Trevor Hancock: The need for change can provide opportunities

A few years ago, Naomi Klein wrote a book about climate change titled This Changes Everything. Her point was climate change is a crisis of capitalism and we need to radically rethink our society and economy, if we are to deal with it.

But she was only discussing climate change.

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We face a far greater challenge because, in addition to changing the climate, we are also massively polluting the Earth, acidifying the oceans, depleting vital resources and causing a sixth great extinction. If climate change alone changes everything, what does all of this mean?

The bad news is if we don’t change everything, and quickly, it might mean massive environmental, social, cultural and economic disruption within the lifetime of many alive today. That would mean traumatic change, disease, injury and death for millions.

The good news is that avoiding these outcomes will require massive environmental, social, cultural and economic disruption within the lifetime of many alive today — yes, you did read that correctly. Let me explain.

Last week, I joined a number of my colleagues from the University of Victoria on a panel to answer questions about climate change from 150 high school students at Claremont Secondary School. At my suggestion, the session was called Daunting Challenges, Endless Opportunities. Students’ questions and discussions that followed, were interesting, thoughtful and lively. It was clear they understand the situation and are looking for answers.

In my remarks, while not sugar-coating the severity of the situation, I stressed that while we face daunting challenges, the fact everything has to change also presents endless opportunities. Their generation will be the one that has to reinvent almost everything.

Albert Einstein told us: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

The economic, social, legal, political, technological, cultural and philosophical approaches that got us here — in short, our current form of civilization — has to be changed, and this is good news. It is also where the endless opportunities come in.

Reinventing everything is going to require massive, rapid and widespread innovation across all fields of human endeavour.

Our thoughts somewhat naturally tend to look to science and technology innovation, hoping for fixes — and perhaps hoping they will save us from having to undertake the biggest challenges we face as a civilization. And, there are plenty of scientific and technological innovations needed, from clean energy to non-polluting products, healthy low-meat diets to recyclable materials, innovative ways of cleaning up the environmental mess we have created and many others.

Taking all these new technologies and creating new entrepreneurial solutions will help create the new economy we need, providing new jobs while improving human and social development and ecosystem health. Beyond this, we also need social innovators, and the philosophers, artists and social activists who can express and communicate new values in appealing ways.

We see some of those new values emerging in the idea of the sharing economy. For example, we don’t need to own a car, a boat or a lawnmower. We can share them. This idea might be expanding to the housing sector, where there is renewed interest in various forms of co-living — be it with parents, other families or friends. There is also a renewed interest in old ways of relating to nature with reverence, respect and love, whether expressed spiritually or otherwise.

As I noted two weeks ago, we are beginning to see young leaders emerging to confront and address this situation, both globally and locally, including leading the so-called ‘climate strikes’ and the work of creating a Green New Deal. Some of them will be leading a discussion on youth leadership and inter-generational action at the next Conversation for a One Planet Region, June 20, from 5-7 p.m. at the Central Branch of the Public Library on Broughton Street, Victoria. It should be an interesting dialogue.

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.

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