The word “we” falls easily from the tongue, effortlessly encompassing each individual person on the Earth. We, the whole of humanity, are destroying the environment. We are creating greenhouse gases. We must cut CO2 emissions. And so on.
Yet, aside from an abstract sense of belonging to the same species, it used to be that “we” didn’t speak for the whole human collective. Difference was too great. There were people in remote places who still lived apart, outside of the globalizing forces that originated in the West, which is to say, Europe. But the en-globement is now complete. The hydrocarbon economy, vehicle for globalization, is total. No one can truly be said to exist outside of it.
But if you ask who can resolve the problems of the bio-sphere. Ask who can actually instigate and carry through the changes we need to make to the way we live. Then the composition of this “we” looks different. Because, out of the entire population of the planet, only 5% at most and probably less, are actually in a position to be able to initiate change on the kind of scale that is going to work.
The rest of us 95% are locked into daily life, concentrating to greater or lesser extents on getting through the day, or the week or, in more extreme cases, just surviving. Within the pattern of work – eat – rest/watch TV – sleep – work, who has the time to think? Even events that are close to home such as chronic pollution, dying trees, floods and droughts, all sail by in the news cloud, barely registering as thoughts in the socially engineered mentality of methodological individualism – this being the predominant mind form of the age.
In other words, no one can step outside of life. And we can only use what is available for us to live it. We have to get up in the morning and cook our breakfast on a cooker fuelled by natural gas in a house heated by natural gas or oil or electricity generated from coal, natural gas or oil. We have to get to work, or anywhere at all, by car or plane or train, powered in one way or another by oil, coal or natural gas. You have to buy food that is sprayed with petroleum based pesticides and herbicides, and then wrapped up in toxic plastics that are also made from oil. And so on.
This isn’t meant to be a litany, the point is to illustrate how, as individual people, “we” are absolutely unable do anything much at all to alter anything. If we drop out and stop using hydrocarbons at any of the moments and stages in our lives, we cannot exist. To labour the obvious, we would have no job, no money, no food, no heating and no clothes and no life. So even if the majority of us understood very well what is happening to the planet, and might feel like jumping up and shouting, if not screaming– hey, stop the train! I want to get off – you can’t. And this is doubly true because the driver, if in fact there is one, can’t hear you, and isn’t interested in what you think anyway.
The 5% of course, are driving the train. Or they think they are. What they can’t see is that the train is a runaway and that when it comes off the rails they are going to be on it too. Their lack of future sight (no kind of clairvoyance here, just looking to see what’s coming) is caused by the fact that all their attention is focused on the carriages, and on making sure the passengers behave, so that the status quo, and their position as drivers, is preserved. A lot of resources, both in the way of money and people, are devoted to maintaining this situation. So if you do get past the ticket collectors and guards and you get the will and energy together to do something, you won’t get anywhere because there is no where to go.
All that is left to us is such meaningless tokenism as not using plastic bags, walking to the corner store, keeping a blog, or contributing to all the NGOs and protest and pressure groups that still think draping banners across buildings, hanging from oil rigs, staging street demos and handcuffing themselves to the railings are going to make some kind of difference.
The moral of the story is that everything that is being done now to reduce our use of hydrocarbons, is a total failure. Strategy and tactics need to change – and fast.
Question is, who is going to rescue the train?