People generally vote selfishly. They will vote for what they believe is in the best interests of themselves and their families, sometimes in the name of their country. Increasingly this means voting for a manifesto that claims they will be better off if they are masters of their own destiny, able to ‘win’ because they have control of borders and resources. In a globalized world, this is a fantasy peddled by arrogant, egotistical, isolationists who have failed to understand that we live in a single, natural, system. It is my belief that no matter where you draw the boundaries, we are literally all in this together. We share the planet, “the only home we have ever known”.
In the west, we have lived through a time of growth & prosperity, where millions of people experienced a year on year improvement in their quality of life. For a time, there was widespread recognition that this improvement was reliant on a globalization agenda, opening up borders, sharing security and offering help developing countries, where and when it suited our own progress. In other words, we would be better off if we supported free trade, movement of labour and mutual security.
But over the last decade, the tide has turned. Sufficient numbers of countries around the world are now in a position to compete, and indeed to win. So much so that a different narrative has emerged; a rhetoric of meritocracy, where the best will rise to the top of the world order again, especially if they aren’t held back by others. People want change, but what they really mean is to go back to how it was when they were winning. This is their version of hope.
There are a small number of people who are able to look beyond the current system, to understand that even when people thought they were winning, they were losing. By this I mean that they were losing control of the natural systems that are the foundations of all life. Even if business and political leaders knew this, most weren’t prepared to acknowledge it, and almost none had an incentive to do anything other than protect the status quo whilst increasing profits or getting re-elected. I now fear that those of us who grasp the enormity of this challenge have almost no hope of convincing sufficient numbers of voters to understand and act on this basic truth, especially when they are being sold a more immediately hopeful story by others.
Trump’s shock victory in the USA presidential election is an even bigger signal than ‘brexit’ that the meritocratic isolationist rhetoric is in the ascendency, offering false hope to the millions who feel they are being left behind. For a time, they might even have cause to feel good about their choice, as fossil fuel based infrastructure and manufacturing provides a surge in productivity. Meanwhile, the natural systems that support that productivity will continue to suffer, and it doesn’t matter how good you think you are, you can’t fool the planet.
If Trump withdraws the USA from the Paris climate change agreement, I think there is no chance that the world will stay within its two-degree average warming target, let alone the aspiration for less. The UK government has already signaled its support for ‘fracking’ rather than renewable energy as a means of providing energy security and supporting economic growth, but by any measure, the UK is just an indicator rather than an alarm. If, as promised, Trump opens up the coal plants again, there will be little or no incentive for the colossal economies of China, Russia and India not to follow suit. This is the road to disaster. The alarm is real. The fear is justified.
We need a different kind of hope.