Owen Jones, in his otherwise excellent book 'The Establishment', talks of the 'Overton Window', a phrase first coined by hard-right Republicans that refers to that which is deemed as 'politically possible' within a system at a given point in time. In Victorian schooling systems narrow windows at the top of classrooms that allowed light in but not for children to see out of were deemed more 'efficient'- how fitting that our neoliberal consensus, that places efficiency as paramount, gives us such Victorian Overton windows that allow our officials to see so little.
They cannot see that the policies they proclaim as panaceas are poison to society, proven across history and the globe to spread misery and unrest. They cannot see that they have enslaved themselves to corporate interests and divorced from the electorate that has given them their mandate. But above all they cannot see that climate change and inequality are not simply political issues to appear 'tough' on to win votes, not simply another area to offer empty platitudes and fake promises to the electorate on- it's world ending stuff.
Inequality and climate change will define my generation. Last year the percentage of global wealth owned by the 1% rose from 41-48%, with the richest 67 people in the world now as wealthy as the poorest 3.5 billion. Not only is this state of affairs deeply immoral and economically unviable, but it will have explosive consequences this century if left unchecked. As noted by social geographer Danny Dorling, if this trend continues it leaves us less than a decade to do something about it.
The IPCC, widely recognised as the most authoritative body assembled on pretty much anything ever, has given us 3 and half decades to reduce our global carbon emissions to 0 or face "the breakdown of civilisation as we know it".
Of course this all throws up profound questions about our place on this planet, about the limits of our species, and about the assumptions concerning human nature we have paraded under for so long. It requires every single human being to ask deep and searching questions about themselves and their place in the cosmos, and what action these facts demand from them. There is, however, a group who's questioning should last much longer and cut far deeper: the rich.
It is no coincidence that both of these crises' are coming to a head at the same time. Neoliberalism has been forced upon us by vested interests, whether it be through overtly supporting military dictators in Latin America, or more subtly in this country with a manipulative media twisting the minds of modern Britain and shutting down the debate. This neoliberalism honours growth, a growth which has swallowed up resources, polluted the planet and come to replace any concept of a redistributive agenda- a consensus that creates both climate change and inequality in service of the needs of the rich. It is only by breaking with this trend can we save ourselves and halt climate change, and that's exactly why the super-rich and established are the most ardent climate change deniers- it means the planet no longer being their playground.
The reason that our leaders seem so blind to our plight is because they have a powerful and pervasive system working 24/7 to enrapture them in the status quo and all the benefits it bequeaths to the lucky handful placed at the 'top' of society. Almost all politicians are now conservative with at least a small 'c' because they are welded to a system that is predated on greed, ruthless competition, and the exploitation of everything from 3rd world workers to poisonous fossil fuels: they are welded to the interests of the super-rich.
They work within a dogma that allows only the narrowest of Overton windows, with boundaries fiercely policed by an army of corporate lobbyists, press barons and oil tycoons. It is a dogma that is quite literally killing us, whether it be by subjecting developing countries to IMF-imposed 'recommendations' that pit local farmers against multinational giants like Monsanto, or by continuing to feed our addiction to fossil fuels despite the planetary chaos they are creating, or the ever-growing social and economic disasters that our profoundly unequal societies are racking up.
It's because government ministers meet with many times more businessmen than trade union reps, let alone average voters. It's because news channels persist in having one for and one against when debating climate change, as if it's something still in contention amongst academics. It's because the Murdoch empire has spent years pouring drivel through our eyes and ears that scapegoats immigrants and welfare claimants but lauds criminal bankers and tax dodgers. But above all it's because inequality and climate change flag up how deeply, deeply flawed our economic consensus is.
As we huddle over our cold baked beans and haul another copy of the Daily Mail onto the bonfire, we'll silently curse the rich and marvel at our own complacency. The British our defined by our polite and conserved nature, and this is reflected in a political system that is slow to change and adverse to the radical. This is but one of many things about our natures we must overcome in the years ahead if we are to survive. There is only one way to overcome the impending disaster, a solution to two crises'- smashing the neoliberal consensus. As long as we continue to have a system that puts the needs of the rich first, we will spiral into ever-deeper environmental degradation and social inequality.
However, the solutions to our problems are there, and they are beautiful. Locally controlled, renewable energy that creates green jobs. A focus on well-being and more equitable distribution, rather than constant growth. A financial sector, a press, and a political system that are wrested out of the hands of the few and run by the many, for the many...
If you're under 30, this dystopia I'm painting is your future. Unless drastic alternatives from the status quo are offered up soon, my generation will see mass civil unrest across the globe, the seas engulfing low-lying costal cities, unpredictable weather killing millions, and war and famine on an unprecedented scale. This isn't fear-mongering- it's science.
Whether you like it or not, you are left with a choice: do or die. This is too big for us to ignore, too close to put off- we must act. Mobilise, organise, fight, in any way you can. Already thousands of local battles across the globe are challenging the consensus and changing our fate. When the ice melts and the riots start, do you really want to say you sat back and did nothing?