“Temperature’s rising
Fever is high
Can’t see no future
Can’t see no sky”

These are the opening lyrics to John Lennon’s song, “Cold Turkey,” attributed to a heroin addiction recovery. But if Lennon were alive today, I’ll bet he’d be writing about our shared addiction to “free market capitalism.” 

Unbridled, predatory capitalism is anything but free. Running on the undervalued labor of the masses, with profits siphoned off by the already-rich, America’s economic model is causing its own collapse. Like the sinking Titanic, it’s pulling environmental, social and financial stability into its ever-increasing downward spiral.

In a few weeks, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference will bring parties together to, in their own words, “accelerate action” toward the goals of the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Twenty-six years in, and the world’s leaders in large part still don’t get it.

Americans both experience and are cushioned from the symptoms of disintegration not just through drought, wildfire, extreme temperatures and waves of disease previously unknown. There is also governmental dysfunction; officialdom’s inability to recognize—never mind address—basic human social needs; a muffled, inept corporate media echo chamber; a fragile détente between demographic groups; and a disregard for the right to vote, women’s liberties and the truth. As health care costs and the diversion of funds to the ever-expanding military budget absorb higher proportions of our taxpayer investment, the price tag soars for restoring the country and doing so equitably. As the poor get poorer and the middle class evaporates, structural imbalances and inevitable flatlining loom closer. 

How did we get here? When did “enough” become insufficient? What happened to American know-how and chutzpah? The trouble began with the industrial revolution and its destruction of the forests and grasslands that fostered a rich biological diversity no longer fathomable. History claims that the industrial and green revolutions launched better lives for the common people, yet the principle of being employed – hitched to the wagon or matrix like any other beast of burden – has resulted in the workforce spending most of our waking hours in indentured servitude to entities whose interests do not serve the people or our shared future. 

The products of this so-called economy are anything but frugal. In the continuous marketing of goods that are in the main frivolous, neither utilitarian nor beneficial, we have transformed a biological paradise into a wasteland of hungry ghosts. For many Americans, wages do not cover the essential and rising costs of housing, food and health care. We have ceased to be citizens, opting instead to play consumers in a web of fantasies that play out to our own disadvantage.

Thanks to an economic paradigm that devalues the common good and elevates greed, Earth has become inhospitable to all who share this only home. Every form of creature, flying, swimming, crawling and running, and every type of green growing thing teeters on the precipice of extinction. The oceans and skies are acidifying; weather patterns, ocean currents and jet streams are in disarray; and people struggle to survive amidst a constant state of speed, stress and sleeplessness. Mental illness and the inability to focus are rapidly on the rise, as are suicide rates among the young. Half of the world’s children are at extreme risk to the accelerating effects of global climate collapse. Population growth and urban development have erased traditional borders with wilderness, leading to waves of viral pandemics and loss of habitat. Yet the American media, owned by the same corporations that sell soap, soup and tanks, plays the role of a weapon of mass distraction, focusing on trivialities, domestic tribal conflict, and ignorant fear of Russia, China, Muslims and other “others.” We ought to be holding media accountable, including social media, for educating, informing, reporting and, yes, advocating around the crises we face.

As Ramzy Baroud, editor of Palestine Chronicle, recently wrote, “Global warming is, in large part, the outcome of a destructive pattern instigated and sustained by capitalism. The latter can only survive through unhindered consumption, inequality, greed and, when necessary, war. People are encouraged to consume more, as if such consumption has no repercussions for the environment whatsoever.”

What can we do? Recycling, hydrogen-fueled vehicles and upcycled denim clothing are meager drops in the ocean of the changes necessary for survival. At this 11th-hour tipping point, with economic, political, health care and social systems in free fall, only massive public policy shifts matter. Scientists have for decades sounded the alarm and now report that we may be too late to prevent total environmental breakdown. Yet a profound reorientation can at least prepare the survivors of the coming tsunami; without a mammoth public declaration of interdependence accompanied by action, pretty much everything we consider civilized will be lost to chaos, dissolution and mob rule.

Here is what I see as essential to an immediate public movement in America. But first, why America? America is where capitalism has been permitted to purchase everything, including government, media, rule of law, information and communication, transportation, natural habitat and resources, education, soil management, food production and dietary choices. No other nation, including the dreaded socialist ones, have consented to such complete acquiescence of responsibility and self-determination. While movements for equity, sufficiency and justice have for long been in place outside of the United States, they are thwarted on every level by the American hegemony and its orbiting oligarchs.

First, the right to vote must be secured once and for all. Second, the rule and role of money over American electoral and governance structures must end. Third, our addiction to petroleum and our taxpayer grants to gas and oil must cease. The means already exist to replace every lethal drop of ancient fossil fuel with renewable energy; to say that we can’t is a lie.

Fourth, the bloated and corrupt Congressional-military-industrial complex must be called out, rooted out and reduced sharply in keeping with the real dangers of this century. Both major political parties, complicit in the post-Second World War spending spree best described by the Hopi word naqoyqatsi—“life as war”—must be purged of every armchair general and war profiteer. We spent 20 years and $217 trillion wasted chasing phantom Afghani scapegoats, yet won’t spend 1.5 percent of that on ourselves at home. Americans need a national budget focused on a green future for all of us, particularly the disenfranchised, marginalized and wealth-less.

Fifth, the voices of wilderness, wildness, diversity and life must be restored and finally included at the table. The so-called green revolution was based on an utter failure to listen; dominance, disenfranchisement and being the only voice in the room has led only to dissonance and disconnect, not wisdom and a future we can believe in.

Sixth, we as individuals, communities, movements and international strategic priorities must immediately reorient ourselves to living with less. For Americans, this is largely a matter of recognizing that we have been adapting to living with more for so long that we have forgotten what enough looks like. Weapons of war, financial speculation, global supply chains, an auto-dependent transportation network, and short-stay air travel are just a few of the expenditures that must be reallocated to housing, education, efficient transportation and health care. 

Here in West Marin—where the dominant Anglo community is mostly moneyed, privileged, educated and influential—we can make a difference. We are used to taking action and having our way. At what cost do we sit out this crisis, waiting for someone else to do the right thing? 

The work of restoring balance and establishing equity as pragmatic standards for the long-term common good need not be complicated. Nor should be planting trees—30 percent of whose species are rapidly approaching extinction—or restoring vast, open grasslands, the lungs of the planet, or removing plastic and other toxins from the ocean. Such work pivots on our confidence, our compassion, and our will to act wisely and decisively. Like Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, a Civilian Climate Corps would put hundreds of thousands of young Americans to work transforming our communities, energy systems and lands, moving us toward a new, healthy green economy.

As David Attenborough describes in his extraordinary auto-documentary, “A Life on Our Planet,” we can do this: We can save ourselves from ourselves, and we can leave something green and beautiful, meaningful and life-affirming, to our children’s children’s children. This truly is the now or never moment that we have been waiting for. 

Marc Matheson is a writer and student of Buddhism living in Inverness.