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Dystopian billionaires are riding the climate tiger

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By Praveen Gupta

· 6 min read

‘Dying light’ is a survival horror game set in a post-apocalyptic world full of zombies and inhumane characters. It claims to take gaming to the next level and offers you one of the most entertaining and exciting gaming experiences. Set in the year 2102 after the nuclear bomb destroyed the world. The main protagonist and other vault dwellers are saved. But now, you must leave the vault and explore the horrific and dangerous wasteland to reclaim it. These can be played on: Linux, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo. If it whets your appetite, you may wish to check this out.

“I think the most interesting reason why such games are relevant to our contemporary reality is that they exist as models for imagining possible future scenarios around climate change, fuel and food security, or social and technological collapse so that these possibilities can be explored within popular culture. There is a great deal of denial, whether unconscious or conscious, around such challenges facing our wider society. We don’t want to think about such dystopian or uncomfortable possibilities, therefore there is real value in ‘imagining the unimaginable’ and games, in my opinion, are perhaps the best artform for doing this and driving positive change”. Gaming enthusiast Dr. Anthony Richardson throws light on the growing global obsession with post-apocalyptic games and its potential to promote and address sustainability challenges that lie ahead.

Games billionaires play

That we are onboard a heating planet into a full-blown climate crisis, everything and everyone here will be impacted if not already. Billionaires are no exception. Pathological greed keeps them on the hook as they ensure this theatre of the absurd keeps unfolding. On the other hand - faced with doomsday rather than stop doing the obvious - they are indulging in escape fantasies.

Journalist Peter S. Goodman's ‘Davos Man: How the Billionaires devoured the World’ is an eye opener, of the global billionaire class. Goodman’s work is billed as "an essential read for anyone concerned about economic justice, the capacity of societies to grapple with their greatest challenges, and the sanctity of representative government". These manifest as “widening wealth inequality, the rise of anti-democratic nationalism, the shrinking opportunity to earn a livable wage, the vulnerabilities of our health-care systems, access to affordable housing, unequal taxation, and even the quality of the shirt on your back”.

And what got us here? Author Kate Aronoff argues, since the 1980s and 1990s, economists, pro-business Democrats and Republicans in the US, and global organisations like the UN and the World Economic Forum have all made concessions to the oil and gas industry that they have no intention of reversing. What's more, they believe that climate change can be solved through the market, capitalism can be a force for good, and all of us, corporations included, are fighting the good fight together. These assumptions, Ms. Aronoff makes abundantly clear, will not save the planet. And the billionaires know it.

Toxic masculinity

Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires’ author Douglas Rushkoff says billionaires “not only know they're the cause of the real world coming apart; they mean to escape it by doubling down on tech-focused solutions more interested in saving themselves, rather than the wider population”. And interestingly, "they're willing to disrupt the cab industry, the hotel industry, the book industry... but they're not even thinking once about disrupting the underlying architecture of kind of extractive capitalism”.

He believes the billionaires are "testing the underlying philosophy" of what he calls "the Mindset" - a Silicon Valley-style certainty that they can escape a catastrophe of their own making so long as they have enough money and the right technology. The Mindset is about investing in underground bunkers, rocket ships or anything else that allows them to get away from an apocalyptic event on Earth. the influence of toxic masculinity and the questions we should be asking our leaders.

Toxic masculinity fuels much of this mindset. Unfortunately, with a growing fan club this rub on effect of billionaires has a systemic challenge. In one of his recent interviews, Rushkoff shares this warning:

“We do need to unwind this need to dominate, and the way to do that is to encourage the kinds of things that maybe we associate with women and female archetypes like sharing and nurturing and community. Also learning how to break down boundaries rather than erect more of them. Reducing our fear of intimacy. Creating a sense of belonging without feeling you have to beat somebody up. So yeah, it’s the simple stuff but it also requires some sort of a shift in the way we understand security and economics”.

Kate Aronoff charts out this simple stuff in her book ‘Our Future’. “A radical reimagining of our politics and our economies, in 12 years includes: decarbonizing the economy; nationalizing utilities and the fossil fuel industry; public sector - private sector partnerships in the public interest; a jobs guarantee; climate reparations; equitable planning for inevitable warming; low-carbon luxury.” But the billion-dollar question is, are we going to get anywhere near this?

How prepped are you?

I am afraid we are not getting anywhere near it. “It's by building some piece of incredible technology - like a bunker or spaceship - that hides them from the externalized problems of what they've done”, as Rushkoff puts it, that they continue to delude themselves. Let’s look at some manifestations. The notion of “doomsday prepping” was popularized in the mainstream by the National Geographic channel’s show by the same name. The show’s website offers a quiz titled “How prepped are you?” so you can test your own likelihood of surviving an apocalypse. Here is an all-rounded story: The super-rich ‘preppers’ planning to save themselves from the apocalypse | The super-rich | The Guardian.

Catherine Clifford of CNBC talks about Steve Huffman, the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of the online community Reddit, got Lasik so that he’d be able to be more independent in case of emergency. In addition to the eye surgery, Huffman has accumulated guns, ammunition and motorcycles so that he won’t get caught in traffic jams during an evacuation. These “preppers” are making other investments too. The top 5 destinations to manage the "de-complexification" to come: New Zealand, Iceland, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Ireland. Billionaire Peter Thiel acquired a home and nationality of NZ.

Self-fulfilling prophecy (SFP)

Doug Rushkoff says,

“the billionaires of today are in positions of power unlike anything seen before - and they've adopted the most kind of rapacious form of venture capitalism as their religion… Yet they feel utterly helpless to avoid the inevitable event; you know, the climate crisis or pandemic or social unrest that leads to a revolution or mass unrest and renders the world unlivable for any of us”.

All this notwithstanding the hubris that accompanies the billions!

Glass Onion mocks silver-bullet solutionism and skewers tech-bro climate saviours”, says Ketan Joshi about this fascinating movie. “Bad, counter-productive climate solutions come in many flavours, and from many different sources. But the brilliant billionaire climate saviour has to be among the most obnoxious. The Glass Onion swings and hits at a time when, gloriously, that mythology is accelerating in its downfall. That feels fun to watch”, he says!

If and when the billionaires tumble off the tiger’s back is a moot point. It is critical that we steer away from dystopian narratives. “How might we grow learning ecosystems conducive to well-being, collective intelligence and shared abundance while regenerating Life on our Planet…?” These words from Daniel Kinzer are music to my ears. Shouldn’t games such as these be the building blocks for the much desired SFP?

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Praveen Gupta was the second most-read author in the environment and sustainability space for illuminem in 2022. A former insurance CEO and a Chartered Insurer, he devotes his time to researching, writing, and speaking on diverse subjects. His blog captures much of his work.

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