We squandered the greatest sweetheart deal imaginable. Nature was happy to selflessly provide us with everything we could possibly want but instead of nurturing it, we went in another direction. We bought into the lie of endless growth on a finite planet. We chose to ignore science in exchange for shiny stuff that we mostly don’t need. We chose to serve a ravenous predatory master that incentivized greed as opposed to wellbeing, and in the process, we not only crippled the source of our success, we turned it against us.
However, there is still hope in a “mathematical sense” but we need to move quickly and get very serious about the next steps that we take…and it boils down to two choices.
We either take drastic and unprecedented action to reduce fossil fuel use, or, we allow corporations, billionaires, and politicians to continue to blow smoke up our backside by peddling the idea that small and relatively insignificant changes from within the broken system will lead to a magical solution. Then…we wait. We sit back and watch the consequences of our choices, and either our climate begins to stabilize or we watch helplessly as our interconnected ecosystems unravel before our eyes. It seems like a no-brainer, but considering that our economic and cultural messaging remains largely a servant to predatory capitalism, the right choice, as obvious as it may seem, appears to be beyond our reach.
Before we move forward we need to better understand how we got to where we are and why it’s so difficult to get off of the capitalism merry-go-round. I mean REALLY understand what’s holding back meaningful change. Without that as our starting point, I fear that we’ll just continue hitting the same sisyphean blind spots that have led us to the brink of ecosystem destruction. (In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was punished by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill only for it to roll down every time it neared the top, repeating this action for eternity.)
First, let’s be clear — propaganda works and reality can be constructed. Humans can be made to believe just about anything — even if it works against their best interests. It’s a slow process but when those with the means to control mainstream messaging decide to shape how we see the world — it’s only a matter of time. The recipe is always the same. Gain control of the messaging outlets. Delegitimize, ridicule, and even threaten (either physically or financially) any remaining voices that are hanging onto the old societal narrative. Create a new story. Sympathize with the plight of the common people. Tell them who’s to blame for their hardship and lost opportunities. Make lots of promises. Tell them that they deserve a glorious future and how it was stolen from them. Tell them who to fear. Tell them who to hate.
In short order, thinking that was once unacceptable can quickly shift towards the mainstream as a new societal norm emerges. While your views may not have changed, the opinions of those around you most certainly will. Conversations with friends, family, and neighbours can suddenly feel tense. You may find yourself being pushed from the relative safety of the “in” group to a much more uncomfortable existence where your “out” group views make you an enemy of the mainstream. Speaking your mind can make you the target of ridicule, alienation, bullying, or worse and this is often the reason why moderate people will side with the new “in” group or simply remain silent.
Once a society is in this state and the opposition voices are silenced, people become malleable and it’s only a short step to encourage irrational and even barbaric behaviour. We’ve seen this many times in history; two horrifying examples are the Rwandan massacre of 1994 and the Holocaust of WWII. Another current example which is less bloody, for now, is our religious-like adherence to predatory capitalism…a reckless system that sanitizes its barbarism while paving the way to ecological suicide. In many circles speaking out against the so-called “in” group of those who glorify capitalism can be very uncomfortable, and for many, it’s just easier to say nothing.
Along For The Ride
Another point to make perfectly clear is that it’s not you and I who are responsible for our planet’s failed climate policies. That psychopathic effort is being driven by corporations, billionaires, lobbyists, and their puppet politicians who are fighting to keep their green capitalist fantasy alive. This is a group who are so caught up in their culture of wealth, entitlement, and power that they’ve “willingly” lost the ability to acknowledge the devastation being caused by predatory capitalism. I say willingly because it’s not that they don’t get it. They read the reports! They can feel the heat and see the forest fires. They can see the ocean encroaching on their waterfront vacation homes — but they choose to engage with the facts in a way that comforts rather than challenges their worldview. They engage in a way that keeps them at the top of the pyramid. In their warped view of the world, they see their wealth as a way to insulate themselves from what’s to come, but it won’t last for long. The earth itself is a closed ecosystem and their escape hatch will soon close too.
The battle lines are drawn. We need to free the capitalism-soaked minds of the masses. We need to help them realize that we’re being fed nothing but lies. We need to help them envision a future focused on societal well-being and not “predatory” capital accumulation. Our path to a good life is being torn apart…while we’re being fed a regular diet of fantasies.
3 Common Messaging Fantasies
Most people want to feel like they’re generally a good person. This is the bread and butter of marketers and propagandists. They tell us that we can have whatever we want and that our consumption is an important part of the economic ecosystem. It’s an easy lie to believe. By becoming a “champion consumer”, we can get cool stuff while simultaneously providing opportunities for others, so the story goes, while making the world a better place. A beautiful win-win. So hold your head high as you drive your Chevy Suburban to your newly built 6,000 square foot retirement summer home. Your plan to fly guests in for weekend visits to play on your new pair of jet skis, while you watch your sustainable (ESG) stock portfolio rise, is the culmination of a life of hard work. You’re a hero of global prosperity!
Markets Will Deliver Green Prosperity
We can solve climate change by letting capitalism use the power of markets to usher in a new era of “green prosperity”. There’s no need to fundamentally change how we live our lives — we just need to bring more renewables online, eat more manufactured meat, drive electric vehicles, and aggressively expand the use of experimental carbon capture and storage…all of which are wins for both the economy and the environment. This is a big stinking pile of excrement. A dangerous fantasy. A well-advertised illusion fed to us by the so-called “mainstream”. Or, perhaps, it’s best described as theatre, orchestrated by those who have benefited the most and who wish to maintain our wealth-concentrating system.
The Path to a Good Life
Perhaps the most insidious lie is the one that shapes how we structure our lives. The “mainstream” assures us that future success will follow a similar path to what worked for past generations. A solid education. A good degree. Start a business or find a well-paying job. Work hard. Buy a home. Invest in the stock market. And then enjoy a comfortable retirement as you watch your grandchildren take on the world. But that pathway no longer exists. How could it? It’s based on a healthy natural world that provides us with invaluable and seemingly endless life-sustaining “ecosystem services’’, and in our greed and hubris we’re in the process of torching it.
The lies of the elites are robbing us of the opportunity to prepare for what’s coming and that’s the most cruel lie of all. Most people are working under the illusion that a particular type of education, capital accumulation, and sound investments are the safest path to a better future, but with climate change and ecological collapse a near mathematical certainty, that pathway is no longer the safe bet that it once was. Food shortages and surging inflation will start the ball rolling but massive forest fires, freakish flooding, and oppressive month-long heatwaves won’t be far behind. Supply chains for nearly every product will break down and social unrest will erupt. Hundreds of millions of people will learn the hard way that their plan for a bright future was built on a bed of lies. At least if they were told the truth and not some fantasy, they could have better prepared for the future that the “out” group tried to warn us about.
So Where Does That Leave Us
From the early days of humans sitting around the campfire — we are natural-born storytellers. It’s how we make sense of the world. Stories tell us about who we are, where we belong, and where we’re going, but one has to wonder if the lie of capitalism will be the last story that we tell ourselves. Will we double down on our collective delusion and focus on the glory of our progress and celebrate how everything that we could ever want is now just a click away? Or will we break free of the illusion and pull back the curtain to acknowledge the environmental harm that our economic system has caused — biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, arctic melting, Amazon deforestation, and climate change to name a few.
Ignoring the truth can’t be our best strategy. We need to wake up and deal with the lies. The truth is that we can’t completely stop climate change but we can minimize it and we can prepare for it. But as it stands now, if we don’t confront and dismantle the propaganda-infused reality, orchestrated by the elite and their pathological need to remain at the top of the money and power pyramid, our future will be bleak. Whether we’re prepared to admit it or not, we’re heading directly to a fascist and fiery end where people are left standing in a barren wasteland fixated on the last remnant of the system that destroyed them — a livestream of the latest stock prices.
For future generations — we must do better!!
This article is also published on the author's blog. Energy Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Energy & Sustainability writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.
Brad Zarnett is a Sustainability Strategist, Writer & Speaker based in Toronto, Canada. His research explores how business as usual capitalism fails to protect environmental and social capital, and what we can still do about it. He manages a Substack Community, and can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.