I have always tried to steer well-clear of politics in this blog. The reason is simple – sustainability is inherently non-partisan, and we’ve been living in a highly partisan world, and commenting on politics at all can run the risk of politicizing the real issue – that everyone can stand behind – to do what we can to ensure the sustainability of human civilization, and promote its ongoing evolution and improvement.
But waking up to Obama’s speech in Berlin this morning, I can’t help but share it. He hit so many of the really core issues in ways that made sense in the context of the ‘issues of today’ – touching on the details of what we face – while at the same time pointing upstream to the root causes of those issues. And he articulated why it’s important to come together as one world to face our real enemy, our common enemy, of unsustainability. Of course he didn’t use those words, but that is what it’s about – from global warming to terrorism, from democracy to Zimbabwe, from nukes to Darfur, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Israel, and Palestine – these are all completed interrelated, and too often we try to deal with their complexity by separating them and pretending they are not – that one is more important than the other. We create a fantasy world and try to apply theories to it. This speech does a good job of moving away from that, of acknowledging the complexity, the problems, the challenges, but focusing on the aspirations we all hold, which is the most likely way for us to come together to overcome them. With these aspirations we can imagine the future we want and work together to create it. This is hard work - not just pick-up-a-shovel-and-put-your-back-into-it hard work - but also the hard work of looking inside, identifying the assumptions we have and the patterns of thought we go through in making choices and how those choices affect others and the rest of the world. This is not easy to do - we have very ingrained ways of thinking and ideas about how the world works, how it necessarily has to work, and it is those thoughts, that spawn the actions, that make the world actually work that way. We have an opportunity with this leader to undertake that work in a meaningful way. So much of it depends on what we Americans think, and as a result how we act, what we buy, who we vote for, etc.
He was speaking in Berlin, so there is of course a theme of walls, and walls coming down. He notes how we can’t keep putting up walls and turning inward as nations and cultures and expecting good things to come. The world is too small and interrelated for that in this century. Shell has been doing scenario planning on the global scale for years. One of the most frightening negative / worst case scenarios that they identify as a possibility is the “Fortress World” – where walls (literal physical walls as well as cultural and policy walls) go up in an overzealous attempt to satisfy our need for protection, not by addressing the root cause, but by applying a band-aid to the cancer. I don’t think Obama is being naïve in suggesting we work together and actually address upstream causes – he recognizes the real, immediate dangers of the challenges we face, and the need to stand strong against those – from rouge states to terrorism to global climate disruption - but we can do that while at the same time addressing the real, underlying problems fueling those challenges. We need those walls in our minds to come down as well. Stay going.