Today I took time out from the chaos that I like to call my life so that I could hear scientist and environmentalist David Suzuki speak in person. There was nothing radically new in his talk – we have known for a long time what the problems are, and what kind of solutions we need, but the process of creating the political will to make those changes seems at times impossibly slow.
Indeed, when asked if he was preaching to the choir, David made the comment that preaching to the choir was a worthwhile exercise, because we all need uplifting. We need to know that we’re not alone. We need to be re-inspired. Tonight’s talk certainly did that for me.
David’s point was startlingly clear: “Economists and cancer cells think they can grow forever.” He asked us to reflect on what we think is important. On what brings us joy. And on what legacy we want to leave for our children and grand-children.
Those questions are what drove me, to my great surprise, to join the Greens some years ago. Not by nature a political animal, I shared the typical Australian distrust of political parties. Yet at the 2007 federal election I despaired of the major parties, and spent some time reading the Greens’ policies on their website.
When it dawned on me that there wasn’t a single policy that I disagreed with – that they were sane, rational, evidence-based policies that valued the things that were fundamentally important to me – I asked myself why I was not supporting this party. A party that prioritized compassion over corporations. A party that recognized our fundamental interconnectedness with the environment. A party that made its decisions based on evidence, not lobby groups.
So I joined. At first it was simply a matter of paying membership each year and doing odd bits of relatively unskilled volunteer work, like handing out how to vote cards, stuffing letterboxes, and scrutineering. I didn’t feel as though I was making a huge difference, but I was happy to be supporting an enterprise that seemed to be so aligned with my values.
As time went on I found myself more and more distressed by the political processes I saw going on around me. The new coal-fired power stations. The desalination plants. The astounding inhumanity towards refugees. The prioritization of the economy – which, as David Suzuki points out, is an entirely artificial human construct – over the fundamental things that keep us alive: the environment and our communities.
That’s why, when my local Greens organizer asked me to consider running for a seat in the Victorian Upper house, I didn’t say no straight away. In fact, I didn’t say no at all. Assuming I make it through the selection process, it will be 4th spot on the ticket in the South Eastern metro region – not exactly a Greens heartland. It’s not high profile, nor likely to be a winning proposition, yet every candidate helps raise the profile of the Greens, and the issues that really matter. It may well be a step on a longer political road.
Ultimately, though, the reason I said yes is that I am tired of whinging behind the scenes – or behind my computer – about how appalling it all is. About how no-one is doing anything about it. About how the priorities are all wrong. It’s time for me to stand up for what I believe in.
David Suzuki says that human ingenuity got us to where we are today. It is our ability to envision a different future – to look ahead and avoid the dangers, and design ourselves a different path – that made us the dominant species on the planet. We have never needed that ingenuity more than we do today. It is time to design ourselves, our species and our planet a new future. One in which we value the things that are truly important.
Not the shiny new cars and plasma TVs. Not the prestigious jobs and ever-growing, cancerous economies. But the people, the families, and the communities that sustain us. The earth, air, fire and water that give us life. The other animals that share the planet. The plants that give us air to breathe. All these things that in our economy are valueless. These things we will die without.
Even when we recognize that things are going wrong, we sit back and say “but what can I do??” Well, I’ve been doing that for too long. This is something I can do. I can speak up for what I believe in. I can stand behind it. What can you do?