Getting through the economic and political chaos caused by the corona virus pandemic may be the least of our worries. The planetary climate is heating up steadily every year and the synergistic effects of this process will inexorably lead to the breakdown of the ecological balance of heating and cooling that keeps the Earth stable and temperate, which allows all higher lifeforms to flourish. The breakdown of this balance means that we will have passed so many environmental tipping points that the process of heating becomes unstoppable. Our planet will become a super-hot cinder block, possibly by the end of the 21st century, causing the extinction of all higher forms of life.
The pandemic has hurt the economy seriously, but the economy prior to the pandemic was hurting the ecology of our planet. The “free” capitalist fossil-fuel driven economy prior to the pandemic was worse for the world than an epidemic that will likely be under control within a year or so, allowing the world to get back to “normal.” However, “normal” is a disaster for the future of humanity and the ecological health of our beautiful planet Earth. The epidemic has interrupted this “normal.”
After the epidemic we need new economic, political, and cultural practices that provide the necessities of life to all people without destroying the environment that makes it possible to supply these necessities. Capitalism never provided these necessities in the first place. It funneled the wealth of the planet into the pockets of billionaires and millionaires while causing severe deprivation among at least 50% of our human brothers and sisters. Social scientist Christopher Chase Dunn speaks of “the absurdity of material deprivation in an age when the technological problems of providing basic needs are obviously solved” (1998, 340). The capitalist system itself is an “absurd” system.
Climate scientist James Gustav Speth writes that “most environmental deterioration is a result of systematic failures of the capitalism that we have today and that long-term solutions must seek transformative change” (2008, 9). We need, he says, to move to a “post-growth” society and create markets that work for the environment rather than against it. This, of course, must be a planetary phenomenon, for sustainable economic practices in one or just a few countries are not going the save human-kind from extinction by what environmentalists such as Joseph Romm (2018) and David Wallace-Wells (2019) call our coming global “heat-death.”
Climate scientists have near unanimous agreement concerning this projected scenario of planetary climate collapse unless there are rapid, drastic changes in the way global economics is practiced. Many advanced economists like Kate Raworth (2017), Richard Heinberg (2011), and Herman E. Daly (1996) have articulated the very doable parameters of a sustainable, non-growth economics. In this essay, I argue that putting sustainable economics into practice will require ratification of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth (www.earth-constitution.org). Only a united humanity with one environmentally conscious economic policy for all people and nations will suffice in time to restore and reverse (as much as is still possible) our descent into planetary heat-death.
Political unity under the Earth Constitution is not only essential for putting everyone on Earth on the same economic page, it is also essential because the present system (of run-away growth capitalism) is integral to the existing political system of militarized sovereign nations. Chase Dunn writes that:
The world-system has now reached a point at which both the old interstate system based on separate national capitalist classes and new institutions representing the representing the global interest of capitalists exist and are powerful simultaneously. In this light each country can be seen to have an important ruling-class fraction that is allied with the transnational capitalist class. (p. xix)
The state and the interstate system are not separate from capitalism, but rather are the main institutional supports of capitalist production relations. The system of unequally powerful and competing nation states is part of the competitive struggle of capitalism, and thus wars and geopolitics are a systematic part of capitalist dynamics, not exogenous forces. (p. 61).
The world system is indeed a system, run by undemocratic ruling classes, in which the political fragmentation into economically and militarily competing sovereign nation-states cannot be disentangled from the economic capitalism that dominates the world order. The global pandemic shows us that governments can address human needs apart from the so-called “free capitalist market.” Governments around the world are addressing the economic contraction caused by the virus with intentionally designed programs to allow citizens hurt by the pandemic to procure the basic necessities of life.
This is even true within the USA, the center of the fanatical global capitalist ideology. As Ellen H. Brown points out in Web of Debt (2007), all governments have the power to create debt-free money and spend money into existence on behalf of the good of society. The idea that money must be created as debt to private banking institutions (as in the US “Federal Reserve System”) is just nonsense. Common sense tells us what we need after the pandemic. It is simple and clear, but requires real transformative change.
After the pandemic, we need (1) non-growth sustainable economics for our entire planet, (2) debt-free government creation of money to provide all people with the necessities for living as well as investment in sustainable productive enterprises, and (3) global political unity overcoming the insane economic and military competition of nuclear armed autonomous nations operating in fear and secrecy. The time for “competition” is over, this absurd so-called “virtue” of capitalism. The time for unity, cooperation, and ecological harmony is long overdue. Survival requires that we overcome both the growth obsession of capitalism and the military obsession of rival sovereign nation states. Survival requires that we ratify the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.
Ratification of the Earth Constitution does not mean imposing a “top-down” set of regulations on the Earth. It means the synergistic empowerment for cooperation and collaboration on all levels of community from the local through the national, regional, and global. Such cooperation and collaboration are only possible within a planetary framework ensuring the equality of voice, the rights and dignity, of all the planet’s local and community participants. It requires planetary monitoring systems to protect the environment and careful use and monitoring of technological innovations. It requires demilitarization away from this awful waste of our planet’s resources on weapons of war.
Those anarchists, such as many in the Green Party within various countries, who think that you can have a planet of local sustainable communities with no central facilitation or coordination are hopelessly utopian. Human beings need rules for all of us, protecting our equality and dignity universally, and not leaving this protection up to the local egoistic struggles of community leaders in a global anarchy with no common equality before the law. As Chase Dunn expresses this:
The idea of global democracy is important for this struggle. The movement needs to push toward a kind of popular democracy that goes beyond the election of representatives to include popular participation in decision-making at every level. Global democracy can only be real if it is composed of civil societies and national states that are themselves truly democratic. And global democracy is probably the best way to lower the probability of another war among core states. For that reason, it is in everyone’s best interest. (1998, xxv)
Chase Dunn asks, who are the agents behind this movement? He answers: “all those who are tired of wars and hatred and who desire a humane, sustainable, and fair world-system. This is certainly a majority of the people of the Earth” (xxvi).
The global pandemic must wake us up to the need for global solutions (which the UN cannot provide because it is founded on the militarized sovereignty of independent nation-states). We need to overcome the insane fragmentation of militarized sovereign nation-states as well as growth-obsessed capitalist competition. Both of these aspects of our present world system are driving human beings rapidly toward extinction.
The Earth Constitution embraces all nations and peoples under the principle of unity in diversity. It fosters decentralized, cooperative communities, global economic justice, and environmental sustainability. It creates for our planet a harmonious peace-system, justice-system, and sustainability-system.
There exists, in sum, an easily accessible blueprint for solving our suicidal human problems on this precious planet Earth. It is called the Earth Constitution. In barely 30 pages, it applies the principle of unity in diversity to politics, economics, culture, and all forms of human fragmentation.
Races, religions, and nations now unite in a commonwealth that protects their diversity while integrating humanity into a successful future for all. After the pandemic, this is our central option and our way out of our present self-destructive modes of action and their corresponding absurd institutions. We need to act now to ratify the Earth Constitution. It is our real and only effective hope.
Brown, Ellen H. (2007). Web of Debt: The Shocking Truth About Our Money System. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Third Millennium Press.
Chase Dunn, Christopher (1998). Global Formation: Structures of World Economy. Updated Edition. New York: Roman & Littlefield Publishers.
Constitution for the Federation of Earth, with an Introduction by Glen T. Martin. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press. Also on-line at www.earth-consitution.org and other places.
Daly, Herman E. (1996). Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development. Boston: Beacon Press.
Heinberg, Richard (2011). The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.
Raworth, Kate (2017). Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.
Romm, Joseph (2018). Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know. Second Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Speth, James Gustave (2008). The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing the Crisis to Sustainability. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Wallace-Wells, David (2019). The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. New York: Tim Duggan Books.