It is easy to understand why convenience is currently winning the hearts and minds of American consumers. This has much to do with lower upfront cost to the consumer, while the consumer is able to put it out of their minds that much of the convenience we expect and pay for comes at the cost of someone else’s life, livelihood, home, and abysmally low pay or slavery. Follow any given ‘cheap’ product, and you will find a pipeline of suffering for the animals and plants involved. Look at any major clothing line or electronics company. The neodymium mining poisoning Inner Mongolia, the gold in Nigeria in which there are children going blind and infertile, countless countries whose citizens labor for Nike, Gap, and Apple at slave wages or are slaves. Lots of people are dying just to get a bit of the stuff out of the Earth, make a piece of clothing, or make another electronic gadget that feeds into these systems that keep products cheap for the consumers while costing a lot of people their lives, land, and sovereignty. It happens here, too, whether you look at New York City’s garment district, falling wages for what once were solidly middle-class jobs, or the paltry amount, around $39,000 or less, that a lot of chicken farmers make per year.
The costs are hidden from the American consumer in terms of jobs, too. Think about it. When was the last time you heard of a cobbler? When was the last time you knew the person or the people who made your shoes? Your clothes?
Resilience does not just mean that the system is preserved in a healthy way, but that people, and the environment are too. Resilience in our own relationships, economically and personally, mean that we need to reweave our interdependent lives with one another here. Recognizing that the child labor of a gold mine is wrong; it is another thing to divest ourselves from it as consumers. Recognizing that there is blood on the diamond trade is one thing, but refusing to buy diamonds at all is a whole other story. Recognizing that we do not want to support sweatshops or we want to buy American is easy to say, but it is in supporting better ways wherever we can that real change is made. Resilience requires actions to preserve not only our relationships, but our own integrity as well. Resilience is an active choice, an activity, and a way of living. So too, is convenience.
This issue comes up quite a bit when the conversation is about something like the consumption of meat. Most of these conversation are, themselves, red herrings. What all of these various issues boil down to, is that so much of human labor and what used to be a lot of animal labor, are now done by increasingly convenient, complex machines which are able to be made because of cheap, abundant fossil fuels.
Think about it.
Whether the fumes choking cities, the heating of our planet via CO2, the plastic choking the oceans, the mounds of human, animal, and plant grief in places all over the world, the only thing that allows these cogs to move at all is cheap, abundant fossil fuels.
The only reason the meat industries are any kind of threat to the environment are because of the fossil fuel powered trade, transport, and machines that allow for the CAFOs and other industrial food/feedstock/animal raising/slaughtering operations to remain economically viable. The entire life cycle of the meat industry, the agricultural industry, and countless others, including the aforementioned on-demand delivery services, depend on tenuous, fragile systems. From the truckloads of meat, plants, etc. that crisscross the country, wrapped in petroleum-derived plastics, shipped using incredible amounts of diesel delivered on petroleum-derived/made asphalt, kept cold using natural gas, coal, or oil-powered refrigeration technology in the holding areas, distribution centers, supermarkets, and consumers’ freezers/refrigerators, then cooked by means usually powered by coal, natural gas, or oil. Keep in mind as well that the gas, coal, and oil that keeps the economy and trade moving, that lubricates the countless machines of capitalism, consumerism, trade, and industry, are all looked for, found, extracted, mined, processed, and refined, then transported and burnt, largely by diesel-powered machines.
Meat production itself is not the problem. Rather, it is the means by which this incredibly wasteful cycle of goods, services, and means of production are kept afloat. That doesn’t mean that our meat consumption isn’t a problem, but it pales in comparison to the things that make such consumption economically viable and reduce the ability of smaller farmers, ranchers, and growers to support themselves and their communities. It’s the same cycle that enables the wholesale destruction of the environment in places that mine for rare earth minerals, like Nigeria and Inner Mongolia for things like gold and neodynium in order to continue cycles of consumption of things like the very laptop I’m typing on. None of the components that make this thing up, nor the power it uses to remain on, or the Internet itself, is without deep costs to the environment.
If we want a healthier relationship with meat, some peoples’ options are to simply stop eating it. That’s fine. Some simply cannot do that. A healthier relationship with meat doesn’t mean that all meat eaters just wholesale stop eating meat, it means developing better relationships with it, supporting local farmers/ranchers, and businesses that employ folks close to home and close down more of that big cycle of consumption I mentioned above. If I want be healthier, my option is not to stop taking my medication right now. It means I need to develop healthier relationships with my body and food, and work to get off the medication I can. If we want healthier relationships between farmers, ranchers, markets, crafts, industries and the people they are made for and use them, we must make the effort as people regardless on which part of the relationship we are, to make things better so we all are more resilient, and our communities more stable.
Convenience today is predicated on cheap, abundant fossil fuels. Peak oil won’t just bring challenges to our economy, it will stop its ability to move and expand. Given how brittle our international economic and trade systems are, back in 2008 what nearly took down the house of cards was a housing and financial bubble combined with the soaring price of crude oil. That was a warning that should have shook all of us out of the mindset that we could avoid dealing with the problem of capitalism’s need for exponential growth to sustain itself, and the resultant use of energy to make that happen.
Peak oil is the bar that sets the hard limits to growth. You cannot grow an economy at the scale we are used to if the economy cannot be empowered to function with cheap fossil fuels. Peak oil is especially problematic for the United States, since we’ve given over almost all our transportation needs to diesel and gas powered vehicles, vehicles which deliver all of our goods, from food to medicine, from surgery supplies to toilet paper. Our train system is deeply underfunded and barely adequate to deal with what is already on its rails. Our bridges are falling apart, as are dams like this one, which is holding back water from 431,000 people in Texas. We have basic infrastructure problems that need to be addressed. My point here is not that we cannot address peak oil, but that top-down approaches from the federal government will not be adequate, and any response would be slow, at best.
What about regional responses? With basic road funding here in Michigan taking the better part of a year just to approve funding (about half of this based on tax cuts, mind you, not raising revenues) on basic maintenance, there is little hope that there would be a top-down response commensurate with need, let alone enough to handle an emergency. It is not that top-down approaches are not desirable, but that in all likelihood they will be too little too late, piecemeal, or simply lacking in their ability to deal with the situation.
So many of us who have chosen to deal with the problems of peak oil and climate change do so on the local level because that is where we can affect change the best on a practical scale. It’s the permaculuralist that sets up shop down the road, growing food on their 2 acre plot. It’s the charities, like Growing Hope and the Fair Food Network in Detroit, that increase peoples’ access to good, healthy food while teaching them how to grow it. It’s the Transition Town Network, Reskilling Festivals, and Strawbale Studio that works on teaching folks how to do things, from arts and crafts, to making our own homes and growing our own food on a more local level. These provide folks opportunities to make contacts who will sell to others who do not have the skills or space to do so. It is not that peak oil is insurmountable, but that the ways our economy, industry, markets, crafts, and food production functions are inadequate to addressing the issues peak oil presents to us.
Peak oil represents a very stark choice. We can keep trying to make this unsustainable way of life work for a little while longer, or we can learn to live with LESS (a term coined by JMG meaning Less Energy, Stimulation, and Stuff) and work towards a future in which our generation and those after have the abilities, skills, and resources to meet the challenges peak oil and climate change are going to bring.
This choice is why I am looking to engage in another way of living. I am inspired by my animist and polytheist worldview to live in good Gebo with the world, with Jörð, Freyr, Gerda, Freya, our Ancestors, and the landvaettir. I am inspired by my Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir to live better with this world, and to live with Them, and alongside Them, and help to bring forward a better future. I am inspired by my animist and polytheist worldview and religion as a Northern Tradition Pagan and Heathen to align myself within this world and to this world in a way that benefits us both. I am inspired by my work and role a Northern Tradition and Heathen shaman and priest to do these things as part of my duty to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, communities I serve, and the generations to come. To not only be different in how I consume, but to be different in what I do, and how I give back to this world.
I view it as my duty to my best in this regard. Duty to my Gods, to live well in the world, and within a community of folks dedicated to doing well by our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Duty to my Ancestors, to live well and help raise the new generations with care, and with the skills necessary to face peak oil, climate change, and the challenges they present us. Duty to my vaettir, including the landvaettir with whom we will live upon, align and work, live with and build good relationships. Duty to the Warrior Dead who gave Their lives so we could live, the Military Dead to honor Their sacrifices and to teach the future generations their stories so They are not forgotten, and the other vaettir with whom we share this world, that we may come into better alignment, and relation.
I have no illusion that I alone, or even a small community can stop climate change or peak oil, but we can address it within our spheres of influence. My hope is that it inspires action in others, and ripples through the communities we touch and weave with. At the least, the next generation we raise, inspire, and welcome will be better prepared to deal with the impacts of climate change, peak oil, and the challenges we have yet to see that will come from them. At the most we can inspire and promote local resiliency and ties, a refocus of national action on these things, and perhaps worldwide change in how we address peak oil and climate change. If nothing else, we will improve our small community’s lot while honoring and working in better concert with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir in this work. I can think of no better reason to pursue these goals than that.
Part 1 of this series is here.
Part 2 of this series is here.
For other explorations of this topic, look here: