I’m reading Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben, getting an update on how our planet’s systems are already on Tilt, already irreversibly different, while we muddle around, send our leaders jet-setting to climate change initiative conferences, reading in the papers how they fret and fuss about who can and will pay the price of even responding to present crises, let alone preparing for the next. Taking notes, hoping to have an influence in my circles. I am floored, thinking about it all, asking what do we do, and how do we get everyone on board faster, faster? How do we act justly toward the poor countries who are most affected by our voracious consumption, our addiction to growth, our willful blindness to the laws of physics and ecology? Quickly, before mammalian survival instincts take over and the higher human values of justice and equity get trampled? Quickly, while “the preservation of the American way of life” is still positively correlated to preserving lives in other places? How do we divert our tremendous drive and creativity away from making junk and trouble to solving our problems and creating a new paradigm for our culture?
Between chapters I am aware of the irony, the hypocrisy as I drive one son forty miles to a swim meet and back (and out to a coffee shop for my treat between events). And why is it the trucks and SUVs seem to be the most likely to be going ten mph over the speed limit, anyway? Because SUVs and new pickups have such a smooth, quiet ride, drivers can’t hear the pistons pumping, the engine laboring, so it feels like nothing at all to press down the pedal, can still hear Pink Floyd crystal clear on the Bluetooth audio. Me in my ’93 Accord, I can feel and hear that gas burning (and some of the oil, too), and it makes me want to cut down. Lord, save us from too much luxury, insulation from realities we need to know about.
How about a series of training seminars for auto salespeople, helping them realize it’s not responsible to sell big machinery to people for commuting down the freeway, getting them to seed the whole auto-buying clientele with the idea that we all want to power down. FERC warning labels on low fuel economy vehicles too, like cigarettes, if people insist on buying them. Only takes ten per cent to believe it, and it’ll spread like wildfire (whether it’s true or not–see the article). Sell gas-guzzlers by permit only, with special controls on weekly mileage and speed. Discounts for shared ownership in the New Sharing Economy. Neighborhoods, through the new online neighborhood social networks, for example, organize the ownership or lease and booking of the heavy duty truck for hauling recyclable metals to the recyclers, prunings to the community composting site, a load of lumber to the building site.
The next day I drive my son a few miles down the freeway to early practice, and go back and pick him up an hour and a half later. I go for a run before breakfast lest I become too flabby and weak from living my sedentary lifestyle. Then I drive my son to the bus stop because our bikes were stolen, and so he can avoid straining his back carrying heavy textbooks and swim gear. My husband drives our daughter to her school because she stayed up late doing homework after procrastinating all afternoon with her smart phone. Then he drives alone sixty-five miles to work for the week. At noon I drive my younger son to Phys. Ed. class so he can stay in shape too, and I take another walk to drop off a check to pay for my weekly exercise class. At five I drive a few miles to the high school athletics meeting, where we hear about the positive life lessons the kids learn in high school sports, and find out about all the swim meets we’ll all be driving to and watching in nice heated indoor pools.
Time to get more serious about using my bike, when I’m not hauling bulk groceries or working through my checklist that takes me all over town, or picking up kids, dropping off kids. Time to stop ferrying the kids around to everything, time to say “Sorry, here’s the bus schedule.” I’ve been trying to resist that pressure, explaining why I’m trying to limit driving, why when my teens get their licenses, they won’t automatically get a spare car and not have to take the bus.
As I contemplate the eventual spiraling down of the oil-powered economy, the abandonment of extraneous or dilapidated and unfixable facilities and infrastructure and wasteful habits in order to focus on basic needs, I’m thinking, what are essential skills, knowledge, and attitudes that have value in all times and places? Getting adequate food – fishing, hunting and gathering, food storage, preservation and preparation. Getting clothed and sheltered – making coverings and dwellings from local materials. Having fun together/building community-music, poetry, story telling, dance, service. Staying healthy – first aid, medicine, nutrition, safety, defense, peace making. Parenting – raising children to be content and capable. Teaching. Writing. Woodworking, ceramics, metal work, fiber craft. Natural history. Spiritual guidance. Teamwork, leadership, respect. And we will need plenty of knowledge and wisdom and we might not be able to Google it, so I won’t get rid of my books just yet.
“Like someone lost in the woods, we need to stop running, sit down, see what’s in our pockets that might be of use, and start figuring out what steps to take.”
I listen to the news, and now I have enhanced filtration that makes a mockery of the economic policies explained by politicians there. The push for more oil pipeline and rail transport, more new overseas markets, moving to an even more global economy. In TV it’s ads for new cars, Black Friday specials on housewares, sports gear, toys and games, the newest gadgets. The jingle bells all ring hollow. Time to retrain everyone, time to reform the whole system–what we produce, what we promote, what we sell, to whom we sell it. In a positive way, of course, not through pressure and panic. Sharing the vision–we have to work together to figure out our common bottom line and make sure it all adds up to something positive.
This year at the family Thanksgiving I took charge of the compostables and recyclables for the first time. I live in a green city and have extra space in my bins, and my in-laws live in a non-recycling, non-composting kind of county, so it was something I could do to help. First year I stepped up to do that–leftover food, paper cups, aluminum foil, and plastic water bottles (Grandma needed to simplify on dishwashing this year–good for her) were all going into the same bin and I swooped in to quietly separate them. I had never done this before, been reluctant after in the past being what I would call undiplomatic about my green habits when I first came into my husband’s family. I was seen as extreme then. But it went very smoothly with a minimum of digging in the garbage, and the cat got her treats set aside too. Garbage reduced by two thirds.
I’m concerned, yes–very, but I’m looking forward to making myself useful on this tough, new planet.