Sunday, 3 January 2010

Pessimism, Honesty, and Politics

In progressive politics, it is customary to try to cast everything in a positive light. As we saw in the USA's last Presidential election, people respond to hope - and the politics of fear and dismay tend to be the domain of those who want society to stay exactly as it is, and are opposed to change. It makes sense for those who seek change to portray the future as inevitably better, brighter, easier than the present.

Unfortunately, of course, it's not that easy or simple. When we are being honest, Greens need to admit that society will change over the next few decades, and not inevitably for the better. As John Michael Greer eloquently sets out in his book, The Long Descent, climate change is not the only crisis that our society currently faces - the peak of oil production is also approaching, and will have massive and far-reaching effects on our economy and way of life.

Following the textbook of political presentation, it would be most sensible to emphasise the positive aspects of a low-carbon transition - and these certainly exist. The problem is, the benefits of transition begin to recede the longer you leave them - while the negative impacts of transition increase for every month we fiddle and fail to prepare for adaptation of the way we run our economy and society. We currently rely on massive injections of fossil fuels - and they won't last forever. As this brief primer on peak oil facts illustrates, they probably won't even last for decades.

With that being the case, and with the obvious and complete lack of government awareness that currently rules policy-making, it is imperative for Greens and other radicals to sound the alarm - not panicking, not hectoring - but being in no doubt about the seriousness of the situation we face. The decisions we make in the next few years may well condition the conflicts, problems and quality of life which we experience for the next hundred. We owe it to future generations, and to ourselves, to get it right.

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