how do we stop the shaking

A minor earthquake hit Mexico City in the summer of 1968. I remember it quite clearly. Shaken awake I drowsily thought someone was playing a prank until I saw the whole room swaying.

A minor earthquake hit Mexico City in the summer of 1968. I remember it quite clearly. Shaken awake I drowsily thought someone was playing a prank until I saw the whole room swaying. The real earthquake that summer, however, came in the form of student protesters challenging the Mexican government’s priorities and its decades of autocratic rule.

The youth of the Mexican capital staged huge demonstrations calling for true democracy on the eve of the 1968 Olympics. They also accused the entrenched PRI government of spending the riches of the country in pursuit of international prestige via the Olympics rather than on addressing the real pressing needs of the country’s poor.

J.W. Rubin writing for Dissent magazine in 2002 described the student movement as “a revolution from within the system, nonviolent, driven by euphoria, conviction, and the excitement of experimentation on the ground.” It ended violently on October 2, 1968, in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in the Tlatelolco District of Mexico City when the government forces opened fire on thousands of students rallying there.

Time and time again we have seen the cry for another possible more just, more equitable world put down by forces defending age-old prerogatives of the elites; greed and power. Where would our world be today if France had peacefully handed over power in Vietnam in 1954? If Chile had been allowed to continue its experiment with its democracy under Allende in 1973. If the tanks had not continued to roll in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The old ways of managing the system to preserve privilege for a small minority of the world’s population quite simply don’t work any more. The costs are far too high for all of us. The week before last, Peter Day of the BBC interviewed Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, about his new book World on the Edge – How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse. Brown calls for incorporating all the true cost of doing business from social to environmental factors into the equation in order to preserve our fragile world.

On his blog at, Day synthesizes Brown’s points. “We are in a race between political and natural tipping points. Can we close coal-fired power plants fast enough to save the Greenland ice sheet and avoid catastrophic sea level rise? Can we raise water productivity fast enough to halt the depletion of aquifers and avoid water-driven food shortages? Can we cope with peak water and peak oil at the same time?”

Lester Brown thinks we still can. We have the tools but as R. Buckminster Fuller once famously said, “Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons.” Brown puts out his Plan B very succinctly: Stabilize global population, eradicate poverty, restore the Earth’s natural support systems and stabilize climate. He pegs the cost of this at $185 billion a year or 12 per cent of annual global military spending.

We can’t stop the earth’s tectonic plates from colliding with or grinding slowly past each other. The shaking this movement causes is inevitable and unalterable. We can stop, though, our own shaking. We must cast aside the paralyzing fear that nothing can be done to halt the seemingly inexorable slide towards environmental disaster, our acceleration of it and the soc-economic and political ramifications arising from it.

We can act. We can change. In the upcoming election we had better hear something from the leaders vying for power that they have a vision for a just, environmentally sustainable future for us and our children. We must demand this and no less.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact