Big Ideas

I agree with Greta Thunberg. We are in a climate emergency but no one is acting like it. At best, our political leaders are treating it like a problem, not an emergency.  We really need to transform our thinking. It is much too late for little ideas. We need big ones.

Norman Brandson, the former deputy minister of Manitoba Department of Environments wrote well on the subject in the Winnipeg Free Press. He said,


Big ideas are transformative, visionary. U.S. president John F. Kennedy did not check with the General Accountability Office before presenting the American people with the vision of reaching the moon.

Although having a big idea ought to be part and parcel of political party agendas, it’s also necessary to have a good big idea, one that captures the imagination, enthusiasm and support of the voters, and is achievable. If either test fails, the big idea fails.


If we had dealt with the climate change issue 50, or even 30 years ago, when we were first alerted to the danger, we might have got by on modest ideas. Frankly, I have a deep preference for modest ideas over radical ideas. I guess that makes me fundamentally conservative (in the true sense of the word, not in the modern perverted sense of the word.) We squandered those decades, now it is too late for anything other radical new transformative ideas. Now we need ideas as radical as the Green New Deal in the United States. I will comment on that later.

Brandson put it this way:

“The big idea we ought to be talking about — not just at election time, but all the time — is the transformations necessary to enable the transition to a world economy that runs on renewable energy and is carbon-neutral (zero net emission of greenhouse gases); the essential precursor to the Green party’s big idea.”

Actually we need to discuss an even bigger idea—the need to change from a consumptive society to a much more modest society, but I will leave that as well for a future occasion. I am thinking about the election that we just had in Canada. Brandson mentioned that Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party in Canada is much too savvy to be talking about transformative ideas like that during an election. This reminds me of what Kim Campbell said in her one and only election while she was leader of the Conservative Party of Canada: “An election is no time to discuss serious issues.” Sadly, she might be right.

.        I have called the idea of constant growth the original sin of economics and the capitalist system. David Suzuki called this the creed of cancer. The idea that it would be possible and even desirable to have constant growth is what is killing us. This idea is poisonous. It does not have legs. It is the current big idea, but it is dead. We need a new big idea. This new idea was described by Norman Branson this way:

“It would be seen as an attack on the universally accepted measure of economic success — at least in the financial sector — growth. It would be a challenge to the reigning economic philosophy so successfully promoted by the Chicago School of Economics and its acolytes — deregulated free-market capitalism.

The Green party has called for a war on climate change, but of course you don’t wage war against a phenomenon; you wage it against the causes or, in this case, the economic and social paradigms that are the cause of climate change and the interests vested in those paradigms. Such talk is not likely to win too many seats in Parliament, at least not yet.

What we require is an adjustment to, not an abandonment of, our current economic thinking. We need a Chicago School-style philosophical revolution that articulates an economic philosophy appropriate for our time, a time in which we are facing the existential threat of climate change. We need to decouple economic health and growth, leading to a system that generates profit without growth.”

Many people are not sure this is possible. Pundits keep saying if we don’t have growth we have stagnation or worse, decline. If they are right, capitalism is dead in the water.

Naomi Klein is right about one thing: the climate emergency “changes everything.”  This was what America conservatives feared for decades and they proved to be right. Climate change is a fundamental challenge to capitalism. Their worst nightmare is coming to fruition and frankly they have no one to blame but themselves. American conservatives for years have been spending vast sums of money to convince people that the climate crisis is not a crisis and as a result they caused people in the US and Canada to delay action for decades, during which time they reaped enormous profits, but during which time the fuel for a revolution, like fuel in national forests, was increasing every year, until we are all now about to experience a conflagration of epic proportions. This is the hell that America conservatives have purchased. They bought it with vast sums of money that was used to manufacture lies that have now been exposed. They have sown the wind, now they have to reap the storm. I can’t believe these conservatives will ever be believed again, but particularly in America, though in Canada too, one should never under estimate what people can be persuaded to believe no matter how unbelievable.

I don’t know if this big idea is the right idea; I just know that no small idea is the right idea.

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