Alternative Editorial: The Eye Of The Needle

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This week saw a remarkable development in the fight – yes, it’s a fight – to move towards a sustainable future. Ipsos Mori reported a rapid rise in climate awareness, with as much as 85% now worried about climate change; and within that, 52% deeply anxious.

Immense credit to Greta Thunberg - half way across the Atlantic on a zero-carbon yacht as we write – and to Extinction Rebellion, for this unprecedented level of achievement in the decades long environmental challenge. And we all know this effort cannot relax for a moment. Like a marathon, the mental task gets tougher, not easier. Having said that, acknowledging success at each stage prepares you for that journey.

Some of us would love to believe that clarifying the task ahead will automatically create greater unity amongst people. That we will be able to put old political, class and cultural enmities aside and link arms in a war-time spiritto beat a common threat. Let’s hold that possibility at all times.

On the other hand, looking at some of the comments on the Standardpiece, it’s clear that another level of anxiety sits below the headline: that rising levels of fear will create more division and unrest, not less. For example, this response:

When we launched The Alternative UK, the core team had already been climate-crisis ‘believers’ for decades. Four years earlier we had already met Roger Hallam in his Radical Think Tank guise and been bowled over by his vision. However, it was not until Jo Cox was murdered, only days before Brexit, that we saw the clear call to action which became A/UK. 

We noted the crucialfact – now a mantra of our movement - that only 2% of people are members of political parties. The vast majority, while they loosely align with political parties and vote every five years, do not invest their time or money in the operations of party politics. Yet they are deeply impacted by the narratives these parties generate, which are amplified by the mainstream media. By the latter, they are led to distrust – maybe hate – half of the community they live in. Without any opportunity to test the reasons for that. 

The most common response we encounter to this dilemma is psychological: “people need an opposition to get the motivation to stand up”, we are told. But can we allow that truism to hold, when we now know it has defeated us royally? Whether it is the Independents for Frome’s dismay at being opposedby their party-political opponentsfor whatever they do, despite winning 17/17 of the seats on the council. Or the Green Party’s inability to make any headway in a First Past the Post electoral system. We are locked in a politics of opposition, unable to make progress.

New resources to build our resilience 

Many are now calling to make climate catastrophe the common enemy – but to do that the proposition has to add more layers of complexity. The Gilets Jaunes in France have captured this need successfully so that climate justice has become an important element of the broader call. Over 50% of our carbon output is generated by the richest 10%of the population: yet the cost of its reduction is disproportionately visited upon the 95%. The worst effects are felt by the poorest 10%. It’s a vital complexification of the issue which we hope will create a broader base for people coming together. But it’s not happening yet.

Instead there is plenty of evidence that the climate issue is being weaponised by populists (we use the term reluctantly) as a symbol of oppression. And that division is easily exploited. 

At the extreme end are the climate deniers —although they are hard to distinguish from those that simply want business as usual to continue servingtheir own interests. Donald Trump orJacob Rees-Mogg’s enthusiasm for dropping ‘oppressive’ climate regulationsmay have less to do with an analysis of the ecological state we’re in, and more to do with the money they stand to make out of liberation. Yet their followers feel stronger standing up against the environmentalists. 

Maybe we need a different call on our human nature. Opposition has a function, but it’s not the sole motivator of our energies. In fact, the heavy drain on our personal resources when we’reconstantly in battle makes the threat of activist burn out a very real obstacle to the long-term vision. 

We need a pathway that generates maximum energy, long-term. That works at all the levels of the personal (I), social (We) and planet (World).

While we can’t reveal that on this page, right now, we do have a sense of its profile emerging. The human characteristics are less of a single personality, more of a soap opera of characters, bringing together a mix of stories, values and motivations. Not random: there are points of coherence – though these may not be values. They might, instead, reveal the diverse ways people are getting their emotional needs met for the first time.

To give you an example. Here is a post we saw on Facebook recently, from a strong Remainer, mocking a Leaver. 

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What is this Leaver expressing? Courage; a desire for action. But also the willingness to give up dependence on the consumer lifestyle, in exchange for autonomy. Isn’t that – bar the emphasis on meat! – the mindset that XR is hoping to achieve too? How can we weave those two varieties of readinessfor adaptation into one? 

The social characteristics of this path we sense unfolding bring some elements that both sides of the Brexit debate, as well as the Extinction Rebels, are championing – notably an enhanced desire for community. Wherever we go, people are turning away from political parties and the state, and towards each other, to find their resources for resilience. 

Get through the needle, and a different world beckons

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But the other element clearly hovering around – but not yet integrated into this space – is the prospect of a radically altered reality. Artificial intelligence, bio-tech, mechanisation is already changing the experience of our daily lives, and that will accelerate. All of which, if managed well, could help create the conditions for communities to achieve their goals much quicker. 

But there are clearly risks involved: the surveillance society threatens to control us remotely. It could instrumentalise us even further than the machinations of the growth economy have done till now. If we do nothing else, we should be seizing upon our relatively simple desires for community in the present, to develop the new relationships and trust between us. That will make us more resistant to being harnessed by others in the future.

Imagine automation bringing shorter working weeks for the many, combined with a local economy that aims for a Universal Basic Income/Servicesfor its citizens (including those in transit, such as migrants). Imagine a healthier, cheaper diet, based on locally grown produce, less meat and sugar, more time for exercise. Imagine a 4thsector platform that invents new jobs based on more human creativity and a radical greening of the economy.

Underlying all this we sense that unless a healthy, thriving planet is consciously evoked, we won’t, collectively, be able to release the energy we need to bring this Better Lifeinto being. Right now, it’s as if we are tumbling deep in the ocean, unable to see which way is up. Only the strongest can stop themselves panicking. If we could see the light, even the weak andvulnerable would start to swim towards it. 

But there’s something more than simply moving in the right direction on offer here. We’re reminded of a historical moment, depicted in the graphic biography: The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt by Ken Krimstein. Hannah is in transit to a German concentration camp in the early days of World War 2, when she spots a momentary lapse in security.  

Suddenly the conditions are right for an escape. However, she cannot persuade her fellow inmates to run for it. They believe help is coming and feel it’s safer to sit tight. She has to act alone, and eventually is the only one to survive. More than that, her life changes significantly after this episode, allowing her – eventually - to become the public figure that inspires so many today.

That may seem like a gruesome analogy: but in reality, it is sound. Krimstein is offering us the benefit of Arendt’shindsight, today. We have to make a dash for it right now, if the next ten years are going to make the difference we need them to. Sitting still is unthinkable. 

It’s a ten-year squeeze to get through the eye of the needle: after which, if we succeed, we can watch something quite different unfold.