One of the most poignant statements I heard last week was that when dreams die, people are left with nothing but fear. While the statement is so powerful, we must nevertheless question the inevitability of fear as the outcome of broken or dead dreams.
For this reflection, we will take a ‘dream’ to mean a cherished aspiration or a preferred ideal. It is indeed a strong proposition that when dreams die, they snuff out aspiration and cause ideals to appear unattainable. Dreams are the incubators of vision. They consolidate our hopes, beliefs, convictions and sense of possibility. Dead dreams can kill vision and hope. This applies to individuals as well as nations and even to the entire humanity.
The dream of global peace is being shattered on a daily basis not just by the loss of our sense of community, but also the loss of understanding that ‘community’ goes beyond just the community of people and encompasses the community of all beings. The dream of global peace gets broken by the erection of real and virtual walls between neighbourhoods, communities and nations. Dreams of peace recede with unnecessary sanctions by powerful nations and blatant preparations for war and increased militarism in times of peace. The intensifying arms race sees nations competing over who can build or acquire more state-of-the-art weapons of mass destruction. Dreams can die when creativity gets captured by hate. All these can birth fear and feed despair.
The love of money can trump peace and snuff the life out of dreams. We see humanity shamefully hanging its head in silent acquiescence to the supposition that life can be dispensed with, eliminated without question, provided the murderers stuff our pockets with promises of cash. This can breed fear of loss of humanity and a descent into barbarism.
Let us consider one particular dream killer – the climate chaos. It is well known that the major source of greenhouse gasses triggering global warming is the burning of fossil fuels. Scientists sent early warnings that the tipping point (the point of no return) could be reached if action was not taken to stop or slow down the stoking of the atmosphere with carbon. National and global agencies warn political leaders that we are running out of time and that real action must be taken urgently. Still we dither.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) starkly states that the world has a mere 12-year window to act. When some of us became active in the climate justice movement, our struggle was to ensure that nations cut carbon emissions at source in proportion to their levels of responsibility and capabilities. This is a climate debt owed by polluting nations. We insisted that the global temperature must not rise by more than 1 degree Celsius above what it was at the dawn of the Industrial Age. That target has already been reached. Today the official target is 1.5 degrees or well below2 degrees Celsius. Advised by science, we also campaigned that the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere must not exceed 350 parts per million (ppm). By September 2016, the concentration level had already topped 400 ppm. Dreams die when we are so selfish and so short sighted that we forget that our children have a future ahead of them.
Dreams can die when we know the truth but choose to propagate a lie or vote for the lie. This is what climate deniers do. This is what polluters do. They seem to say that even if the world will burn in the coming decades, they would ensure they scrape the bottom of the barrel of all possible profits. To them, floods, droughts, heat waves, forest fires, hurricanes, typhoons and the like, mean nothing but opportunities for exploitation, dispossession and accumulation.
Dreams die when trillions of dollars are spent on needless warfare while the climate finance purse literally runs on empty and vulnerable poor nations get battered by climate impacts and Small Island Nations watch their territories go under the sea.
Dreams die when we know that those who cause and benefit from climate harms have disproportionate influence on decisions and climate negotiations. Dreams die when these parties avoid mentioning the known sources and take a stance on stopping further search for new fossil fuel reserves and deposits. Dreams become nightmares when expensive, ineffective but convenient actions are promoted rather than embarking on real solutions.
Dreams of safety and health die when drainage channels are clogged with plastics and sundry trash — and suddenly it thunders. Dreams die when the trees you lived off are mowed down by illegal loggers or by officials who promise never-to-be-realised infrastructure.
With rising unemployment and underemployment, workers are uncertain of the future of their jobs. Starting wages (or minimum wage) as well as pensions at the end of the job pipe are unpredictable for many, while security votes, possibly used to buy support from military governors during the era of military dictatorship, remain on the budgets. Corporate dreams die when decisions are forever top down, returns are poor but the wisdom from below is disdained. It could be the outcome when companies stay stuck in the industrial mode when they should shift into the digital mode.
We can count a thousand ways by which dreams die at individual and corporate levels. The truth is that the death of a dream is not the end of the road. When dreams die, fear does not have to inevitably kick in. When dreams die, we can dream again. We can indeed have better, bigger and higher dreams. It is a choice we can make. Even if you have had the most excellent dream, waking up and taking action is always the best next step. We always have a choice to wake up from a nightmare or to dream again. This is why the end of the year offers individuals and corporations opportunities to review the ebbing year and strategise for the coming ones. This is why nations hold elections at regular cycles and offer citizens the opportunities to see if their governors are leading them on dream paths or into nightmares. This is why we must survey the global terrain and see in which direction the multilateral spaces are tilting and decide if we must stay in those paths, accept palliatives or forge new dreams.
Dreams die when we can identify the dream killers and the purveyors of fear but choose to say nothing and prefer to do nothing.