The immense suffering caused by the Coronavirus Pandemic brings into sharp focus the tremendous failure of our global civilization to meet the basic needs of most of humanity. But this is only a taste of things to come if we do not decisively change how we live in order to preserve the fundamental preconditions for civilization itself.
The scientific evidence is in. We have little time left to avert calamity from environmental devastation, climate chaos, social/economic disintegration, and the violence and war that ensue when order breaks down. Back to business-as-usual will wreck our chances for civilized survival.
Fortunately, our response to this pandemic shows that we can change everything virtually overnight; if we continue through this open door we can create a new world that works for everyone. We simply have to:
- Support everyone with the basic shelter, food, healthcare, and other essentials they need to sustain a decent life.
- As circumstances allow, add back those activities that are benign or beneficial to people and planet.
- Leave off all that is both inessential and harmful to people and planet.
- Steadily put people back to the great work of the transition to a sustainable world.
If we are to follow this path that sustains life rather than the one that is destroying it we need more than the collection of great ideas and projects being put forth by so many brilliant people. We need a comprehensive, holistic plan. This will not be easy but the alternative will be far more difficult.
The following framework outlines essential changes we need to make if we are to pass a habitable world on to our children. By our children I mean all children, especially the most vulnerable. Just as we are all making major adjustments to protect our vulnerable elders here at home, we must also make major adjustments if we are to provide a livable future to our vulnerable children all over the world. To do so, five of our most critical system failures require swift correction:
Health System Failure: Most people’s overall health, including their immune defenses against Covid, are undermined by unhealthy lifestyles, toxic environments, and a medical system organized for corporate profit rather than the well-being of everyone.
Health System Revitalization Plan: Establish strong public health systems, each of whose mission is promoting health and well-being through healthy food, exercise, stress reduction, cleaning up our environment, and medical and mental health care for all who need it.
Why? Most of our health problems and susceptibility to disease are preventable. In order to achieve the broadest well-being and reduce the cost of providing medical care for all we must systematically support healthy lifestyles while we clean up our environment.
Cases in Point: Spain and Italy were recently identified by the World Health Organization as the healthiest two countries in the world, despite their struggling economies. Like all developed economies except the U.S. they have universal healthcare systems. But they spend only half the percentage of their GDPs on healthcare as does the U.S., with far better outcomes.
Despite the exceptional health of their people, both healthcare systems were severely stressed early in the Covid outbreak because their capacity had been gutted by Eurozone austerity measures following the 2008 financial crisis.
Economic System Failure: Our economic system is designed to increase wealthy elites’ power by exploiting the majority of humanity and plundering the Earth until it no longer adequately supports human life.
Economic System Revitalization Plan:
- Prohibit plunder of the Earth.
- Expand the money supply through Central Bank bonds for investments in Sustainable Infrastructure, a Job Guarantee, and/or a livable Universal Basic Income (UBI).
- Progressively tax financial transactions, very high incomes, and great wealth.
These methods would not be inflationary. Instead, they would replace money creation through private debt that requires inflation and causes boom/bust cycles. They would replace that with money sustainably spent into circulation creating jobs that productively fulfill basic human needs.
UBI could require a minimum number of hours of public service by those who are able. These hours could include caring for family members, non-profit volunteering, productive government work programs, and education and training. People who do not need or want UBI and its requirements could simply not accept it.
Why? Our current economic system requires relentless growth in activities that are destroying the basis for human life on Earth. But it is an artificial construct in which private banks create money through the issuance of debt that transfers money from the less well-off to wealthy elites. This is the root cause of our astronomical income and wealth disparity that is being exploited by right-wing demagogues supported by the super rich.
The current economic system establishes and preserves political control by private bankers and corporate interests by letting them create and control most of the money supply and use it to wield political power. That is what Occupy Wall Street was all about. Continuing this system will devastate people and planet while enriching the super wealthy even more, just like the 2008 recession did, except likely far worse.
In order to serve everyone we must institute a sustainable new economic system designed to support essential functions such as growing food regeneratively and locally, building sustainable infrastructure, providing a strong public health system, and caring for the elderly, disabled, young, and ill.
Cases in Point: With the highest taxation in the world, the Nordic countries nevertheless also have the highest overall quality of life and equality levels. In countries as diverse as Germany and China public banks have led to greatly increased prosperity because the benefits flow to the people rather than private bankers. All around the world UBI experiments have shown significant benefits with little or no disincentive to work.
Since the 2008 financial crisis new money has already been created by the trillions through Central Bank programs called quantitative easing. This shows that money can be created in huge quantities without excess inflation. But this money has gone to the wealthy elites instead of to people who would spend it on everyday essentials that stimulate the real economy.
Political System Failure: The U.S. is no longer a functioning democracy. Rather, it is a plutocracy ruled by wealthy elites who use their money and power to manipulate public sentiment, elections, and government action to increase their money and power at the expense of the people and planet.
Political System Revitalization Plan:
- Ban money from politics by establishing publicly-funded elections.
- Eliminate media control by the wealthy.
- Institute participatory democracy.
- Provide accurate information for democratic decision-making.
Why? Rule by self-serving minorities never has provided a decent life for most people, especially the disadvantaged. In order to reestablish legitimate democracy we must therefore eliminate the means through which tiny minorities rule.
Cases in Point: All five Nordic countries were rated in 2019 at or near the very top of the Democracy Index, Human Happiness Report, and inequality-adjusted Human Development Index. This demonstrates that a high functioning democracy supports a better quality of life for all.
Ecosystem Failure: We are rapidly destroying the necessary underpinnings of civilization through soil and groundwater depletion, air and water pollution, environmental devastation, and global warming. These are already decreasing food production in many places around the world.
Ecosystem Revitalization Plan:
- Institute local self-sufficiency for essential needs.
- Establish urban and rural regenerative agriculture.
- Protect, preserve, and restore natural ecosystems.
- Eliminate most pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from all sources.
Why? The survival of civilization depends on our ability to feed everyone. But fossil fuel use is destroying our ability to do so and it is too late for renewable energy to replace it fast enough. In order to preserve civilization, therefore, we must steadily cut out most long distance transportation; weatherize our buildings to greatly reduce their energy consumption; and grow food close to home in ways that save water and energy, build soil, and recapture carbon in trees, plants, and soil.
Cases in Point: The permaculture, agroecology, and eco-village movements have been developing locally regenerative ways of growing food and thriving on the land for decades, so most of the groundwork we need is already laid.
Social System Failure: People are alienated by a culture of self-oriented individualism that undermines genuine well-being and cripples our ability to cooperate peacefully and sustainably.
Social System Revitalization Plan:
- Reorganize social and economic relationships in ways that engender satisfaction and meaning through love, service, and mutual support.
- Organize people locally to work together face-to-face and shoulder-to-shoulder meeting our essential needs and overcoming our common challenges.
Why? Satisfaction and meaning come not from self-seeking behavior, but from loving and serving one another. For a worthwhile quality of life, therefore, we must place social solidarity at the heart of our new world.
Cases in Point: Our modern consumer culture tends to condition us to seek satisfaction and meaning through acquisition of things, experiences, and achievements. But all of the great traditions and the wisdom born of experience show us that deep meaning and satisfaction are found only through loving service to one another and to a higher purpose.
All of these systems must be transformed together because they form one whole For example, if we do not remove control of politics and media from wealthy self-interested elites we will be blocked from correcting any of the other systems.
Freedom loses its legitimacy when it harms others. And the economic and environmental effects of our way of life are already devastating the lives of billions of people around the world. We must therefore act decisively now to change how we live. Let’s walk through the door opened by the Covid economic disruption to a sustainable, more satisfying way of life that works for everyone.