Daunting challenges, endless opportunities
Dr. Trevor Hancock
12 June 2019
A few years ago Naomi Klein wrote a book about climate change titled “This changes everything”. Her point was that climate change was a crisis of capitalism and that we would need to radically rethink our society and our economy if we are to deal with it.
But she was only discussing climate change; we face a far greater challenge because in addition to changing the climate we are also massively polluting the Earth, acidifying the oceans, depleting vital resources and causing a sixth great extinction. So if climate change alone changes everything, what does all of this mean?
The bad news is that if we don’t change everything, and quickly, it may mean massive environmental, social, cultural and economic disruption within the lifetime of many alive today, and with it traumatic change, disease, injury and death for millions.
But the good news is that avoiding these outcomes will require massive environmental, social, cultural and economic disruption within the lifetime of many alive today – yes, you did read that correctly! Let me explain what I mean.
Last week, I joined a number of my colleagues from UVic on a panel to answer questions about climate change from 150 high school students from Claremont Secondary School. At my suggestion, the session was called ‘Daunting challenges, endless opportunities’. The students’ questions, and the discussions that followed, were interesting, thoughtful and lively. It was clear they understand the situation and are looking for answers.
In my remarks, while not sugar-coating the severity of the situation – they know, they can read and follow the media – I stressed that while indeed we face daunting challenges, the fact that everything has to change also presents endless opportunities; their generation will be the one that has to re-invent almost everything.
Albert Einstein told us “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. ‘Business as usual’ is what has got us into this situation, so continuing to pursue ‘business as usual’ will not fix the problems, it will only make them worse.
So the economic, social, legal, political, technological, cultural and philosophical approaches that got us here – in short, our current form of civilisation – has to be changed, and this is good news. It is also where the endless opportunities come in. Reinventing everything is going to require massive, rapid and widespread invention and innovation across all fields of human endeavour.
Our thoughts somewhat naturally tend to look to scientific and technological innovation, hoping for technical fixes – and perhaps hoping they will save us from having to undertake the more challenging civilisational changes we need. And indeed, there are plenty of scientific and technological innovations that are needed, from clean energy to non-polluting products, healthy low-meat diets to recyclable materials, innovative ways of cleaning up the environmental mess we have created and many others.
Taking all these new technologies and creating new entrepreneurial solutions will help create the new economy we need, providing new jobs while improving human and social development and ecosystem health. But beyond this, we also need social innovators, and the philosophers, artists and social activists who can express and communicate new values in appealing ways.
We see some of those new values emerging in the idea of the ‘sharing economy’; we don’t need to own a car, a boat, a lawnmower and so on, we can share them. This idea may be expanding to the housing sector, where there is some renewed interest in various forms of co-living – be it with parents, other families or friends. There is also a renewed interest in old ways of relating to nature with reverence, respect and love, whether expressed spiritually or otherwise.
As I noted two weeks ago, we are beginning to see young leaders emerging to confront and address this situation, both globally and locally, including leading the ‘climate strikes’ and the work of creating a Green New Deal. Some of them will be leading a discussion on youth leadership and intergenerational action at the next ‘Conversation for a One Planet Region’, June 20th, 5 – 7 PM at the Central Branch of the Public Library on Broughton St., Victoria. It should be an interesting dialogue.
© Trevor Hancock, 2019