I’ve been involved in environment, social change or peace groups for nearly 30 years and I certainly can’t remember facing such large scale challenges. I first became seriously involved with social change in 1983 during the nuclear arms build up of the Reagan and Andropov years. The USA was making statements suggesting that in the event of nuclear war they wanted to ensure that they could “prevail and be able to force the Soviet Union to seek earliest termination of hostilities on terms favourable to the United States” (Arms Control Association). We interpreted this to mean that US policy makers thought a nuclear war could be winnable and were moving away from the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (the idea that nobody would launch a nuclear attack because it would lead to their own destruction as well).
For the first time, it seemed that large scale nuclear war was a real possibility and that we faced the threat of a nuclear winter and mass nuclear destruction.
We now find ourselves in a very different situation. While the consequences of nuclear war were terrible, preventing them was relatively easy: we just needed to prevent nuclear war. (And I think it is worth pointing out that we were successful in doing so!) Now, although the consequences of climate change are unlikely to be as dramatic as nuclear winter, to prevent it we need to take proactive action rather than preventive action.
As a community we had little to gain from the nuclear arms race – except for the businesses that were making millions of dollars from the arms build up – and preventing nuclear war did not require large scale changes to how people lived. Unfortunately many people (particularly in the overdeveloped nations) are benefiting from the things that contribute to climate change and millions of people are going to have to change their lifestyles if we are to reduce the impact of climate change.
We face greater opposition now than in the 1980s because more people are threatened by the changes we need to make. As an aside, in the 1980s we were regularly labelled as being communists or Soviet stooges (because we did things like pointed out that the USA was the only country to have used nuclear weapons in war). We are no longer called pro Russian but are seen as being anti-free-market. You know, this time I’m actually quite happy to wear the label; I am quite prepared to say that I believe that capitalism and the free-market are unable to fix the situation we find ourselves in.
We also need to address the uneven distribution of resources where the life style of those of us in overdeveloped nations is dependent on the exploitation and suffering of millions of people in underdeveloped nations. I am amazed at how we (and I very much included myself in this) can continue to live our luxurious lives and ignore the fact that millions of people live in extreme poverty. Once again, addressing this imbalance requires large scale social change.
We hold the future of the world in our hands and, even though I am essentially an optimist, I feel pretty bleak as we enter 2012. I fear the future we are leaving Jasmine and Alexa – and they face a much more positive future than the millions of people living in extreme poverty. For the moment, I will continue to do what I can and hope that enough people decide to commit themselves to creating a more just and sustainable world.