The brat kid and the weak parent

The brat kid and the weak parent

Describing big business as the brat kids and governments as the ineffectual parents, David Trubridge explores why it is, despite numerous warnings from the scientific community, world governments have failed to take any significant action to prevent climate change, pollution and environmental desecration. 

You know the scene: a child lies on the supermarket floor yelling, kicking and screaming because his mother wouldn't let him have junk food. The child knows his mother is too weak to stand up to him and can't bear the spectacle, so he will win in the end. 

So the parents abdicate their responsibility to their child and society at large, failing to deliver the moral training so obviously needed. As he continues to get his selfish way, his nastiness proves to be an asset. He pulls legs off insects and gleefully watches them struggle, and if his parents try to stop him there’s another wild tantrum. 

This scenario is precisely what is happening around the world: industry and big business are the brat kids and governments are the ineffectual parents. Why is it that, despite repeated and escalating warnings from the entire (uncompromised) scientific community, world governments have failed to take any significant action to prevent climate change, pollution and environmental desecration? 

Why did nothing happen at the Copenhagen Climate talks, despite unified demands for action from the public and commentators? Simply because industry shouts so loud, and in the face of the torrent, weak governments care only for their daily image. 

Greenhouse gas emissions increased to a record amount last year, according to the International Energy Agency. Some European countries claim a drop but that is only because they have exported manufacturing elsewhere. In other words we are doing nothing to prevent global warming. Governments have utterly failed to take any long term responsibility toward the planet and future generations, because this would require stern treatment for the brat kid.

Why has the National Government done nothing about the appalling state of our waterways? Because the brat-kid dairy industry would throw a tantrum, screaming that clean-up measures would hurt profitability too much. And  because Key is one of them anyway – a truly responsible government can only be effective if it is impartial.

This is a small scandal but the world is tragically full of them, such as the (over-) fishing industry, and the oil industry.

The ultimate brat-kid is the banking and finance industry, as now fully revealed in the award-winning documentary Inside Job. This screaming little monster got its own way for so long that it caused the world-wide financial crisis. Even after the melt-down, it accepts no responsibility and has its way. There have been no inquiries and all regulators are industry appointed.  

Across Europe, weak complicit governments force drastic austerity cuts on a pathetically compliant populace to pay for the banks' excesses, even as the bankers return to business as usual and award themselves the same old outrageous bonuses. And they call the rioting looters criminals!

Now with all this anti-business talk, you are probably thinking that I am some sort of Fabian Luddite. Actually I would have to be called a businessman, because I own and run a company that employs 18 people. But I run it differently: my catch phrase is that the business does not exist to make money – it makes money to exist and it exists to provide a fulfilling and meaningful lifestyle for all of us, while at the same time producing what we like to call culturally nourishing products. 

My role model is Yvon Chouinard with his company Patagonia, and my business bible is his book, Let My People Go Surfing. I believe that businesses run on these principles can supply us with just the things we need with hope for the future.

Some years before Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth, I wrote that our systems of government, our economic systems and our capitalist system are failing us and need to be redesigned. It is even more acutely obvious now. 

Sure, you will argue, capitalism has given unprecedented benefits to many people, and of course that is true. But two crucial things have changed. Throughout most of the 20th century, the individual excesses of capitalism were balanced by the community demands of socialism. But since capitalism won the cold war, it has run rampant and unchecked as the ruthless Chicago neo-liberal school of Friedman economics violently forces itself, with government backing, onto the world (read Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein). 

So the rich are getting immeasurably richer and the poor are getting poorer and more numerous. The “trickle-down effect” does not work – it goes the other way.

Secondly, we have run up against the limits of the planet. Unending growth and prosperity were fine as long as the resources were there to feed them, but that is no longer the case. Increasingly middle classes around the world chase fewer and fewer resources. Not only are we stripping the planet of its treasures but we are also denying future generations the prospect of a decent life.

That is why I say our present economic model is failing us because the current, capitalist business-government coalition will not take the drastic measures required to protect the planet and the future. Weak governments are in hock to the brat-kid industries and show no signs of shouldering any of the responsibility.

It pains me to see the deeply-felt and well-meaning efforts of so many caring people trying to reduce their environmental impact, while the brat-kid negates it all a thousand-fold. 

As long as the sole raison d'etre for business is its own profit, nothing will change. Future generations who inherit this mess will be utterly appalled by this abdication of parental responsibility. Hopefully the Bolivian initiative enshrining the rights of nature into law will spread and we will see some of these violators and ineffectual appeasers retrospectively brought to justice (just as war criminals are now) for crimes against nature. And, after all, we are just one more part of nature. 

(A longer form of this piece originally appeared in BayBuzz)

Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).