The Last Stimulus

We shouldn’t ask whether we must get out of capitalism so that humans can survive. We must ask how and when.

  • The Electrical Building at the 1893 World Fair in Chicago.
    Illustration by Wikimedia Commons/Charlessgraham
  • Global energy demand will increase by 43 percent in the next 25 years.
    Photo by Flickr/Backbone Campaign
  • Conservative pockets in progressive regions have all fought to keep their familiar landscapes from being transformed by wind turbines and power lines.
    Photo by Flickr/Tomshockey
  • To produce the same amount of energy as fossil-fuel infrastructure, wind and solar require 10 to 100 times more ground space.
    Photo by Flickr/Cindyshelbey

In the lead up to Chicago’s 1893 World Fair, cultural elites sought to raise the masses’ level of “civilization.” Planners built educational exhibits to showcase new developments in agriculture and machinery, framed with neoclassical stonework like “a bas-relief personating Columbia enthroned, with a sword in her right hand and a palm in her left, and surrounded by Honor, Genius, and Wealth.”

But the public preferred more modern attractions: a proto-amusement park with a giant early Ferris Wheel, electrical fountains, spectacular night lighting.

The people wanted electricity. They would want it to light their homes and their streets, to power factories and appliances, in cities and on farms, in stadiums, theaters, and roller coasters. Despite the despair of a thousand cultural critics, the people still want it.

The costs of our thirst for energy could still doom the planet to climate chaos. The International Energy Agency projects that under a business-as-usual scenario — catastrophic for the climate — global energy demand will increase by 43 percent in the next 25 years. To keep warming at a safer two degrees Celsius, they project that global energy demand would have to only increase by 9 percent. Leaving room for poor countries to raise their living standards demands massive reductions in rich countries’ energy use.

How can we decarbonize energy and cut back its use in the rich world in an egalitarian and exciting way, offering prosperity for all? The new green capitalism doesn’t ask this question, preferring to protect profits while decarbonizing an economy built on vicious inequalities. But as disillusion with neoliberalism spreads and the threat of climate change grows, there’s an opening to organize around a different path.

In North America, one last stimulus of planned economic development could replace green capitalism with prosperous no-carbon cities and energy landscapes organized to meet ordinary people’s needs and whims. Unlike prior stimulus programs, this one wouldn’t save capitalism from stagnation by launching a new round of growth, but would dismantle the destructive growth imperative. It would raise money from existing pools of affluence to build a clean-energy grid, add jobs and shorten work hours, and democratically redesign our landscapes.

1/12/2018 8:38:44 AM

Very interesting and insightful. One can only hope. Are there really enough people with enough wealth, resources, commitment, intelligence, foresight, power, stamina, cooperation, to actually pull this off? One can only hope. Extreme greed and ego are two things that need to seriously be brought under control (taxed) to succeed, for there will always be those that don't give a damn about the future or anyone else. The criminal element in this world is very much alive and powerful and they don't mind enslaving the masses any chance they get, for their own profit. With great Capitalistic wealth, comes great power, the kind of power that allows ignorance and elitism to stay in control. I've sacrificed my entire life so as not to make a negative imprint on the future of mankind. I'm a simple person as to needs and wants. I rather give than take. I also don't know very many people quite like me. Do I just live in the wrong place? Do these qualities need to be forced on the masses? If there are massive differences in equality, there will always be uprisings and discord. Until the wealth gap is narrowed, there will always be skepticism from the lower class as to the integrity and agenda of the upper class. However, all that you say here almost certainly has to come to bear if we are to continue deep into the future. One can only hope. Our educational system has to undergo massive changes in order to get the masses on board. And this has always been an area of resistance. Again, because of the inequalities between those that do the work and those that think they know better and have the power. Things like universal health care and other worker benefits, like you said, have to be addressed in a very serious manner in order to move forward. You cannot have masses dedicating themselves to the cause unless they can feel some level of security. Until corporations are held fully accountable for the well being of its life long dedicated employees, you will have turmoil. Bankruptcies, and all related thieving techniques, by large wealth has to be brought under control, possibly be forcing those that commit these acts to make restitution at some point once they have recovered and prospered adequately. You cannot have masses of working class people thrown to the dogs because of greed and criminal activity. The end result may get here, but it'll take much longer if the foundation isn't shored up adequately as we go. Thank you very much. This is an article, an idea, a path that needs to be spread far and wide. Good luck and may the Force be with us as we head into an unknown future. Love and Peace.

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