ADELAIDE – It seems indisputable that the ruling and business elites have given up on climate change.
By their calculus, the potential cure (massive decarbonisation and an associated massive restructuring of the economy) is much worse than the disease because it will necessarily restrict their ability to make a great deal of money.
Also, to be brutally honest, citizens in the developed world are not going to accept a conscious decision to embrace a life in which there is much less ‘stuff’.
Stuff includes almost everything you can buy and everyday convenience: whether it is the stuff you can buy in a department store, mass tourism in its various forms (cruising the seas in enormous ships, flying overseas for holidays, driving all over the country towing a caravan) or consuming water in plastic bottles.
The truth is that we can have very comfortable lives without most of the things the marketing industry works so hard to persuade us is ‘the stuff we need’.
We older folk mostly know this because, when we were young, our lives were simpler.
But the up and coming generations are committed to paying off idiotically high mortgages, shiny new cars and the latest smart phones.
They are unlikely to get off the economic treadmill for long enough to consider whether their ceaseless striving for ‘success’, however measured, is worth the effort.
Of course, the irony is that restrictions on much of this stuff are going to be mandated whatever we desire.
A 3ºC rise in average temperatures across the globe will kill many of us or, at the very least, make most of the planet so inhospitable as to be effectively uninhabitable.
As for Covid, we all know that a tradeoff has been made between the economy and death, disability and the costs associated with the disease.
There is tacit agreement across our society that the deaths of old fogies like us is a price that society is willing and able to pay to be able to get back to cruising, flying to Bali and going out to dinner in crowded restaurants free of pesky restrictions like masks.
The burden of this tradeoff falls disproportionately upon the elderly, those with chronic illnesses and the disabled. These people are not important economic units, either for production or consumption, so their demise is deemed to be of no great consequence.
So the great neo-liberal capitalist machine will thunder on for now until it reaches the true limits of sustainable growth and begins to self-destruct under the sheer weight of its inherent flaws and contradictions.
What is styled as ‘Western civilization’ will, just like the great civilizations that have gone before it, collapse in the face of a catastrophic failure to be able to support the vast edifice of human greed and folly it has created.
I am reminded of Percy Shelley’s famous poem ‘Ozymandias’:
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Perhaps those who lead us today should reflect upon Shelley’s words.