"The convergence of events which can be expected in the period 2010-2040...including deep deficits in energy, water and food, along with climate change...degraded ecologies, the failure of keystone species such as bees and plankton. This could be followed by economic and social fracture...and these events may be expected to lead to large movements of refugees and to steep reductions in population comparable with those associated with the climacterics of previous civilisations."So there is no question that lives hang in the balance anyway, if in a way that is harder to quantify. We are discussing issues that inescapably involve mortality. Nonetheless, if we hold the event it is possible that, with hindsight, someone's death might be traceable back to that decision. That certainly weighs heavily on me. Equally, the same is true of every gathering at present, and London is still thronging, football games with tens of thousands in attendance are still going ahead, etc. By contrast, one of my closest friends is from Italy - my thanks to her for inspiring this blog post as I wrestled with the decision last night - and has been in close contact with friends and relatives there as society has shut down (now only pharmacies, supermarkets and banks are allowed to open). She has seen attitudes change as people there have come to terms with the growing numbers of deaths - memes mocking the 'paranoid' giving way to a real sense of social solidarity where it would feel despicable to put others at risk by breaking isolation unnecessarily. As this brilliant piece has argued, this crisis could be a call to a necessary rebirth of cooperation, compassion, generosity and kindness, and building systems which institutionalize these values. Equally it could set up a false binary in people's minds that the only alternative to globalisation is awful. The classic criticism of any attempt to query whether our current path towards disaster really represents progress - "you want to take us back to the Stone Age" - might become "you want us to live like we did during the pandemic". Or then again, perhaps it is not completely inappropriate to think that we could remember it positively - the Blitz spirit of London in World War II, the sense of solidarity in surviving wars or natural disasters. Paradoxically, seemingly even perversely, people often look back on such times with nostalgia, as Rebecca Solnit has documented. Why? Because in such times we rediscover what it is to be fully human - to collaborate and support each other in something that matters. To share jokes together that make us laugh and cry because the truth of them strikes so deeply. To know that we are needed. To be helpless and helped. To lose, and to grieve together. For better or worse, these are the times we never forget. In this crisis, that might look a little different - care might be offered over the phone, for example, rather than in person - but it wouldn't be the worst aim to try to cultivate this vivid aliveness in ways that don't depend on the crisis, sickness and death that coronavirus brings. Or perhaps more realistically - given that our short-termist globalised society is storing up no shortage of crises for ourselves - might it be possible to fashion it into a radically different, viable response to these critical times? Have you noticed how over recent decades, our expectations of the future have gradually shifted? How maybe we used to quietly assume that life for the next generation would be better than ours, and now quietly assume the opposite? That is not the mark of a civilisation that is making good choices. That is not a show that we need to get back on the road. In Fleming's words "Forward movement is not helpful if what is needed is a change of direction"... And his work lays out the most compelling vision I have yet encountered of how that sense of solidarity and self-sacrifice that is sweeping Italy could form the response to the post-growth era of economic, ecological and cultural crisis that we are moving into. That is why I have gladly given so many unpaid years to bringing it to the world, and feel such peace with that course. And that is why I hope that this film, his posthumous books and our new online course continue to reach ever more people as we all try to make sense of life today. I'll admit that there can be a certain sense of 'learned helplessness' when you have been writing and speaking on these issues for so long and yet seen the dire consequences of our current path continue to pile up. But perhaps the hope of coronavirus is that in bringing a taste of death and disruption home to much of the global north, it could cultivate a much stronger sense of compassion for those already suffering the consequences of the minority world's way of life, and widen a deep determination to change course. Chinks of light like this support for a ban on short-haul flights give me hope that perhaps appetite is growing to sacrifice (literally, to make sacred) some of our actions in the name of a better future, and to recognise the joy of solidarity again, both with each other, and with future beings. Ultimately, for each of us our role is to be a force in that direction - to support and trust that people are waking up to the time we're living through. Rob Hopkins - one of our planned speakers - has written a wonderful book on our need to reinvigorate our imaginations so that it is no longer "easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism". Let's use this unusually unignorable crisis to give us a much-needed jolt in that direction - reminding us that we are capable of rapid, radical change - so that we might avoid the far worse consequences otherwise to come.
---Having been invited to be this week's Social Reporting guest editor and introduce the theme of economics, the burgeoning 'Occupy' movement seemed the obvious place to start. Over the last couple of months I have been fascinated as the occupations started with OccupyWallStreet on Sept 17th, followed by others joining in solidarity around the world, including OccupyLondon, which has been the London Stock Exchange's new neighbour since Oct 15th. I've not been well lately, so haven't been able to be there as much as I'd like, but I have been following events closely online and visiting when I can. It has been interesting to note that most of those I have met at OccupyLondon hadn't previously heard of Transition, and that got me thinking about the parallels and differences between the two movements... So what is 'Occupy' all about? A lot has been made in the mainstream media about the elusive "one demand" that Adbusters referred to in the original image that sparked the movement, and the ensuing lack of a single clear demand to fulfil that call. And yet the basic point comes through loud and clear. Our economic system is profoundly unfair, and we want profound change. We live under a system in which banks receive more in subsidies than they pay in taxes, where they use their power to actually create money out of thin air, where they receive hundreds of billions in bailouts, and where the graph of global income distribution looks, well, like this: It is easy to see why 'the 99%' might have something to say to 'the 1%' (the spike on the right should actually continue upwards over ten thousand times as far as shown here, or more than a kilometre above your computer!), and it also easy for us to let our brains boggle at numbers in the hundreds of billions of pounds. What can such numbers really mean? Yet Occupy has learned the hard way that they can become terribly real when we see some of the things that this virtually unlimited money is used for. For example, the New York Police Department, which has been increasingly violent in its treatment of OccupyWallSt, was given a $4.6m donation by bailed-out Wall Street megabank JP Morgan Chase, and the New York Stock Exchange and Wall Street corporations apparently now actually hire individual serving policemen for $37/hr. Such riches also permit the big financial institutions to appear generous by becoming the chief sponsors of organisations like St. Paul's Cathedral. Not to mention of course that more than 99% of us work for money, which is apparently being magicked out of thin air by others, who then use this free resource to pay the rest of us to do whatever they see fit. It suddenly becomes crystal clear why the Oakland public were chanting "who are you protecting?" as the Oakland police force closed in to attack them for being in the streets of Oakland, threatening the use of "chemical agents" via a megaphone and throwing a flash grenade at those trying to help a wounded man:
"There is always an easy solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong" ~ H. L. MenckenGiven the mess things are in, it seems absurd to expect a simple set of demands that could put it all right. Instead, OccupyLondon has as yet adopted what seems to me a far more mature approach - setting up teach-ins and a 'university' in which we can educate ourselves, and then giving the resultant discussions as long as they need. It says to the guardians of the status quo "Ok, no, we don't have all the answers, but it's abundantly clear that you don't either, so let's talk it over." And it's here where I fancy Transitioners might have a few things to say (as well as much to learn!) with our growing experience of building local economic networks that make a lot more sense than this globalised mess:
"The reality is that the growth we've lived with is going away whether we like it or not - I'm hoping that this new emergent consensus that we've been screwed comes with a collective response to the end of growth - or the solidarity won't last as the system pits people against one another"So on that note, I hand over to the social reporters to explore this week's topic of Transition economics. From local e-currencies to the gift economy - what can we bring to the discussion that is sweeping the world?