Recently, two critical efforts to improve the future, healthcare reform in Washington and climate catastrophe mitigation in Copenhagen, hit a wall of compromise that proved (to me, at least) that our current model of relying on “leaders” to solve big problems does not work, and should not be expected to. The status quo simply has too much inertia for any small group of people to successfully challenge, especially if their livelihoods and personal power depends on maintaining it.
Unfortunately, it is the status quo that is killing many of us, demonstrably and unequivocally, and threatens to kill the vast majority of the rest in the not-too-distant future. Our dominant economic system, capitalism, with its relentless pursuit of exponentially increasing consumption, is depleting global supplies of everything, and its attendant waste is overwhelming the natural systems that make life possible on this planet.
Having adopted economic success as the basis of our values, we cede power to people for providing what we want rather than what we (and unrepresented future generations) need, regardless of their wisdom and ability to use that power responsibly. How else could a mere golfer and philanderer like Tiger Woods be a billionaire, and insurance companies with double-digit profits routinely deny health coverage for people who need it most and yet have a privileged influence on health care legislation? How else could corporate criminals that sabotage the world’s food supply and pedal planet-killing fossil fuels be allowed into the climate talks in Copenhagen, while environmental groups and representatives of poor countries being victimized by global warming are left out?
Our leaders are the people who represent our values, and if our values run counter to our survival, then the results of their efforts will too. This is because they will pursue the default strategy of tweaking an inherently flawed system. What is needed is a radical change in our values, and the taking of personal responsibility for the outcomes of our actions, however small. The system will only change when we -- all of us -- change, in our expectations, the way we think about the world, and ultimately our actions. If we no longer depend on “role models” such as people with economic power to show us how to live; and instead value everyone around us, along with the other species that share our identity with Nature and follow a path that preserves and encourages them to thrive, then we might have a chance at making it through this century, and offer a future worth living to another generation.