Imagine a Joyful Economy (with James Gustave Speth)

Published by Wood Lake Books

James Gustave (Gus) Speth and Peter Denton – world experts in their respective fields – are two voices to which we should listen.

Co-chair of the Next System Project, Speth argues that despite victories in environmental law, habitat protection and conservation, the momentum of the destructive path we are on, driven by profit and the desire for perpetual growth, has only accelerated toward planetary catastrophe.

“We desperately need a new American Dream,” says Speth, “a dream of an America where the pursuit of happiness is sought not in more getting and spending, but in the growth of human solidarity, devoted friendship, and meaningful accomplishment; where the average person is empowered to achieve his or her human potential; where the benefits of economic activity are widely and equitably shared; where democracy and civic participation flourish at all levels; where the environment is sustained for current and future generations; and, where the virtues of simple living, community self-reliance, good fellowship, and respect for nature predominate. These traditions do not always prevail today, but they are not dead. They await us, and indeed they are currently being awakened across America.”

Looking at Christianity’s role, Denton sees both complicity in the destruction of the natural world, and the positive role it could still play. “Faith is entirely personal and individual, but it can also be collective and communal. Faith can mobilize whole communities into action, to ends which are both practical and which bring glory to God – and which transform our world in the direction of a sustainable future, one better choice at a time.”

James Gustave Speth, Author

James Gustave “Gus” Speth is a Senior Fellow at the Vermont Law School and at the Democracy Collaborative, where he serves as co-chair of the Next System Project. In 2009 he completed his decade-long tenure as Dean at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. From 1993 to 1999, Gus was Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and chair of the UN Development Group. Prior to his service at the UN, he was founder and president of the World Resources Institute; professor of law at Georgetown University; chairman of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality (Carter Administration); and senior attorney and cofounder, Natural Resources Defense Council.

Peter Denton, Author

Peter Denton is an ordained minister in the United Church of Canada, with a Ph.D. in Religion and Social Sciences (McMaster). His 30-plus years of interdisciplinary teaching and research have focused on the nexus of science, technology, and society. Adjunct Associate Professor of History at the Royal Military College of Canada, he is the author or editor of six books, including Gift Ecology: Reimagining a Sustainable World (2012), Technology and Sustainability (2014) and Live Close to Home (2016) and, since 2015, also a regular contributor of pungent op eds to the Winnipeg Free Press. Involved in various roles since 2012 with the Civil Society Unit of the UN Environment (United Nations Environment Programme), in 2014 he was honoured as an elder among the Maasai for his ongoing development work in Kenya.

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In politics, loyalty can be dangerous

(October 29, 2020)

NO government — however tyrannical — survives for long, except by consent of the people.

It doesn’t matter who you are, where or when you are, or how much power you wield. If the people withdraw their support, it is game over for any politician, government or system. “Power to the people” is just a reminder of that political reality, not some revolutionary call to arms.

Accountability is the thin red line between order and chaos. It’s what keeps in check the anger of the crowds at mishandled situations or poor government. Things may be wrong, things may be bad, but at some point, the people responsible will pay for what they have done and things will get better.

Lose that accountability, however, and all bets are off. Overnight.

American democracy is on display right now, if not actually on trial. The question is whether U.S. President Donald Trump and the Republican party will be held accountable for the gong show that politics down south has become, especially during the last four years.

Historically, we rejected the divine right of kings to rule over us, in favour of democratically elected governments. It is therefore ridiculous for any politician or political party these days to think they have some natural right to govern. Long terms of office, especially, are a mistake in any political system, because power without accountability tends to breed arrogance and entitlement.

For example, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was first elected a senator for Kentucky in 1984. Perhaps, like other longtime incumbents, he has been held accountable by the people of Kentucky every election since then, and they have just loved the job he has done. But given the evidence of the last four years, I suspect his continuation in office more likely reflects voters’ loyalty to the Republican party (McConnell became a U.S. senator five years before Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was born — and it shows).

In fact, it is fair to say this U.S. election, from the start, is more about loyalty than about issues or accountability — especially personal loyalty to Trump and his version of the Republican party.

Yet, if all politicians were truly accountable to the people, everywhere, there would be no long-term incumbents or safe seats of any political colour. Politics would certainly be much more interesting, as a result — and the people or parties that do a poor job would be punted out.

Without real and regular accountability, however, politicians and political parties come to believe they can govern with impunity, as long as they placate their “base” of forever-loyal supporters. As a result, they promote social, economic, racial and ecological injustice, trampling the rest of us underfoot — for now.

Believing you can govern with impunity is a dangerous, delusional attitude that can only have an inevitable and catastrophic outcome — in the United States, or in any society, anywhere else, including here in Canada.

At some point, the people will inevitably demand accountability. When that day comes, scores will be settled with those who at the moment arrogantly consider themselves the new “untouchables” — those political and economic elites whose positions (they think) are above any challenge from the rest of us.

We need loyalty; of course we do — not to individuals or political parties, but to the ideals on which a just society is founded. If we don’t hold our leaders accountable to those ideals, loyalty to individuals or a political party inevitably will become lethal to the democratic principles that are increasingly under threat in our climate-changing world.

Those ideals include the rule of law. When, in the Canadian West, the RCMP arrest Indigenous grandmothers to protect construction of a pipeline whose existence is harmful to the planet, as well as local ecology, but then stand by in the East and watch non-Indigenous lobster fishers torch the livelihood of Mi’kmaq lobster fishers, there is something seriously wrong with our system.

If the federal opposition Conservatives had wanted to demonstrate responsible leadership instead of childish petulance, they should have investigated the purchase and then construction of that pipeline, which wasted billions of taxpayers’ dollars. Instead, playing to their loyal base in Alberta and on Bay Street, they chose to hyperventilate about the WE fiasco that did little more than wreck a charity doing good work.

Rather than actually safeguarding the finances of Canadians or working toward a sustainable future for everyone, they are playing pointless political parlour games — impressing themselves, but no one else.

This is why young people such as Greta Thunberg and Autumn Peltier are frustrated and angry, because they find themselves having to be the adults in the room, as the world around them — and their future — burns.

I could wish a plague on the houses of all the immature, irresponsible politicians, but it is already here.

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