The elephant in the room

A couple of weeks ago I attended the launch of a book that examines the responses of corporations and capitalism to climate change.

The book’s authors and guest speakers rightfully took capitalism and neo-liberal, free-market economics to task for the ideology’s role in stoking the climate crisis (you can watch a recording of the evening here). But there was an elephant in the room, the one that often looms large in the corner of climate talks these days: the lack of an alternative.

Too often advocates of climate action, with the best of intentions, focus on pointing out what’s wrong (which is very necessary) but don’t go the extra (and equally necessary) step of elucidating how we can do things differently.

Of course this is no easy task at all and I’m by no means casting aspersions on this book (which indeed looks at alternatives to business-as-usual capitalism). What I am saying is that if we as climate activists and the like want to bring the majority of people with us in demanding governments and corporations and people do what is necessary to avert dangerous climate change we need to point them in the right direction, not just avert them from a treacherous path.*

A few of us in the audience tweeting agreed, with one sharing this excellent quote from American designer, author and inventor Buckminster Fuller.

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

Talking about what’s wrong will only get us so far with capturing the weight of popular opinion and action; climate change discussions with a relentlessly negative focus prevent action while those with a positive focus encourage it.

We need to start discussing and spreading the big and little picture ideas and visions that imagine a sustainable, low-carbon or decarbonised economy with socially and environmentally responsible companies and science-based public policy. When we talk about the things that are wrong with the world that are causing climate change we need to speak equally as passionately about how these can change and how much more appealing this new world will be for all of us.

* (As I elaborate on here, the lack of focus on alternatives could be what has held back climate action to date).

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