As part of our Book Club reading this month, I’ve been diving into Carl Honoré’s In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed. Writing the summary for it, I found myself leaning heavily on the history of our collective obsession and addiction to speed, its antecedents being traced to the Industrial Revolution. “Industrial capitalism fed on speed, and rewarded it as never before. The business that manufactured and shipped its products the fastest could undercut rivals. The quicker you turned capital into profit, the quicker you could re-invest it for even greater gain. Not by accident did the expression “to make a fast buck” enter the language of the nineteenth century,” he writes.
Growing up, ’30 minutes or free’ was an association I had with pizza delivery. Now, at every turn, speed is the promise—whether it’s for groceries or purchases from online marketplaces. Intertwined with this is the message of ‘more’—to buy, possess and consume more. On a larger scale, this is playing out under the guise of development—coastal roads built on the graves of marine species, glass fronted high rises, railway lines that replace old growth forests and land mined for mineral wealth that fattens the pockets of the already super-rich. Reading Honoré as the Climate Change Summit (COP26) unfolded in Glasgow, I was cognisant of how production and emissions are spoken of in the same breath as ‘development’. This, despite the reality of a world heating up by two degree celsius and the ensuing devastation it will bring, challenging our very existence. Or as Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada put it, “We need to understand this is a matter of life and death. Not for the West, not for the East, not for the North, not for the South — it’s a matter of life and death for our children and grandchildren, my children and future grandchildren, everybody’s.”
Speaking to what has been positioned as a binary between development and the climate crisis, historian, social critic and political activist Noam Chomsky says in an interview with Jacobin, “I would like to see a move toward a more free and just society — production for need rather than production for profit, working people able to control their own lives instead of subordinating themselves to masters for almost their entire waking life […] The economic system of the last forty years has been particularly destructive. It’s inflicted a major assault on most of the population, resulting in a huge growth in inequality and attacks on democracy and the environment.”
The time has long passed that this is a conversation in binaries—of development versus the climate crisis. Never has it been more urgent to say: Enough. Enough of the shallow promises and not seeing them through. Enough of thinking that the crisis is far away from our reality. Chomsky adds, “A liveable future is possible. We don’t have to live in a system in which the tax rules have been changed so that billionaires pay lower rates than working people. We don’t have to live in a form of state capitalism in which the lower 90 percent of income earners have been robbed of approximately $50 trillion for the benefit of a fraction of 1 percent […] We now have a struggle. It can be won, but the longer it’s delayed, the more difficult it’ll be.”
As we wind down to the end of the year and bear witness to how the pandemic has widened the gap even further between the rich and the poor, it feels fitting to ask ourselves the question: When are we going to stand up and say- Enough?