Brexit – what on earth happened?!

Well, there’s a thing. In our normally hectic routines where life appears frenzied, but predictable, suddenly something quite surprising has happened. Yesterday, citizens of one of the world’s larger and most mature democracies voted in a way we never really thought they would. Britain has chosen Brexit. But I’m wondering if there is a wider message for all of us in today’s vote.

Screen Shot 2017-11-29 at 9.53.33 PM

It takes time to unravel all the issues which have produced such dramatic news. The stark figures show this referendum produced a relatively high turnout and over 17.4 million people voted to unravel forty plus years of European Community membership. While financial markets panic, the Prime Minister resigns and every political analyst launches into the why of what’s happened, its clear today will go down in history as an important marker of something. Great emotion now engulfs a proud nation, everything from pride, patriotism and jubilation mix with sadness, anger and despondency. All kinds of issues are being offered as the reason why so many voters chose this supposedly ‘wrong’ and unthinkable option. Naturally Mr Badger, the Brits favourite furry animal doesn’t give a toss. He was still out on his nightly round searching for bugs and other goodies oblivious to the unfolding human drama. After all, nothing much has changed in the actual world of solid stuff; it’s simply a financial and political storm that’s been unleashed.

As for me over on the other side of the world, I’m wondering if there’s any connection between Brexit and matters of sustainability. Of course sustainability doesn’t have a high profile at the best of times. I haven’t seen it raised directly in this debate and in most cases when the subject pops up for consideration it’s just seen in the light of another cost to be contained or potential new business marketing opportunity. After all, as David Cameron said this week, the economy is the most important thing for all of us. So, sustainability tends to be viewed through a financial lens. Unfortunately this results in most initiatives aiming to keep the existing unsustainable system going. In other words, we focus our efforts on doing ‘the wrong thing right’.

John Ehrenfeld, the former MIT program director says, “Our culture of commerce, supported by corporate marketing, government policies, and ever-increasing growth as our religious mantra, will never create sustainability.” For us humans to live sustainably on planet Earth we need a different mindset. A system needs to be constructed to do the right thing and the current dominant economic system will clearly need replacing. A system needs to be built whereby we can live peaceably alongside not only other humans, but the wonderfully diverse and complex web of life of which we are but one part. In short, we must be willing to change the dominant system which currently organises our lives. This system, generally accepted as gospel, demands endless compounding economic growth, something patently at odds with the one finite planet we live on. The system is ruining the air we breathe, voraciously exterminating other life, contaminating our oceans and drinking water supplies and turning the soil on which we depend for our food to desert. The trouble is we have lost track of how to live in balance as part of our ecosystem and now we number over seven billion, the problems are immediate and acute.

So, what has all this got to do with Brexit? Well, yesterday, after hearing every leader including their Prime Minister, opposition leader, U.S. President and numerous European leaders, together with almost every senior financial and economic functionary claim Brexit would make the country worse off financially, the British voted against their advice. They demanded to change the system. People may not have related their thinking to sustainability; however, it is clear the majority of Brits think something in the existing system needs to change. And yesterday they told their leaders that they need to go back to the drawing board and come up with a better system. Many suggest the concern which influenced large numbers of British voters yesterday is part of a deep undercurrent of concern now flowing through many humans. It’s an uneasy feeling that the dominant organising system under which we live is geared to building world trade agreements for faceless tax avoiding companies , creating financial excess, and turning yet more of the environment into concrete jungles. In short, it is undermining the very fabric of what makes a good life, namely good relationships, living in healthy, caring, well fed communities and knowing our ecosystem is thriving around us.

Could what just happened in Britain be a sign that the general public recognise system change is now necessary and have confronted their leaders with the challenge? They certainly appear to have taken a stand and been willing to enter into all the risk inherent in the messy unknown specifics of developing a new system. Regardless of whether this particular decision is the right one and regardless of whether the debate was a sensible one, yesterday’s vote showed people can reject the status quo and demand system change. That in itself I find encouraging. Now we need to find leaders rather than cynical politicians. People willing to listen to their electorate and acknowledge unspoken truths rather than dumbing down debate into sound bites. While Mr Badger continues his simple nocturnal foraging, we need to find good leaders who help inspire the best in us rather than encourage our baser instincts.

Leave a Reply