Reclaiming democracy for the common good – and for the survival and future of our children: the political economy of environmental sanity and democratic renewal
September 27, 2011, the Global Footprint Network declared as Earth Overshoot Day: the day that humans have used up all renewable resources available for the year. Not good. This obviously cannot continue. Limitless growth in material consumption and “production” clearly cannot be sustained on a finite planet. (We can have limitless growth in culture, the arts, science, the mind, spirituality and quality of life, but not in material production and consumption.) We are depleting our collective inheritance: which should rightfully be shared equitably, through democratic popular control of the commons to which we all share usafructory rights – despite our present unjust and unwise socio-economic, legal and cultural norms – as well as used wisely and compassionately, and not squandered. We are rapidly draining nature’s capital, to put it in crass economic terms, which are the only terms most politicians and pundits and corporate elites seem to understand. We are racing towards ecological bankruptcy at an ever-accelerating rate, and will see our children live as beggars in an ocean of toxic waste if we don’t change our course, and fast. Of course, most people – aside from the business and political elite – understand this by now. But awareness is not enough. It is high time for much more serious action.
“Climate change — human-made global warming — is happening. It is already having noticeable impacts…. If we stay on with business as usual, the southern U.S. will become almost uninhabitable…. It is time for all of us to get Tea-Party-angry about what our political system has become and about the intergenerational injustice being perpetrated on young people.”
– NASA’s leading climatologist
Addressing the present and rapidly escalating environmental crisis which humanity undeniably faces will require more of us than a simple act of recycling or “buying green.” It will require, above all, a restoration and a renewal of democracy – a reclaiming of democracy from the ruling and highly pathological corporate elite. We must reclaim our democracy, or the earth will not be a habitable place for any human beings to live, in just a few short decades or less. If you want a future for humanity on this planet, reclaim your democracy now, or there will be none. This is the reality of our time. Let us do what needs to be done.
Why don’t we have a massive infusion of investment of public funds in clean, renewable energy? Because the big oil, gas and coal companies don’t want it: they are profiting from the status quo, they have a vested interest in the status quo, so the answer is an emphatic, “No.” If we shifted the subsidies that are presently given out to the oil, gas and coal giants, and put it into clean, renewable solar, wind, co-generation and geothermal energy instead, we would be making rapid progress, by leaps and bounds every year, not only in greening our energy and transportation systems and becoming a truly sustainable society, but also in terms of energy self-reliance, economic strength and job creation. But Exxon and company have our politicians by the, um, purse strings: and so they pull the strings, and we the people, as well as the earth, lose out.
Why are we the people being treated as guinea pigs while the earth is being treated as a laboratory, when hundreds of responsible scientists have warned that genetically engineered foods and crops pose serious and largely unforseeable dangers to human health and the environment, and that such practices are unethical, irresponsible, highly imprudent, highly reckless and highly dangerous? The majority of people are rightly wary about genetically modified food and crops, and are generally opposed to these: but the biotech giants have the clout in our political arenas; they pull the purse strings of our politicians, and so, what big money wants, big money gets – democracy and the people be damned.
Why don’t we shift our tax system from taxing employment through payroll taxes, which works directly against job creation, and also shift the tax burden off of small and medium businesses, the poor and the middle class, and instead tax pollution, thus easing the burden on the majority of families and businesses while creating incentives to pollution reduction? We don’t have sane and effective, just and fair and environmentally sensible tax laws, because while this would benefit the great majority of the people, create jobs and economic vitality, help clean up the environment and steer us in the direction of true sustainability – while improving the quality of our air, soil, food and water and also strengthening small business – it is not what the corporate giants want: so again, it is a no go.
Why do we not have a smog tax for vehicles that get less than 30mpg, and a government rebate for vehicles that get better than 40mpg or have ultra-low or zero emmissions? Because this would require the auto industry and the car manufacturing giants to improve their standards, and worse, it would mean that the oil companies wouldn’t make their usual obscenely stratospheric profits. Big oil and big auto says no, so again, this is a no-go, and the politicians defer as usual to their masters.
Why do we have massive farm subsidies benefitting mainly the agribusiness, petrochemical, biotech and junk food giants, and an escalating war on organic farming? As Richard Heinberg has said, petro-chemical industrial agriculture has been nothing short of an ecological catastrophy – it is utterly unsustainable. We need to shift to clean, healthy and sustainable organic agriculture en mass, and as rapidly as possible, just as we need to reduce our fossil fuel consumption and switch to clean, renewable energy. But do we see a shift in the multi-billion dollar subsidies anywhere on the horizon? No, we do not, and the reason we do not is that the current government policies benefit the petrochemical, biotech, agribusiness and processed food giants. Monsanto, MacDonalds, Nestle and Kraft are making a killing on the existing system, quite literally as well as figuratively, and if they say no, our political elites say, “Ok boss – whatever you say.” Poison the people and the planet, just don’t cut off my re-election financing.
Why was the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gutted over the past decade? Because that is what big business wanted, and what big business wants, big business gets – at least unless and until we the people reclaim our democracy, and push back the vested interests of the corporate elite so that democracy can function, and not simply be a hollow shell run by and for the ruling business elite, with little more than a rubber stamp action on the part of the bought and paid for political elite.
It is not widely known, but it is a fact: when the tar sands are counted, and the exaggerated claims of the Saudi reserves are corrected for accuracy, Canada has the largest remaining oil reserves in the world. And while Canada is rapidly expanding its environmentally devastating oil extraction from the tar sands and plans for a new pipeline are being laid to suck the black gold from out under the people’s feet, and the oil companies are raking in many billions of dollars a year in profits, why is it that it is unspeakable and unthinkable to charge a fair and just price for the extraction by these companies in the form of royalty payments made to the Canadian people? When certain Scandinavian countries charge $8 a barrel in extraction fees, paid as royalties to the people of the land, and Canada charges less than a dollar a barrel – while massively subsidizing the already profitable oil giants – something is clearly awry. Why is it that a fair price for extraction of a public resource, a resource of the commons, a resource that belongs to the people, paid to the people in return for the very lucrative opportunity to carry off this national treasure to whomever will pay the highest price abroad, is an utterly inexpressible, unutterable thought, and nary a word is whispered of this most obvious and patently just and sensible notion by the political elite or the mass media? The answer is as clear as the profits are exorbitant: big oil dominates the capital and the political process, and none dare speak the truth that stares us daily in the face, let alone challenge the situation and right the wrong. Raising the extraction rates by seven dollars a barrel would still leave the oil companies with large, fat profits, although admitedly, the tar sands might be less lucrative, and possibly not feasible economically for some few years, until the price of oil rises further on the world stage, as it will. Such a modest and completely justified increase in extraction rates, as decided upon and enacted by a democratic government of the people, by the people, for the people, would flood the public coffers with funds, making ample money available for the development and creation of a clean and green, renewable energy and transportation system for the nation, as well as for social programs such as health care, education, day care and affordable housing. But while this should be an obvious and immediate step that is taken at once to bolster funding for a transition to a green and just society as well as the funding of much loved and overwhelmingly popular social programs, it is not even possible to mention the idea without immediately being excommunicated from the mainstream political discourse, raising the fevered ire of the corporate elite, and possibly risking a burning at the stake. Oil companies rule this fair and gentle land, and once again, the people and the earth be damned.
Why do we not have a massive and much-needed investment by governments in infrastructure, creating not just the groundwork and foundation for an ecological society, but truly enormous job creation and economic stimulus in the process, launching continent-wide energy-efficient light rail, mass transit networks and a clean, renewable solar-hydrogen infrastructure? California put in place the first leg of a hydrogen highway, at a cost of $100 million. For under $20 billion we could have a zero-emmission, clean, renewable solar-hydrogen fuel and transportation network that spans all of North America – this may sound like a lot of money, and it is, but it is just 10% of the annual cost of maintaining the imperial wars in the Middle East and North Africa. The money spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone have now cost over $2.5 trillion. That is approximately 100 times the amount needed to build a zero-emmission, clean, renewable, energy self-reliant solar-hydrogen infrastructure for the entire continent of North America. The U.S. federal government has admitted that over $1.2 trillion goes missing every year into black ops – Congress is unable to trace it, but it is acknowledged. Get rid of the military-industrial complex and the CIA and there will be over $1.5 trillion a year for green infrastructure, environmental protection and remediation, and also funds to help the rapidly sinking great majority of the American people and create jobs through such green infrastructure projects. Why don’t we have an enormous and urgently needed green infrastructure program right now? Because vested interests oppose it – because the Wall St. kleptocrats and their political allies have pillaged the nation to the extent that the country is now on the brink of bankruptcy, and more importantly, because the corporate elite insist upon ongoing, astronomically expensive and murderous wars for oil and other natural resources, thus entailing an absolute paucity of funds for anything that matters in terms of ecological sanity or human well-being. Bringing the troops home and ending wars for oil and other natural resources would save more than enough to build a continent-wide clean and renewable, green transportation infrastructure, massively stimulating the economy and creating millions of jobs in the process – and it would still leave many hundreds of billions a year left over for funding schools, health care and other human needs. But we don’t have a green transportation infrastructure on the table, because this is not what the big oil, gas, coal, automotive and military-industrial giants want. Again, the people and the earth lose, because money rules over our politics, and not common sense, human decency, or environmental sensibility or even basic sanity.
Why do we still have millions of people dying and being killed in wars for oil and other minerals, bankrupting the country and draining off critically needed funds that could and should be used to create a green economy and infrastructure, employing millions of people in the process, and pulling the people out of a financial and economic tail-spin? Because the oil and military-industrial complex corporate giants want it this way, and the people and the earth can go to hell, as far as they are concerned – and because Wall St. dictates the policies of Washington, Ottawa, Paris and London. If we want a green economy, a full employment economy, a just economy, an end to poverty, an end to imperial wars, or a future for our children, we will have to wrest control over our democracy from the corporate elite that now dominate it and severely limit and constrain our policy choices.
Our financially dependent political elite are in the pockets of the oil, gas, coal, biotech, agribusiness, petrochemical and other corporate giants, so policies and programs that are good for the environment and for the people are just not on the table – regardless of whether they would be good for human well-being, regardless of whether they would stimulate the economy and create jobs, regardless if they are arguably necessary for human life to continue beyond the next couple of decades on this planet, and regardless of whether the majority of the people want them – which they do. The great majority of people now want stronger environmental policies, programs and legislation – as well as peace, social justice and meaningful democracy, human rights and civil liberties. The corporate giants do not, so the people get the shaft. This is not about being anti-business; it is about democratic control of our environmental policies and programs, our economy and the commons, for the benefit of all. Corporate influence is in the way. They are the barricade in the hall. They must be moved aside – and firmly if necessary.
You don’t have to be anti-business to be opposed to corporate rule, by the way: to be opposed to rule by corporate elites is simply to favour democracy; and frankly, to call it as it is: to oppose fascism. Corporatism, as Mussolini himself defined, is the merger of business with the state. Anyone who values freedom or democracy must therefore oppose corporatism: which is the unchecked power of business elites, and an empire of corporate dominance over all aspects of society, including the economy, politics, culture and the media. To be anti-corporatist is not to be anti-business: it is simply to understand that any form of unchecked power invariably leads to tyranny and the destruction of freedom; and therefore, to be opposed to such unchecked powers by any kind of elite.
You don’t have to be anti-business to oppose the take-over of democratic government by business elites – you simply have to be sane. You can be pro-business and anti-corporatist: and anyone who truly values democracy must, of logical and practical necessity, be anti-corporatist, regardless of their views on business. I am belabouring the point because the corporate-owned and dominated media repeatedly portray any kind of critique of unchecked corporate powers as leftist lunacy. Here is breaking news for anyone who still buys into this red-scare propaganda that lingers from the McCarthy era, like a can of rotting tuna stinking up the entire house and driving the people to nausea and revulsion: people on the right and the left and in the centre politically are, by an overwhelming majority, in favour of constitutional democracy, and opposed to any kind of dominance over the democratic political process by any kind of elite, including the now globally dominant business elite.
“America’s political classes would do well to listen to the grievances of those involved with Occupy Wall Street, for they undoubtedly represent a set of anxieties shared by a great deal of the population. The corporate take-over of the American political process has not gone unnoticed, neither has the disparity between continued Wall Street profits and the cuts to the welfare state. As unemployment continues at high numbers, resentment surely stirs among those whose lives are slowly being drained at the expense of the corporate state. Recently, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg warned that there would be riots in the streets if Washington does not create more jobs, warning of an American Arab Spring.”
– Emily Manuel, In These Times
“There has been a corporate takeover of politics. You have something called ALEC—the American Legislative Exchange Council—where corporations literally will pay huge sums of money to get together with politicians, draft model legislation that is, then put across the US through state legislation, which is easier to pass than federal legislation.”
– Global Comment writer Anna Lekas Miller
Where once we had to wrest power from the church and the aristocracy who were overstepping their bounds, in order to secure democracy, human rights and freedom, we now must wrest power from an unwieldy and overbearing, frankly tyrannical and self-serving business elite – and everybody who is in the least way sane and rational, who is not neck-deep in denial and who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past fifty years, knows it.
Support for constitutional democracy and checks on corporate power, and the resultant or concomitant opposition to corporate rule, now cuts across the political spectrum. The people are no longer fooled by the red-scare tactics, nor by the broader corporate spin which seeks to mask the obvious: the emperor has no clothes, and everybody knows it – corporations have usurped democratic political powers, and are far over-stepping their proper bounds. Conservatives, liberals and progressives alike now understand this, and know this quite viscerally – and are rightly concerned and rapidly running out of patience in the face of an intolerable situation of corporate oligarchy that seeks limitless powers for itself, while undermining every human value and endangering our very survival on this earth.
We now have grassroots populist conservatives such as Ron Paul and Alex Jones, along with Texas Republicans and the Mainstreet Alliance of Small Business Owners saying the same thing as progressives and people on the left: corporations are out of control, pillaging the nation and the planet, threatening democracy and running rampant – and they need to be reigned in; the people must reclaim their democracy. It is clear now that what I had called for four years ago, which is a coalition of the grassroots, a new union of the people to restore democracy, is not only feasible – it is being born. And that is precisely what we need now.
The reality, which virtually everyone knows, is that the democratic governments of the world are now in hoc, in debt, in dependency and in servitude to a globally dominant international business elite; and virtually all of the major political parties are now the servile lackeys to the ruling corporate empire. Meanwhile, the people increasingly see through this whole pathetic charade, and are becoming quite fed up with it.
You don’t have to lean toward the left politically to be opposed to corporate rule: and at the level of the grassroots, people from the right and the left, conservatives, liberals and progressives, are now beyond wary of unchecked corporate powers – and wish to see democracy reclaimed by the people. What is needed now is a coalition of all those who favour democracy over corporate empire and corporate rule. This is beginning to emerge, and none too soon.
The suicidal kleptocracy of our presently reigning global order of neo-feudal corporatism must end – and now, before we extinguish ourselves from this small and beautiful, fragile, little blue planet. Democracy must be restored: and with power returned to the people, where it rightfully belongs, the commons can once again be protected and shared, wisely and judiciously, for the benefit of all.
If we wish for survival, for a future worth living, or for any future for our children and the children of the earth, then it is absolutely necessary that democracy be reclaimed by the people. This is the most urgent necessity of the time. If Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington or Voltaire were alive today, they most assuredly would be urging it. We should heed their call, the call of their distant but ever-near voices of reason and common sense, and reclaim our power. Restore democracy now. Bring the power back to the people, and let us begin again.
Let it begin. The great turning is here. A new renaissance is being born. Let us work together to bring about a better future and a better world for all. The power is in our hands. We must simply own it, and acknowledge that it is ours.
We have run out of time for idle chit-chat, partisan zealotry and pleasant euphemisms, for polite evasiveness and meek avoidance of the realities that we face. Let us now renew and reclaim our democracy: and we shall in the process, and by this means only, renew and reclaim the commons, for the common good of all. It is this, or it is a dark age ahead – make no mistake. Make your choice wisely. Our future, and our children’s future, depend upon the choices we make now.
Be bold I say, and let us reclaim our future, and the future of humanity – if not for ourselves, then most certainly and assuredly, for the sake of the children of this earth. Their lives and their future cannot be written off, even if we are willing to write off our own. Act now.
“The other superpower” is beginning to stir: humanity is beginning to awake. And nothing, no reactionary force, can stop the rising tide of an awakened humanity. The future is in our hands. I urge all of us now to embrace that power, and to act together to reclaim our future and our world, by first reclaiming our democracy and our power.
Unite now, and let us restore democracy to its proper place – in the hands of the people. Our future and our children’s future hangs in the balance. Let us not hesitate now – we cannot afford to do so. Let us begin, or begin again with renewed energy and a deepened commitment: for we shall succeed, and humanity shall have a new day.
I would like to end this conversation, which I hope will be only the beginning of an ongoing conversation, and more importantly, the basis of strong, bold and dedicated collective action, with one of my favourite quotations, which seems ever-fitting – and especially so now:
“There is more day yet to dawn.
The sun is but a morning star.”
– Henry David Thoreau
And a second, which is equally powerful, equally apt, and equally appropriate to our time:
“It is within our power now to begin the world anew.”
– Thomas Paine
And one last quote: one that is oft-used, and yet profoundly underappreciated – and also extremely relevant to our time and to the task at hand:
“We must all hang together, or assuredly, we shall all hang separately….
United we stand, divided we fall.”
– Benjamin Franklin
As Arundhati Roy so eloquently and beautifully put it, another world is not only possible: she is already being born. Go now – reflect, read, ponder and discuss: then let us act together to bring in a new day and a new dawn for humanity and this earth. I urge you, act now. It is not too late, and what we do or fail to do now, will decide our future, and the future of humanity.
Above all, unite the people to reclaim their democracy. This is the most pivotal and most urgent of tasks at hand. Unite now, and let democracy reign!
The people will reclaim their power. It has already begun. The writing is on the wall. The corporate empire – the last of a series of empires that have risen and fallen through the past five thousand years of history, the clay feet that David spoke of – is teetering and about to fall. It is a wounded and dying, and still yet a dangerous beast, to be sure, but this latest of empires is now crumbling – even while it flails madly in its death throes to preserve its life and maintain its power, and flaunts its power with brazen disregard and sheer contempt for humanity, democracy and life on earth. Its legitimacy is destroyed, by its own acts of malfeasance and abuse of power; and it is only a matter of time before its final demise. The people should see and clearly recognize the opportunity, and reclaim their power and their democracy now.
Rise now and unite. It is time for the full flowering of democracy, and the healing of this fair earth and all our communities. Unite! And let us take back our democracy, for the benefit of all, and for the future of all life on earth, including our own children, and our children’s children. Act now. The time has come for a new dawn.
September 28, 2011
See Daly and Cobb, For the Common Good, as a prime example of economics that are not insane.
The Corporation – Joel Bakan (Canadian constitutional lawyer)
Power To the People (In Suits) – Paul Bigioni on Z Net
A Brief History of Progress – Ronald Wright
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed – Jared Diamond
The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies – Richard Heinberg
Power Down – Richard Heinberg
Mutual Aid – Peter Kropotkin
The Ecology of Freedom – Murray Bookchin
World As Lover, World As Self – Joanna Macy
Walden – Henry David Thoreau
The Poverty of Affluence – Paul Watchel
Small Is Beautiful- E. F. Schumacher
Year 501 – Noam Chomsky
Necessary Illusions – Noam Chomsky
Shock Doctrine – Naomi Klein
The End of America – Naomi Wolf
Escape From Freedom – Erich Fromm
The Power Elite – C. Wright Mills
Global Showdown – Maude Barlow
On Civil Disobedience – Henry David Thoreau
The Discourse on Voluntary Servitude – Etienne De La Boittee
The Great Turning – David C. Korten
Links: videos, films, books and articles
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