This is continuing the thoughts I have been thinking about the religious implications of sustainability and Peak Oil, prompted by Archdruid John Michael Greer’s blog The Archdruid Report.
Americans live in a time and place where sustainability is a catchword more often used by politicians and companies to describe an endeavor whose return on investment places them in a comfortable area. It is, for almost all of us, no longer a part of our daily lives. It is, for those of us who dream of living better within this world, a word that expresses a goal. This word does not describe so much an end point as it does a way of life that we are, by small measures and great, willing to work to build ourselves toward.
Sustainability is the concept of living within the world rather than upon it, to work closer in concert with one’s surroundings, and in better concert with what Earth can provide us without destroying the environment, habitat, that we live within. What this does not mean is we give up on technology. Even the Amish, who are often pointed at as premier Luddites, have had to grow with the times. Many drive cars, operate modern technology, and otherwise live lives in which modern technology plays a good part. What it does mean is we are much more judicious about what technology we employ, what it does for us, and, weighing every piece of technology by what its impact is on the environment, which includes not only the ground, trees, natural resources, animals, insects, etc. but us as well.
The question of ‘can we live in sustainability?’ is not a hard one to answer. If, by this question you mean ‘can we live in sustainability and still consume as we do?’ the question is a big, hard, fucking NO. Not with statistics like us consuming 25% or better of the World’s goods when we are 5% of its population. Not when we are willing to trash our wild places for another gulp of oil that we’re sucking off the pipeline like Hexus at the end of Ferngully, desperate to keep the consumption monster growing. This is not even addressing the basic human rights issue of Native Americans’ lands being under threat by projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline. This is not even addressing the four to six new ecological disasters unleashed in places like Arkansas with pipelines that have failed.
The key problem that I see with any question of national sustainability is that our nationwide systems are anything but, especially since our economic model is predicated on a model of exponential growth. Until this model is discarded there is little hope that exponential growth will stop. After all, if you had a spigot of money with which to fill a bucket every day, and you knew there was no end to the flow, what would keep you from filling the bucket? It is not as if the idea even exists in your mind that you might actually, as a person who hits the end of their well, run out of money. Unfortunately, this is the state of the economy, with the Dow Jones having just posted another record day. Many of those who helped engender the 2008 economic crisis have made out like bandits and have no reason to stop supporting the system that produces a continual cash flow that they can freely tap into. To anyone aside from the top earners the crisis is still going on, with roads and bridges going without needed repairs, and other basic infrastructure beginning to crumble.
So how can we think of sustainability when all the systems we may have relied upon are starting to teeter, if not collapse, be sold off, or otherwise compromised? It is, in short, the only way forward if we wish to live.
I follow Archdruid John Michael Greer’s fabulous blog, and this, among other related topics, is something he has tackled in far more detail and far greater scope than I could ever hope to. His posts are very well written and I highly encourage you to check them out. As Mr. Greer puts it: “one of the central tasks before Americans today, as our nation’s imperial age stumbles blindly toward its end, is that of reinventing America: that is, of finding new ideals that can provide a sense of collective purpose and meaning in an age of deindustrialization and of economic and technological decline. ”
There is an end point to all growth. Sustainability’s challenge to us Americans is for us to bow our head to that end point, and especially to stop our consumption well short of it for our survival, and continued livelihood. Sustainability is more than ‘living simply’, it is living with respect to the limits of this World to provide for us, and within respect of what our needs are, and tamping down on excessive wants. How can we do that when we live in apartments? Suburbs?
Given that the nation has yet to actually address the economic mess it is in, let alone the unsustainable fuel consumption we have, it seems to me that working locally is the best option. As much as possible we have to diversify our neighborhoods. That sounds nice, but what it means is work. It means that wherever possible we grow our own food and produce our own goods. It may mean taking care of a community garden so that we do not have to shuck out hundreds just to eat healthy food. It means pushing landlords to get solar panels on the roofs, or to make those roofs able to support food growing. It means turning our balconies and similar places into miniature gardens if we are able. Apartment, suburb, or a place with plenty of land, the motto is consume less, grow more. There are so many solutions that I could not possibly name them all, and your own situation may provide unique ones.
What this all means is answering the question of “Where is the Ground?” Where is it? Where is the ground by which future growth is possible? What is future growth in a world where exponential growth is unsustainable? Where is the ground of new life for our communities? Where is the ground for where we can grow our communities in sustainability? Where is the ground where we can grow enough food to sustain our communities without relying heavily (if at all) on imports to feed us? Where is the ground we can find to develop our communities into better places to live for ourselves and generations to come?
How do we abandon the outdated models of life and living so that we may, once we have found it, embrace the ground on which we are to build the future?
While each person must find their own solution, here are a few of my thoughts on the matter:
- Each of us must find a way to live in better concert with our local ecosystems.
- Each of us must consume less, grow more, and reuse everything to its capacity.
- What we consume must have some kind of long-term use.
- Land, both the sustainable preservation of and growth on arable land, and the preservation of wild places must be at the top of the priority list. No viable environment, and it will not matter what kind of future we try to make.
- Our communities need to bring its fundamental functions back down to a local level wherever possible.
- Our communities must support its local workers.
- Our communities must, in every way possible, learn to live with LESS: Less Energy Stimulation Stuff.
None of this is easy, but that said, neither is waiting for Peak Oil to take full effect and you, as well as your neighbors, loved ones, friends, and so on, are left scrambling with no real plan to tackle the challenge at hand. Far better to get through the theories and on to practical application while there is still some time left. There is also the thought of ‘do not let the perfect become the enemy of the good’. Do I do all of the above? No. I do not own the land I live on, nor do I have a lot of control as to what comes into or out of the home, but I do what I can, where I can. Even raising awareness of Peak Oil is doing something, though the hard work, as mentioned earlier, will still need to get done sooner or later.