Looking at the men who have taken command of the most powerful nation states over the last decade it is hard not to despair. It is not just that they are unappealing in the way that politicians often can be, they are rampant gangsters, villains and crooks. They are narcissistic barbarians who have casually killed fellow humans to consolidate their power and they have taken no concern, whatsoever, for the ecological stability of our planet or the quality of life of future generations.
If these men were typical of the wider populations they are supposed to represent there would be absolutely no doubt that our civilisation is doomed to imminently collapse. However, the political elite is actually veering off on extreme tangents that in no way, comes even close to the pretence of serving the needs of the people any more.
Perhaps they sense the game is up? They are in the midst of a mad scramble to line their pockets before we execute the imminent flip to more equitable, sane and satisfying ways of living and organising ourselves on planet earth. They are the last stand of the old guard – totems of the final days of the industrial era when corrupted governments fought wars for oil rather than preserve our precious planet.
A large and growing proportion of global citizens realise that things have got to change radically and rapidly. The disparity between the mega-rich elite and the poor majority is cavernous; global ecosystems from fisheries to rain forests are stressed and failing; key resources like oil are running out and the denialists look increasingly insane – it is quite clear to everyone that the climate is changing with potentially catastrophic implications for vast swathes of humanity.
What is happening is our global civilisation is pushing up against planetary boundaries. We are learning what happens when 7.125 billion humans eat fish, drive cars, use phones and shop in supermarkets. This unprecedented flow of energy and natural resources is now greater than the natural ecosystems servicing us can sustain.
Almost every historic human civilisation has hit resource constraints and collapsed as described vividly in Jared Diamond’s book of the same name. The Romans, Aztecs, Easter Islanders and Norse all peaked in population and expanse before dying off in a variety of unpleasant ways. That book, better technology and a planetary perspective should enable us to avoid the same fate. We know how to keep this civilisation going; we have to stop it growing.
Every threat our civilisation faces is driven by conventional growth and every solution is based on the flip from constantly increasing quantity to improving quality. We must learn how to improve our lives without cutting down more of the Amazon, removing more fish from the sea or burning what is left of fossil fuels. On one level this is a seismic transformation, on another it is natural, instinctive and easy; but what we need is a new type of leader to guide the transition.
If your civilisation is expanding outwards you may want gung-ho males in charge, tough pioneering types who are not hesitant to rupture the earth or steal their neighbours resources. If your civilisation is intending to put down roots and sustain itself for millennia you need more wisdom, less muscle. Managing the global commons like the oceans, atmosphere and Amazon cannot happen whilst nation states are locked in competition for resources. We must establish widespread peace, distribute resources fairly and empower healthy local communities to look after their own affairs. That is, we need a shift from centralised power and control to distributed, autonomous networks.
Locally, there are changes we can make to our daily lives. The amount we move around and per-capita resource use must reduce. We all have to work less – switching to a four and then a three day work week. We our compelled to spend more time in our local communities building resilience, this means making suburbs, gardens, roofs and patios ecologically productive. All of us can spend more time growing food, composting and caring for the people we live near – helping with child rearing and the elderly. This can improve our lives. Doing things collaboratively again, with the people we live near, is the resurgence of community we need to overcome contemporary epidemics of apathy and depression.
The industrial age pulled vast swathes of humanity out of poverty and built the infrastructure of the civilisation that now sustains us but it never could be an era that would last for long; it is too extractive, polluting and expansive. Also, the economic processes that co-evolved with industrialisation have led to corporate monoliths that have grown more powerful than nation states and the democratic processes that should govern them. These concentrations of wealth and power have a corrupting influence that has drawn a certain type of man to power.
Mindful of what has happened we can respond. Overall, we need to limit the global economy and manage our global commons. To do this we must break up multinational corporations and bring politicians back under the control of the people and we must live differently. To achieve these ends we need a new kind of leader that is wiser, thinks longer-term and is capable of seeing past the hubris of continuous growth and expansion.
We need Scandinavian-style leadership, female leadership and spiritual leadership. We need a revolution in kindness and compassion to pull poorer nations and other species into our concerns. We don’t want distant leaders with too much power we want local leaders with mud under their finger nails. Lets bypass the bastards who are currently leading us to a fiery armageddon. Peace, abundance, quality of life and an infinite potential for thriving awaits us in the Ecological Age. It is our generation’s challenge and privilege to get there. We are the leaders to make it happen.