was jailed for two years for acting to protect national parks
Times have changed and the government in the USA needs to catch up. One hundred years ago it made sense to reward the captains of industry as they built infrastructure, factories and machines. This work increased people’s well being. Today, this is no longer the case. We know now that we must use far fewer resources and allow nature to provide the vital ecosystem services we require. We can make this shift but it will require focused effort to adapt. Crucially, when we reward the right people we will start getting the right outcomes.