By GREG GERRITT
My favorite author, the late Ursula K. Le Guin, wrote about a certain kind of wizard, the Patterner, in her Earthsea Trilogy. I’m no wizard, but I do see patterns, and then write about them. In the same set of books Le Guin also points out the importance of calling things by their real name, and that only by calling things by their real name can you have power to change things.
Part of looking at patterns is the ability to connect the dots on the events of the day. Part of using the real name of things is speaking truth to power.
Recently, in the space of 24 hours, the Providence Journal wrote an editorial titled Going out on a green limb slamming the Green New Deal, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), with the permission of Gov. Hedge Fund, decided to scoop — read steal — money dedicated to pedestrian and bicycle projects so it could be used to fund roads and bridges, including a new off ramp in the speaker of the House’s district, and a research paper came out from the Institute for Public Policy Research entitled This is a crisis: Facing up to the age of environmental breakdown.
The connection is that opposing the Green New Deal the way the Providence Journal does is exactly the same mindset the governor and RIDOT are showing. The received wisdom of the 1 percent is that it’s not possible to take the ecological crisis on Earth seriously and it’s not possible to take the challenges posed by climate change seriously because the things we would have to do to reverse the damage would take too much power away from the oligarchs. Their solution is to call it socialism and then pretend you don’t have to discuss it further.
Climate change is the existential crisis of our times, with the only thing that might beat it to the punch being nuclear war set off by crazy oligarchs like the one in the White House. Barring nuclear war, human-induced changes in the climate due to the incredibly excessive release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is already causing major disasters, from floods and droughts to heat waves to hurricanes and wildfires. The cost leaps up every year as the temperature rises and climate refugees swell in number, as natural disasters drive warfare for resources and drive people to seek food and shelter.
And for the bean counters, rest assured that the cost of transition is less than the cost of continuing on the fossil-fuel path.
The ecological crisis isn’t just climate change, which may be looming faster and more powerfully than any of the other manifestations of the ecological crisis. Other parts of the ecological collapse include the water crisis, the extinction crisis, the deforestation crisis, the collapse of insect populations, the destruction and emptying of the oceans, and the loss of nutrients and soil. And this isn’t an exhaustive list. Each year, the biological life on the planet is diminished by more than 1 percent, as we use 1.7 times the biological productivity of the planet each year, with the rate of depletion going faster and faster.
The governor and the Providence Journal believe the same fantasy: that you can have infinite growth on a finite planet, and that economic growth, the expansion of GDP, is the single-most important and beneficial thing they do, despite the fact that it’s killing the planet and that almost all of the growth — or rather supposed growth — is ending up in the hands of a tiny sliver of the population, while more and more people are falling further and further behind. Growing inequality is a threat to both democracy and the economy.
The governor and Providence Journal intentionally misread the economy — mostly to protect ruling-class interests, especially political power — and misread the intentions and thinking of those opposed to their power grabs and stealing — often calling the opposition some term related to NIMBY, when the opposition is principled opposition to misguided policy that harms communities and the planet.
They totally misread and ignore the ecology of the planet that keeps us all fed, and misunderstand how critical green transformation is if our communities are to thrive in the 21st century and beyond. All they seem capable of is protecting the status quo, which means rigging the system for the rich and powerful, and doing everything to prevent real discussion of what the future seems to hold for our communities. It means placing their faith in economics that is drifting ever further into theoretical models and farther away from what produces prosperity in communities.
Providence resident Greg Gerritt is the research director for Prosperity for Rhode Island.