At a social event recently, someone who works for an automotive manufacturer asked me If I could only change one thing, what would it be?
I had to think for what seemed like a few minutes but which must only have been tens of seconds. I'm grateful that he gave me that time. It wasn't that I didn't have something to say. It took that long to sift through a long list of things and try to work out what would be the key thing - the thing that would unlock everything else. I set out here a more extensive version of my answer than I gave at the time.
I’d change the prevalent world culture from one of the self-interested individual to a benevolent collectivism. An ideal culture would not deny the rights of the individual to excel and achieve. But it would strike the right balance between the individual and the common good. The current socio-economic paradigm conspires against the development of this culture. Through economic slavery in many parts of the so-called developed world, people are kept under control. People are subservient to the overall goals of the state and big business, which include generating economic growth ad-infinitum and maintaining societal status-quo.
People are compelled to be part of an immense and powerful machine that despoils the Earth’s seemingly bountiful minerals and ecological assets. They feel powerless to challenge the machine’s current form because they depend on it for sustenance in terms of the wages it provides and the systems it contains that deliver food, security, healthcare, education and so on.
Although many people see the damage this system causes, they’re unable to imagine a viable alternative. Or perhaps they paint a mental image of a broken state and chaos combined with lack of social order. And they’re afraid of changes that might lead to this scenario. Unfortunately, in not taking action now to question the status quo, these people, who I suspect comprise a large part of the mainstream, are continuing to contribute to an ever-increasing probability that this very scenario unfolds. This is because of the continuing environmental unsustainability of the human systems they are propping up by their complicity with and in it. Perhaps they think the state will make all the right changes in time on their behalf to achieve sustainability “just in time” and protect their standards of living in the process. But they are wrong in thinking this, because it’s in the nature of the political system in most developed nations to ignore the long-term unless to do so would damage short-term political popularity. This is the inertia of the unchallenging majority. This is what prevents real change from occurring until a crisis point comes along which can no longer be ignored.
One of the challenges for sustainabilitarians is to set out a compelling vision of a sustainable future and to help people in the mainstream to identify with it, to want it to happen (or at least their own version of it), to make their own minds up about how far we are away from it and the things that are currently keeping us on course for unsustainability but which could be changed if there was sufficient popular support. The prevalence of a more collective culture would be the key to providing fertile ground for this vision to take root and eventually flourish.
The Planetary CFO - working towards a sustainable World Balance Sheet.