If I Were President...
This article originally appeared in Conscious Choice magazine.
As I write this, many progressives have lost hope that a Barack Obama victory will mean a real change in direction for this country. Obama now supports the death penalty as well as retroactive immunity for telecommunication companies that gave data on U.S. citizens to government intelligence agencies, violating our constitutional rights. Worst of all, Obama offers no far-reaching plan of action to address the dire ecological crisis -- resource depletion, species extinction, climate change -- that threatens our immediate future. At a time when we need leaders who speak truth to power, he is playing the old political game.
What kind of policies would offer a meaningful response to our current situation? Unfortunately, the changes we need seem so far beyond the limits of current political discourse that it might be laughable if it weren't tragic. With the earth's population expanding and burgeoning middle classes in China and India demanding a fairer share of dwindling resources, the American lifestyle needs to be radically downscaled. We are four percent of the earth's population consuming 25 percent of its energy, and this cannot continue.
Currently, the United States government borrows $2 billion a day to stay afloat, and spends an estimated $1 trillion a year on its military. This extraordinary sum should be used to transition to alternative energy technologies, develop sustainable eco-villages and eco-cities and deploy natural techniques of bioremediation. We need a national program to promote communal living and sharing of resources, along with a movement toward relocalization and decentralization of food, goods and energy production. We should reduce our dependence on the automobile and rebuild railways, trams, and other forms of mass transportation.
Around the globe, it has become clear that
"free market capitalism" (a protectionist racket, for the most part)
benefits a tiny elite and works against the interests of the vast
majority. A mix of capitalist incentives and socialized policies, as in
Northern European countries, can create a cohesive society that
protects the local environment. The U.S. model of endless economic
growth based on absurd indicators such as the Gross Domestic Product
should be rejected. New measurements can promote a higher quality of
life rather than a greater quantity of economic transactions.
The effort to secure oil reserves in the Middle East through military dominance is doomed to failure. We are in danger of seeing our overstretched military begin to crumble, much like the far-flung Roman Empire collapsed due to depleted resources and rampant corruption. The best option would be an immediate shift to a strategy of demilitarization and pacification. The U.S. could regain its stature by leading the world in the institution of nonviolent techniques. Our military bases could become training centers for meditation, permaculture and other skills useful to local communities around the world. A global culture of peace will bring true security.
Civil society must be empowered to oversee the development of all
research in science and technology, taking a long view that encompasses
future generations. The legal form of the corporation must be changed
so that profits no longer take precedence over people or places. We
should pay elected officials a modest, working class wage and make them
directly accountable to their constituents, who can fire them as soon
as they renege on campaign promises.
Creating a sustainable society requires a far more equitable distribution of wealth. Tax structures should be changed to reflect this. We may also require a deeper change in the structure of the monetary system, including a return to local currencies. The "War on Drugs" needs to end, with personal drug use decriminalized. The prison population can be offered employment in agriculture, as the shift to small-scale organic farming will require a large workforce, following Cuba's model.
Facing the severity of our ecological crisis requires a rapid development of collective intelligence and social awareness in the U.S. population. The Internet could provide a collaborative infrastructure to support rapid transition. The mass media could disseminate an understanding of critical issues around sustainability, and retrain people's behavior patterns. For this to happen, the corporate stranglehold on news and information needs to be broken. This will require a revival of public broadcasting and, perhaps, a partial nationalization of the broadcast spectrum.
The American diet must also change radically. Rigid limits must be put on personal consumption of meat, which requires massive inputs of water and grain, as well as fish, since the oceans are almost empty and aquaculture creates toxic waste. The materialism of America can be superseded by a new focus on creative expression and spiritual development, returning us to the "can do" spirit of earlier epochs of American life and reviving the Transcendental ethos of Emerson and Thoreau.
All of this may sound impossibly idealistic. However, it is far more idealistic to believe we can continue on our current path without massive social and economic breakdowns and increasingly severe ecological disasters. What we have been conditioned to want as individuals becomes immaterial when the planet is no longer willing to support our way of life.
Image by Scott Ableman, courtesy of Creative Commons license.Tweet