Brief: Which picture can we use to lobby a societal transformation that is necessary, laborious and sane? A transformation that neither continues the procrastination of the past 40 years nor invokes panic-inducing, apocalyptic visions? It is evident that the middle ground is the solution, and I still believe that the speed and resolution that is possible during war times may give us hope, but “war” is definitely not a desirable image. I am toying with the idea to call it “spring cleaning.” What do you think?
When we discuss how we can transform our societies such that both our children and we can expect a good life, the public framing seems to oscillate between two extremes:
A. Something I call “continued procrastination”.
The framing is various:
1. We need to fund more innovation and entrepreneurship because so far, we have not yet discovered the innovation that is both cheap and as effortless as installing a new light switch in our walls.
2. We need to focus on the positive visions, of wouldn’t it be nice our future looked so-and-so (without any regard for the unfortunately huge role that necessities play in our own time and even more so in the future).
3. We need to focus on mass psychology, self-efficacy, and largely symbolic actions. Organizations are campaigning that people stop using plastic bags at checkout, ignoring the disproportional increase in plastic packaging on the shelves. I totally agree that psychology is important, but it can also be a trap.
I believe our present procrastination path is patently wrong. We do have almost all solutions, except that they require high investment, a lot of work, and political will to change laws, regulations, and expectations. They will also make some rich people lose money while others have a chance to improve their well-being and wealth. And no, progress in the right direction at insufficient speed does not necessarily contribute to a solution. What do you think about a business on the verge of collapse, where 90% of the capital is tied up in a division contributing 1% to the results? Or the entrepreneur who orders a new production hall and listens every day to the builder praising the building progress, but forgot to fix a completion date in the contract? Or ask about it?
B. The alternative is often – wrongly – pictured as inevitable doom or apocalyptic visions of fire and extinction. I have no apocalyptic visions of the end of humanity. I even think that Extinction Rebellion, among many correct analyses, is sometimes promulgating too much of an apocalypse. Climate tipping points are scary, self-enhancing processes, but not every run-away process ends in total destruction. I support Satyagraha as nonviolent resistance against the destruction of significant parts of our biodiversity heritage and life supports systems, but Satyagraha as insistence on truth (literal translation) to me also means that we should not talk about the extinction of humanity is very likely.
We probably all know that a very large area of sane action exists between procrastination leading to our present compulsive societal disorder syndrome and apocalyptic doom leading to resignation. Yet the extremes dominate the discussion, and I observe that we have no good campaign term for the middle ground. How do we call the actions that are radical with respect to our expectations of continuing the wastefulness and gluttony of the past decades but entirely within the limits of our constitution, that are expensive, will require new compromises, change our cities, landscapes, consumption patterns, use of time and distribution of wealth in such a way that we – slowly, but fast enough to evade a climate and biodiversity catastrophe – build a society and way of living sustainably for many generations?
Some terms are the great transition or the green new deal. But as for a simple picture, not tied to a specific program, just generally embodying the desire for positive change even if it is laborious and somewhat painful, I want to suggest a more down-to-earth term here. One that is slightly outdated, just like sustainable living styles have become outdated:
Spring cleaning (Frühjahrsputz in German).
What do you think? I appreciate your comments!