Can we talk a better world into being?

By Steve Austin

George Monbiot is a man I highly respect for his honest explanations about the condition of our planet. He has a recent column entitled “While economic growth continues we’ll never kick our fossil fuels habit.”  His premise:  We’re still in denial about the scale of the threat to the planet. That “it doesn’t matter how many good things we do: preventing climate breakdown means ceasing to do bad things.”  This can only mean the end of burning fossil fuels and massive deforestation, as those are the primary “bad things.”

He then delivers one stunning revelation after another proving that we are no where near where we need to be to avoid climate disaster.  Every year, we are spewing more CO2 into the atmosphere as essentially every society on the planet chases “economic growth.”  He writes: “Given that economic growth, in nations that are already rich enough to meet the needs of all, requires an increase in pointless consumption, it is hard to see how it can ever be decoupled from the assault on the living planet.”

Monbiot argues that our failure to get to where we need to be is due to our silence: “The worst denial is not the claim that this existential crisis isn’t happening. It is the failure to talk about it at all. Not talking about our greatest predicament, even as it starts to bite, requires a constant and determined effort.”  He writes:  “A recent survey suggests that 65% of Americans rarely or never discuss it with friends or family, while only one in five hear people they know mention the subject at least once a month.”

Ultimately, he issues his call to action:  “Let’s be embarrassing. Let’s break the silence, however uncomfortable it makes us and others feel. Let’s talk about the great unmentionables: not just climate breakdown, but also growth and consumerism. Let’s create the political space in which well-intentioned parties can act. Let us talk a better world into being.”

It is with this last that I have concerns.  If it is indeed as serious as he and many others suggest (and I believe that it is), then shouldn’t we say “let us talk a survivable world into being?”

Saying that we need to talk a “better world” into being will sound like social engineering, or politics, or personal choice to those who do not want to hear.  If halting climate change is seen as one of those things, it will become something that most people can ignore. And if the threat ignored much longer, then we will condemn billions of humans to massive suffering.

To me, the threat of runaway climate change is so dire that we need to be taking about working to keep the world survivable over the next few decades.  Perhaps a survivable world could be a better world, as a consequence of doing the things needed to be done to stop and reverse climate change.  Stopping and reversing climate change will necessarily end the expansionist industrial civilization that destroys soils, waters, cultures.

That might be a better world.  But “better” should not be our primary goal.  The goal should be to ensure that most humans should be confident of living through the next 20 years, the next 30, the next 50 – the middle age lifetimes of our teenage kids today.  Runaway climate change will bring famine and thirst and ecological despoliation.  These will cause hundreds of millions of humans to become refugees.  And from that, then, the wars will come. It must not get to that point. That is what we must be talking about.

Framing the issue in this way connects it to every single human.  It is not about social engineering, or politics, or economics, or lifestyle choices.  It is about our families.

A movement could arise from the youth of today that is expressed simply:  #iwantgrandkids

I am young and I want grandkids.

Climate change is likely to make that impossible.

We must eliminate the causes of climate change.


That is not about a better world.  That is about a survivable one.

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