Clearly something has gone horribly wrong over a broad spectrum of issues. This summer the decade long trend of record-breaking temperatures lead to record breaking fires ravaging BC and California claiming lives and destroying property. This fall saw a hurricane season unprecedented for its intensity and duration; almost half the world’s wealth is in “off-shore” accounts evading taxes that are supposed to support just, and sustaining economies; our oceans are becoming seas of plastic and pollution; the idea of clean water and a warm place to live becomes ever more elusive to much of humanity; even peace as the foundation of a decent, just and safe world seems to have been abandoned in the mad rush to implement the neo-liberal agenda of enriching the few and entrenching corporate interests over democratic values.

In its quest to exploit the natural world for human needs and greeds humanity has developed an intricate understanding of math and science. Complex equations allow us to predict the behavior of social and natural systems in a way that would have left prophets of an earlier age awestruck. Yet, collectively, we cannot seem to grasp the simple concept that the infinite growth of material consumption in a finite world is not possible. Nor can we seem to see the obviously growing deleterious impact of our discarded waste on ourselves and our world. Blinded by the improvident idea that economic growth is, of itself, our only path to a better world, we cannot see —nor even perceive–the social and environmental cliff over which we are being stampeded. Despite the clear dangers ahead, those who point to the cliff have been isolated and mocked as silly naysayers who cannot be allowed to stand in the way of human progress/economic growth.

Things are changing, not just in the perception of the obvious and imminent dangers ahead but—perhaps most significantly—in the message of those who realize that pointing to social and environmental dangers will never change behavior unless it comes with a workable, better alternative and—most importantly—with a new, post capitalist view of what civilization is about. 

We are now beginning to see the outlines, however fuzzy, of the new civilization we must build if we are to survive the twenty-first century.  In the In the spring of 2015 representatives from Canada’s Indigenous rights, social and food justice, environmental, faith-based and labour movements came together to write what became the Leap Manifesto; an action plan that went beyond the limiting no of resistance movements to begin the outline of a “yes” to a more ecologically and socially sound human civilization.

According to the Leap Manifesto, we could live in a country powered entirely by renewable energy, woven together by accessible public transit, a country in which the jobs and opportunities of this transition are designed to systematically eliminate racial and gender inequality. Caring for one another and caring for the planet could be the economy’s fastest growing sectors. Many more people could have higher wage jobs with fewer work hours, leaving ample time to enjoy  loved ones and flourish in human scaled communities.

A foundational assumption of the manifesto is that “…small steps will no longer get us where we need to go…so we need to leap.”

According to the Leap, The money we need to pay for this great transformation of value is available — we just need the right policies to release it. Like an end to fossil fuel subsidies, financial transaction taxes, increased resource royalties, higher income taxes on corporations and wealthy people, a progressive carbon tax.

The manifesto ends with a call for town hall meetings to define the details of what a genuine leap to the next economy means.

The Leap is an important step forward in that it begins with recognizing that no is not enough and small corrections to a failed system are no more useful than band aids on a rupturing dam. The Leap is a starting point for inspiring change, but—unfortunately—while the Leap proposes major adjustments to the currently collapsing economic/social system it fails to recognize the inherent flaws in an ever growing economy or the near breaking point damage we are doing to the whole of the natural world as we grow over/consume all other life forms on our planet.

Human civilization is threatening much more than just our climate. The science of disappearing species points to the real and all too immediate risk of ecosystem collapse. Human beings along with our pets and livestock now amount to 98% of all mammalian biomass on Earth. The collapse of insect, bird and fish populations is being noted around the world.  Earth’s vast oceans, the cradle of life and force behind our predictable seasons, have become reservoirs choking with discarded plastic and cesspools of human waste. Our soils along with the basis of a functioning ecosphere are eroding at rates far beyond what nature can regenerate.  All this makes for a dimension of human value that the  “Leap” alludes to but fails to see the significance of its emphasis on a renewed sense of “abundance” in place of a more informed understanding of sustainability.

We need to, urgently, start talking(and acting) about our place in the natural world. We need to stop talking about (and acting on) ways to grow our economy. Yes, we can live better with less, but we aren’t talking small steps or even leaping to new dimensions of wealth. We are talking of fundamentally altering our relationship with Planet Earth and—in so doing—the basis of human civilizations.

Somehow framers of the Leap missed the most important word—sustainability. Everything we do must, now, be evaluated in terms of a comprehensive, new vision of sustainability. Yes, sustainability includes policies that sustain humans as well, however– climate change is so obvious and immediate that many have been lulled/duped  into thinking that if we could just get economic incentives right, we can bring climate change under control and be off again with another frantic round of unlimited, ever escalating growth. But climate change is just one aspect of the systems collapse that is being driven by our ecosidal absorption with growth. Talk of a leap to a new sense of abundance—even when that leap includes incentives to deal with climate change–without an overarching, imperative anchor in sustainability is like offering discomforted railway passengers extra blankets on a train full steam ahead for the bluff.

My argument isn’t that the Leap doesn’t propose some important steps; my concern is that, on the scale of issues facing humanity, the Leap offers some valuable steps at a time when we, indeed, need to leap to a whole new vision of how human culture can define a relation to the natural world, and among ourselves, that is mutually sustaining.  If we are to survive our addiction to material consumption, and its axiom economic growth, we must find a way to talk with other humans about values that begin, intrinsically, in our inherent emeddedness in the Earth’s ecosystems–sustainability.

More on this in weeks to come. I am definitely looking for your thoughts/inspirations/actions. What does sustainability mean to you and what are the steps (leaps if you like)we must take to get there?

Norm Reynolds