Thursday, December 17, 2020

The System

I'm currently reading On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal by Naomi Klein. I'm finding it a powerful and much-needed call to action regarding new and radical thinking and action to address climate change.

In her introduction, Klein analyzes several wide-ranging government projects that brought lasting and needed transformation to countries--whether the U.S. or others--as examples of how something like a Green New Deal is possible. Specifically, she names the original New Deal, the U.S.'s organizing during WWII, and the Marshall Plan in Europe. 

After explaining what each of these consisted of, she says:

Past problem solvers did not look for a single "silver bullet" or "killer app"; nor did they tinker and wait for the market to trickle-down fixes for them. In each instance, governments deployed a barrage of robust policy tools (from direct job creation on public infrastructure to industrial planning to pubic banking) all at once. These historical chapters show us that when ambitious goals and forceful policy mechanisms are aligned, it is possible to change virtually all aspects of society on an extremely tight deadline, just as we need to do in the face of climate breakdown today. The failure to do so is a choice, not an inevitability of human nature. As Kate Marvel, a climate scientist at Columbia University and NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says, "We're not doomed (unless we choose to be)."

The biggest problem with trying to change a system is opposition by people who benefit from how it currently works. A proposal like the Green New Deal is opposed by those heavily invested in industries like oil and coal: phasing these out in favor of things like solar and wind power greatly affects their bottom line. 

Changing the system means loss of power and privilege.

This week has included the anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The death of 20 children should have changed the debate on gun control. Instead, the Senate failed to pass a new assault weapons ban the following April. People invested in the current system of acquiring firearms benefit from it too much to change how it works.

This is to say nothing of how systems in politics, workplaces, churches, and so many other areas have white supremacy, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny baked in, such that rooting those features out can threaten their entire structure. 

It's far easier to hope little tweaks trickle down instead of considering an overhaul. Until more people are willing to give up their stake in a system, the latter will be difficult to do. 

We're not doomed unless we choose to be.