Here's the text of the talk I'm giving at the We the People Power Festival on June 16th, 2012, with useful links embedded throughout:
My name is Ben Sibelman, and I'm a member of the Get Money Out of Politics workgroup of Occupy Seattle. I'm also one of four active members of a group called the SolSeed Movement, which believes that all life is precious, and that the destiny of life is to spread out to the stars. Let me tell you two very different stories about how that could happen.
In the first story, we failed to get money out of politics, so a basically unregulated financial sector continued to drive the rest of the world into ever-growing debt, while Big Oil and Big Coal continued to block any meaningful action to save the environment. As a result, 200 years from now, Earth is desolate and nearly dead. Extreme weather is the new normal; crops won't grow, and the fish are all gone. Billions of people have died as well, and of those who remain, the vast majority are destitute and constantly on the brink of starvation. But in a few walled compounds, defended from the rest of humanity by fleets of autonomous robot drones that patrol the skies armed with high-powered laser guns, the 1% still live in the lap of luxury amid astronomical wealth. And they still have that wealth because they studied astronomy. Earth's valuable natural resources are all gone, there are no more metals to be mined, so the abandoned cities have been torn apart and their glass and steel reforged into spaceships. Armed with massive, long-term, high-interest loans from the Consolidated Bank of Earth, intrepid explorers fan out across the solar system and outward to the stars. Whenever they reach a new rocky world, their armies of expensive robot slaves start assembling huge mines and factories to start producing resources to be sold back to the homeworld, to repay their debt. They build huge greenhouses where nutrient chemicals are pumped through endless hydroponic tubes with billions of identical food plants sticking out of them, mostly to feed the ravenous trillionaires back home rather than the space colonists themselves. And like today's Third-World countries, the new colonies find that no matter how much they produce, no matter how much they sell, somehow their debt continues to grow. And soon these new worlds are running low on resources too, so they have no choice but to launch more expeditions ever deeper into space. Whenever a colony tries to rebel, declare independence and cancel their debts, Earth sends a fleet of warships to bring them back into line. Other warships are attacking an alien race in a nearby star cluster, whose only crime is that they live in the path of our endless expansion, and we need their land. If the expansion were ever forced to stop, the whole pyramid scheme would collapse in on itself and everyone would starve, even the 1%.
In the second story, the massive growth in public engagement and advocacy that began with the Arab Spring proved to be unstoppable. Ultimately, citizen pressure forced the governments of the world to turn against their wealthy campaign donors and cancel all excessive debts, as ancient cultures often did, so that civilization was free to start anew. The concept of compound interest was outlawed. Labor-saving machines finally fulfilled their promise, and suddenly most jobs required only 20 hours a week or less. Corporations were all transformed into cooperatives -- they still compete in the market, but every employee is given an equal say in all of a company's major decisions, and trying to profit from tactics that harm society or the planet is a surefire way to get your corporate charter revoked. Deforestation has stopped dead and the transition to clean energy accelerated, but it was too late to stop sea levels from rising -- so the world responded to the crisis with wisdom and compassion. Refugees from drowned nations like Bangladesh and the Maldives were welcomed anywhere they chose to go, their needs met using resources no longer locked up uselessly in bank vaults and financial speculation. Some of those resources also went toward the massive project of transforming the world's coastal cities into a thousand variations on the theme of Venice. Pontoon sidewalks float up and down the sides of skyscrapers, with drawbridge crosswalks over the watery "streets" plied by fleets of solar-electric water-buses. The phrase "underwater houses" has become quite literal, but those homes aren't abandoned, far from it -- instead they’ve been sheathed in glass and bioplastic to become inside-out aquariums, with huge schools of fish, evicted from dying coral reefs, finding new homes under their crenellated eaves. A hundred years from now, some of those fish join members of hundreds of other species as crewmembers on the Biosphere 7 mission to Mars, designed to prove that self-sustaining ecosystems can live anywhere in the Cosmos. A hundred years after that, fish are swimming in the new crater lakes out under the open Martian sky, still very cold and thin, but fading slowly from hazy pink to deep clear blue as plants and algae pump life-giving oxygen into the air. Mars is a brand-new living planet, child of Mother Earth and the first of a family of many living worlds that will eventually be scattered throughout the galaxy.
These are just two of an infinite array of possible futures. My purpose in sharing these stories of mine is to point out the importance of envisioning both the futures we want, and the futures we need to avoid, as a first step toward both choosing our course of action and motivating ourselves to overcome all the obstacles in our path. We need more stories like these, and we need to find the stories that resonate most with the activists who are working to change the world for the better.