You can’t love a whole planet

Liam Barrington-Bush in openDemocracy:

Liam2In most discussions, the answers to the questions above follow an understandable logic: if the problems are big, the solutions must be too. The allure of a ‘Big Solution’ is it represents the silver bullet we all so desperately wish we could find; the single answer to countless massive, complex and interrelated problems. It is the desperate hope that climate change can be boiled down to the text of one binding agreement. Progressive NGOs think we can negotiate the deal we need, many activists on the street think we can pressure it into being, but the push for a Big Solution is largely agreed. It’s hard to argue against it when we think about average global temperature increases, sea level rises and greenhouse gasses measured by the tonne!

With awareness of the scale of the problems we face – if we can avoid utter despair – comes a great weight; a sense of responsibility for something we can’t truly comprehend in more than an abstract way. Many of us who actively try to help have become the loving-but-overstretched adoptive parents of seven billion children.

We spread ourselves so thin that each of the children becomes an abstraction. Love becomes care, becomes like, becomes duty. We desperately attempt to find generalised solutions to apply to the infinite smaller problems we see the family struggling with, glossing over the specifics of each to give ourselves the sense that if we just find The Answer, we can make everyone’s lives better in one fell swoop.

Maybe this is what Naomi Klein was getting at when I interviewed her last summer. “I don’t think you can love a whole planet,” she said almost apologetically.

It’s a phrase that has been swirling around in my head ever since, and would probably have felt incredibly depressing, had she not followed it up with the counterpoint: “I think what’s driving the most powerful resistance movements is love of particular places.” This resonated with me in such a deep way, and turned the initial statement from one of despair, into one of possibility.

Trade summits, climate negotiations, the UN, the WTO, the IMF, are all such abstractions in the lives of anyone who doesn’t go to work for them. Even the protests outside the meetings become part of the same abstraction, debating in equally removed terms about which Big Solutions should be pursued and applied across the vastness of the planet. Whether these Big Solutions are broadly more or less progressive is secondary; the processes themselves are out of touch.

The expectation that coordination at scale can or must be organised through a single entity or institution lies at the core of Carne Ross’ criticisms of schizophrenic intergovernmental structures and processes. In essence, even a single national government is constantly working against parts of itself, as different policy priorities perpetually butt up against one another. This ‘left hand working against the right hand’ dilemma grows exponentially when you try to bring multiple governments together under a single banner.

Read the rest here.