#1 Scrap nukes
Why? Ballistic-missile-delivered nuclear warheads are the biggest, fastest, meanest weapons ever, and today there are thousands of them locked in each other’s crosshairs all around the globe. It wouldn’t take much – an unforeseen system failure, a geopolitical miscalculation, a rush of blood to the head of some incompetent nationalist military-political leader – for all hell to be let loose.
Why not? They keep the peace, don’t they? Ukraine relinquished its USSR-legacy nuclear weapons in 1994, under pressure from all sides, and look what it’s facing now. Taiwan was forced to terminate its own nuclear programme in the 1980s and might be in a more robust position today if it hadn’t. Honestly, which world-bestriding military power in 2022 would feel more secure without its nuclear arsenal?
Yeah, but… weapons are made to be used, and a horrible logic dictates that The Bomb will once again be brought into play, humans being what they are when they have too much power at their disposal. Also, manmade systems designed to prevent accidental launch are, like everything else in the universe, subject to Murphy’s Law. Whether triggered deliberately or not, the planet as we know it simply won’t survive an escalating outbreak of nuclear attack and counterattack.
#2 Leave fossil fuels in the ground. All of them.
Why? Every additional unit of fossil fuel that we burn today makes the ensuing havoc worse, in terms of additional misery for some person, or some family, at some place or point in the future. We’ve enjoyed a bonanza of burning over the past couple of centuries, but the rising accumulation of greenhouse gasses is tipping the climate into chaos. We have to stop feeding the furnace.
Why not? Our world depends on a supply of fossil fuels to turn the engines of wealth-production. Growth! Prosperity! Well-paid jobs! So, build an economic and technological offramp from fossil fuels by all means, but the process is going to take decades and in the meantime we’re going to need (much) more oil, gas and coal. We can’t just snap our fingers and expect the world to stop turning.
Yeah, but… time ran out on this one a few decades back. Every single drop of fossil fuel that we choose not to burn, today, subtracts from the eventual sum of suffering, for humans and all of nature. And by the way, the world economy is a subset of the actual world. There’s no former without the latter.
#3 End social hierarchies
Why? A hierarch was the high priest at the top of an ecclesiastical pyramid, and everyone in the pyramid knew their rank. Hierarchy suits armies and other organizations geared for zero-sum competition, but it’s not appropriate for consensual human community. It’s a system conducive to order, obedience and concentrated power, not to altruistic cooperation, fair play or responsible freedom. Most of us are either born or forced into hierarchies of gender, ethnicity, class, caste and their various sub-hierarchies, all of which squander human potential and legitimize the systems of exploitation and discrimination that so bedevil society.
Why not? Get real.
Yeah, but… It’s the elephant in the room (sorry, elephants). There isn’t a challenge that we face, as a social species, that isn’t at root a problem of fairness and failure to cooperate (see #1 and #2 above) – problems which manifest the artificial hierarchies whose tune we dance to.
#4 Preserve and restore forests
Why? We need to be worshipping trees. Seriously. Apart from being truly huggable and providing a million precious services for ourselves and other species, trees are carbon-capturing miracle workers. Also, thriving forests in some parts of the world support peoples whose ways of life stand as an example for all humankind (see #5 below), and are home to unrivalled biodiversity – more kith and kin to share Creation with.
Why not? Crops and livestock and expanding populations need space, not trees. Old Eurasia got rich and powerful partly by decimating its own forests so it’s only fair that the Tropics should have their turn. At present, all the valuable timber and mineral wealth on forested lands is going to waste. As for forest-dwellers, they need jobs and money as much as the rest of us. It’s time they joined modern society.
Yeah, but… trees are our friends. Does that mean nothing?
#5 “Indigenize” our minds
Why? A pathway to tackling all of the above problems wends naturally through ways of knowing and methods of thinking that are viably practised by tens of millions of people in probably tens of thousands of communities around the world today. The solutions are there in plain sight. For example: understanding that we belong to and do not sit apart from nature; acknowledging that any spiritual beings in whom we place our faith are as much a part of nature as we are and can never be an excuse for hurting nature or her children; and agreeing that the values we uphold and drill into the young must emphasize cooperation, consensual community and intergenerational responsibility over competition, personal advancement and near-term profit. Learning and practising these approaches is the tried and tested way to grow a healthy society which doesn’t blow itself up and/or lay waste to the very family of life that gave birth to and sustains it.
Why not? Think like the poorest people on the planet? Come off it.
Yeah, but… in reality this is the most important of my five wishes, in that I doubt we – denizens of agri-industrial-urban civilization – will ever scrap nukes, leave fossil fuels in the ground, end social hierarchies or preserve and restore forests without first relearning how to understand our place in the world, how to think about ourselves and each other, and how to pull together in the face of looming crisis.
Blimey. It’s the end of 2021 and I haven’t mentioned coronavirus yet. Or multibillionaires (specifically, anyone in possession of a megayacht, a space rocket or a multinational media-tech conglomerate), who I personally would like to see laughed out of polite society and banned from making pronouncements on anything that has a positive bearing on their project of sociopathic self-aggrandizement. That’ll be my wish for 2023.
In truth, what I wish for most, this and every new year, is health and good fortune for the little clan that I belong to. More and more, though, it feels like the clan’s – and everyone’s – health and well-being is contingent on realising the wishes listed above. So I offer these wishes as a sort of annex.
How about you?
Picture credit: A Yanomami girl, Susi Korihana thëri, photographed while swimming by Claudia Andujar. From Survival International’s ‘We, the people’ 2022 calendar.