If we are to avoid being in a permanent ecological crisis, breaching the limits to growth, there are two over-arching requirements that our political, economic, legal etc. systems must observe:
1) 11 1) They need to involve genuinely long-term thinking, long-term planning. (We need and feel to think the needs of the 7th generation, and beyond.)
2) 22 2) They need also to be able to be rapidly-responsive to swiftly-changing environmental conditions, when those arise; e.g. to potential ‘climate surprises’, and in general to the need to change systems fast which are fuelling ecological threats that we have very limited time-spans to avert.
As soon as one reflects honestly upon the nature of the systems that we do in fact have, one realises just how dire a situation we are in, and how dramatically we need to shift our energy in order to give ourselves a chance of bringing about the change that we need in order to escape the crises currently staring us in the face, and in order not to jump into the frying-pan of endlessly succeeding crises (e.g. those which would be caused by our having no solution to the huge nuclear waste problem, by our hoovering up the tar sands and oil shales, by the ever-lengthening supply-lines and ever-diminishing sense of community implicit in the project of globalisation, etc.).
For this is the nature of the actual systems that we have:
1) They are incredibly short-termist. We think largely in terms of ‘business-cycles’, electoral-cycles, etc., at best. These are far shorter than the time-scales with which nature works, and upon which our descendants are hanging, as by a thread.
2) And yet they are also remarkably slow to respond to swiftly-changing environmental conditions, when those arise: A huge inertia is built into our energy-infrastructure, into our business and ‘market’ systems, into our politics. Think for instance of how difficult it has been to get the hydrogen economy or electric cars take seriously. Let alone shifts (e.g. to a steady-state economy, or to permacultural methods of agriculture) which require more fundamental alterations to the status quo. Or think of how poor many of our ‘democratic’ / electoral systems (case in point: First past the post) are at making feasible rapid change in the fundamental political forces in a country (FPTP makes it almost impossible for any new Party to grow at anything other than a snail’s pace).
Think of how conservative so much of our mind-set tends to be: We look to make the minimum possible reforms, as slowly as possible, to keep our system(s) staggering along, thinking only of the short-term as we do so.
If we are as a civilisation going to survive this century, and to put ourselves on a long-term path toward survivability and a culture that will last as permanently as is humanly possible, then we need to change this.
This is going to be very hard: for the very reasons indicated here! Fundamental features of our political economy, perhaps of our very psychology, militate against it.
That just makes it all the more important that we set our minds firmly to it. For the alternative – failure to change (1) and (2) – is clear. And disastrous.
We need in effect a revolution, or a linked set of revolutions. The kinds of change that occurred when Copernicus displaced Ptolemy, when the British or the French overthrew their monarchies, when slavery was abolished. Perhaps the revolutions that we need are even greater in profundity than those. No matter: we must make them nevertheless, for on our doing so our futures and those of our children depend. We can have a world in permanent ecological crisis, or in a state of collapse: or we can have a world in which we flourish, through changing radically the systems within which we operate. Those are now the only realistic options.
Business as usual with a few light green bells and whistles to decorate it is no longer an option.