Archive for March, 2007

Let All Who Are Hungry…

Sharon March 29th, 2007

This is one crazy week here. Getting ready for passover always is, and we’re headed off to a wedding first, so everything has to be done ahead of time. Let us just say that advance planning isn’t always my strongest suit and leave it there. A better, more loving wife would have done laundry sooner and made sure her husband wouldn’t have to wear damp boxers (and no, this doesn’t have anything to do with gender politics - I volunteered to pack and do laundry in exchange for him getting rid of the winter’s worth of dog poop and the half-eaten dead possum that the melting snow revealed on the lawn - I think I got the better deal!), but since I’m not that wife, I might as well write a bit, while I’m waiting for them to get to merely damp.

The peak oil movement has a survivalist streak to it. There’s quite a few people who hear that the peak is coming and believe that building up their stocks of ammo and heading for the hills is the way to go. I understand that impulse - it is the impulse to protect your own, the panic you feel when you realize that your society, which on some level is supposed to protect you, hasn’t planned ahead for this one. And so there’s a tendency of people to get into discussions about what happens when refugees or hungry folk come around, and a lot of times the answer is that you have to protect your own again.

And maybe sometimes that’s true. But I also think that sometimes this is a product of reading too many science fiction novels. You know the kind - the end of the world comes suddenly, either because, as MEA says, Alien Space Bats change the laws of physics, or the giant asteroid hits the earth or whatever - and all of a sudden, 99% of the population of the earth conveniently (sure, it is a little sad, but Our Heroes coincidentally manage to avoid being eaten by cannibals) dies off, and then it is left to the survivors to recreate the world with their new religion (a la Octavia Butler), their coincidentally spared nuclear power plant and handy astrophysicist (Niven and Pournelle), the SCA (Stirling) or something or other else. In these books, you always know, somehow, that if you don’t save every single crust of bread, your loved ones will starve to death, so it is a moral choice to say no to the wandering beggars. In fact, it is fairly moral, generally speaking, to do anything but eat them, because, after all, every refugee is a threat. And in the books, they usually have swords and big guns.

Well, I can’t swear life will never be like this, but it is worth noting that in many hungry places in the world, including New Orleans in 2005, refugees were actually much more *vulnerable* to violence than they were aggressive. Despite the stories of rape and murder and mayhem (which turned out to be largely nonsense), and the people standing by their doors with big guns, most of the most desperately needy people did nothing more than wait politely, weep, beg for help and maybe sing a little. And that’s true of most refugees in the world - these desperate people race across borders, trying to escape disaster or terrible violence, and they don’t attack those around them - they wait, and pray for a little food.

During the great depression, thousands of young men and women took the rails because they were hungry and had no jobs. While they did occasionally commit acts of violence and fairly often stole small amounts of food, generally speaking, these young people were much more likely to be abused than to do serious harm. They were thrown out of towns with no food into the cold, because the law said no one who didn’t live there could have the sun go down on them. They were raped and beaten up by other refugees and by locals. They were thrown in jail and set on chain gangs for the offense of being homeless. Writing about it later, many of them told stories of going to soup lines and being cast out hungry - because the town said that there was nothing for anyone but their own. A young man tells a story in David Shannon’s _The Great Depression_ of travelling all winter through the midwest without a coat of any kind, and visiting, in each town, relief services and asking if anyone could give him a coat. He never got one.

Now it is possible that none of these places had a coat to give. It is possible that adding one more bone and two more potatoes to the soup pot would mean someone’s child died of hunger - I don’t know. But I think more likely, what happens is that when things get hard for us, we often panic - we look at what we have and we see all the terrible things that could happen - and so, we hold hard onto what we have, regardless of the consequences to others. Unlike the novels, we’ll probably never know for sure that we’ll always have enough - there isn’t any way to be sure, sometimes, whether there will be more tomorrow or not. So how do we know whether to share or not, whether to greet the stranger with a gun or a plate? How do we know, if things change and the world seems uncertain, how to respond to one another?

Well, the world was once much poorer than we are, and there was a fairly universal set of rules for this. We in America are richer than the kings of old. And my religion, and every single other religion and society I’ve ever heard of tells the story of the stranger in disguise. The stranger who appears in the form of someone desperately poor and in need, and who turns out to be a god, or an angel in disguise. Those who turn the stranger away are punished. Those who welcome them in are rewarded.

In Judaism, it is Elijah who walks the world in the form of a stranger. And at this season of the year, at Pesach, just as the first new foods are coming, but before we are overwhelmed with plenty, we are to open our doors and call out that all who are hungry should come and eat. A few years ago, I was teaching Hebrew school to fourth and fifth graders, and I asked them what they would do if, in their comfortable suburb, someone were to come through the door and ask to join them. Almost universally, they were horrified at the thought of sitting down at the table with someone strange, who actually needed food badly enough to come in off the streets. They felt that such a person would inevitably be dangerous. Most of the children said that their families don’t really call out, and don’t really leave the door open.

And that, I think, is where we are at in our society. I’m not arguing against prudence and care, or that we will always have enough to give away. But we are rich now, and I think it is worth remembering that in every society and faith, the obligation to welcome the stranger and offer them something *even in the face of our own hardship* is central to our beliefs. These stories aren’t always religious - sometimes it is the good king or another of power who travels in the guise of the poor. But the stories are universal. They are designed to teach us that nothing is ever certain, that we can never have *enough* for everything we need. We are supposed, in our vulnerability, to be willing to risk something for another both because it is right, and also, because we too have been strangers.

We Jews have been strangers many, many times. And the future, with all its difficulties, means that none of us can be certain that we will remain priveleged and comfortable. You can prepare perfectly and still lose your home, you can do everything right and have bad things befall you. There are things we cannot control. So each of us must live in the world as though we will someday be the stranger who turns to another for a hand. And each of us must be willing to offer one, if we expect to receive it.

This is much more risky than greeting the hungry with violence, or indifference. It is frightening. It is hard. What if the stranger who comes in to the door is angry, or smelly, or frightening? What if, despite our best rational precautions, harm is done? But then again, what if *we* do harm to an innocent other by allowing our fear to shape our thinking too much? And what if the stranger at our doorstep is Elijah, come for his glass of wine, his plate of food, and to see if we have the courage of those who came before us?

Chag Sameach All! A Happy and Peaceful Pesach!


Take the Oil Quiz

Sharon March 27th, 2007

Gail Tverberg’s quiz at Energy Bulletin here: #27804.html is fun to take, but also includes a great deal of very clear information about the impact of oil peaking. For example, she makes clear why a 2 or 3% decline in production is likely to have large effects on the world than it would seem.

Check it out!


Starting from Where You Are

Sharon March 25th, 2007

My daily hatemail generally includes 3-4 messages using quite a string of obscenities to describe the indecency of my daring to speak about peak oil and climate change because I have four children. This morning I got a nice one suggesting that I should practice “retroactive abortion,” which I thought was particularly charming. Oh, and I got one that reassured me that it really, really wasn’t that I was Jewish that was the problem, it was my family size - but they made such a big deal about the fact that it really, really wasn’t that I was Jewish that somehow I got the impression that it really, really *was* that I was Jewish - along, of course, with the sin of having a big family.

Now I’m a big girl, and I’m the one that chose to put my family status out on the blog, and in my public bio. I could easily have left it out, since there are other people in the peak oil and climate change movements with children who don’t discuss their families. In fact, I can’t think of a single major male figure (which is pretty much all of them) who discusses their children in their bio. By talking about mine, not only do I draw a great deal of entirely expected hostility, but I also reduce my own credibility - women who write about children and parenting are generally not taken as seriously in the guys clubs as men who write about depletion rates.

But it would be dishonest, IMHO, not to talk about my family status (although if the emails keep increasing in violence, I may change my mind about this). My kids motivate a great deal of what I do in two ways - first, because I am concerned for their future, and second because I do have more children than my just share, and thus I’m obligated to reduce my family’s impact further. Our goal, not yet achieved, is to have the same ecological footprint of a family the same size in India. It this point, we use resources at about 1/3 of the rate of an American family of four. We’re getting there - but it is a process.

What I find interesting about people who react so strongly to my having so many children is that it isn’t really clear what they expect me to do about it. They say something along the lines of “but what you don’t seem to understand is that your having all those kids is the root of the problem.” But having had all those kids, and starting from where I am - what would you suggest I do? Should I stop writing? Spend all my time weeping and penning mea culpas about my reproductive habits? Would it be better if I switched this blog to being movie reviews and stories about the cute things my kids said, so that I never disturbed anyone by talking about anything more important? Frankly, the latter two sound pretty boring to me, but I live to serve.

Like everyone who comes to the peak oil and climate change movement, I have a past. Perhaps all of those reading this blog have a perfectly ethical one - you’ve lived your whole life in a one-room cabin lighted by your own hand-dipped beeswax candles. But I don’t. I flew. I bought groceries from the supermarket. I had Barbies when I was a kid, - I’m pretty sure the plastic from will outlive my grandkids - and I didn’t always fully understand the implications of population. And so I start writing from a post-lapsarian, fallen position, in which I have consumed more than my share, done environmental harm, and contributed to quite a few problems - including overpopulation. I admire those of you who come to this from a different perspective - who have never harmed the environment, and have always made wise choices. I have no difficulty at all admitting that you are better people than I am.

For the rest of us, we start from where we are. If you worked in the defense industry, or you had more than a just share of children, you bought designer clothes made by slaves, you burned oil that warmed the planet and that nigerian peasants were murdered for - the only thing we can do is to go forward from where we are. The thing is, if the only people who are allowed to speak are the ones who have always done the right thing, and always lived the right life, it will be a very quiet place. Me, I’m for having everyone speak. It isn’t that I’m suggesting absolution - each of us has to deal with our prior impact in our own way. But angst about what is done is an indulgence I don’t think we have time for - there’s simply too much useful work to be done.

My children are my one great selfishness, and I don’t deny that. I never made much money. I didn’t drive a car until I was 28 years old, and I grew up with a father who never owned a car. I was poor, so I ate cheap and low on the food chain and I always liked interesting work and political activism better than vacations and nice clothes. But I have four kids, from a combination of desire and an absurdly high fertility level that has defeated every form of birth control known to mankind. And I’m very fortunate - more, perhaps, than I deserve.

There’s a story in the Talmud: Jacob has four wives, and it has been prophecied that he should have 12 sons. So the matriarchs agree that each of them should have three children. But it doesn’t happen that way - Leah is fortunate, and she has a fourth son, who she names “Judah” which means “Now I will praise G-d.” She praises G-d because she was given a gift that was greater than her own just share, and she knows it. And she knows also that her gift comes at a price - another of Jacob’s wives has only two children. In the end, the only thing that she can is be grateful, and to acknowledge and recognize that she has more than her just share.

I too have more than my just share. I don’t represent myself as a role model in this, and I know that it doesn’t pass the sniff test - everyone can’t do what I have done. And that’s true of a disturbing number of things I still do - for example, there isn’t enough oil in the world for everyone to have a car, and yet, I still have one. And there aren’t enough resources in the world for everyone to have four children. And yet, I still have them. Like Leah, all I can do is minimize their impact in the world, and be grateful I have them, while also not representing myself as a model for anyone else.

That said, however, I’m not wasting any energy on guilt. I did what I could with what I knew and the resources I had, and if you all want to engage in navel-gazing about your SUVs or your kids, go for it, but not here. Nor do I think that everything that is said by the zero-population growth folks is true - I believe strongly in the voluntary reduction of population, and I support measures to encourage that, but when people start talking about sterilizing the poor and other undesirables and forcible abortions, I’m right out - sometimes it is about me being Jewish. And I still think that an Amish farmer with 8 kids is better for the world than a suburban pet psychologist with two. Over the last half century, the population growth rate has dropped like a stone, for a TFR of 5 in 1950 to a TFR of 2.7 and falling. All that reduction has come from the empowerment of women and rational choices for the most part by those women - statistics show that less than 20% of that change is due to birth control availability (which is not, of course, an argument against birth control availability - it is merely an interesting observation that women are rather good at controlling their fertility when they have high status, regardless of the technology they use). That is, once women started to see that they didn’t have to have six kids to see them survive to adulthood, they don’t for the most part. This is not a byproduct of wealth, either - Cuba, Kerala, Sri Lanka, Georgia, Albania… all of them have TFRs below the US’s, and all of them are poor. So I believe strongly in *VOLUNTARY* population reduction - and voluntary means voluntary - that means that women like me who get pregnant by accident despite their best intentions, and people whose religion, or personal reasoning leads them to a different conclusion get to do what they want. I’ve no objection if we offer major tax penalties or pegging a system of rationing to family size so that you only get X amount of carbon emissions no matter how many kids you have - go for it - I’ll help! - but voluntary is voluntary, and we’re all going to have to suck up the fact that statistical outlyers will exist, no matter what. As long as you are reasonably civil, though, you can be as mad as you want at me for being one.

The thing is, people who are here are here. That means the children we’ve had, and the aging baby boomers who are past their best hoeing years but still keep eating are all on the same footing - the goal is to keep all of us alive and fed and to offer everyone a fair share of what’s necessary. And we still have the resources to do that - if we choose.

And from there, all of us need to work as hard as we can only using only a just share of resources - period. And I don’t mean a just share by American standards, I mean a share that leaves enough for everyone else in the world. Some people, including me, will have to work harder and give up more than those who haven’t had as many children. Some may never get there - elderly people, for example, may always need to use more resources than younger ones, and the only choice that we younger people will have is to consume a little less still, to leave some for those who need it more. And sometimes we’ll all fail - we’ll fail to do the right thing, we’ll fail to make the right choice when we should.

The peak oil and climate change movements needs more people - and that means people who haven’t always lived perfect lives. That means people who spent their money on frivolities, who watch tv, who eat meat, who have kids, who bought an SUV, who supported the Iraq war, who are against abortion and don’t use birth control, who wear leather shoes and smoke cigarettes. This simply can’t be a movement of the perfect - there aren’t enough of you. Heck, Julian Darley worked for Disney, I’m told, I’m willing to bet that Matt Simmons is still neck deep in the stock market, and I’ve heard a rumor that Richard Heinberg used to drive a van and play rock and roll. I fear our Gandhi may not be here yet (actually, don’t look to close at Gandhi). Me, I’m just a girl with too many kids and little taste for martyrdom. If you don’t like what I write, feel free to read someone else - there’s plenty of someones out there.

And for those of you who are pure, who begin having never used more than a just share of resources, I salute you. I admire you. I can’t be you, because I’m me. But I do admire you, and I understand why my failures offend you so. I just don’t understand why so many of you, instead of working in your gardens, have so much time on the public computers you must use to write to me, and why, with all the free time for thought you must have, you can’t think of anything better to do than tell me that it really isn’t that I’m Jewish…


How You Going to Keep them Down on the Farm Once They’ve Seen Manhattan?

Sharon March 23rd, 2007

Fortunately there’s no need to keep anyone down on the farm. Living a low-impact life starts where you are now. This is really important, because I think one of the instinctive reactions that people have to facing the future is “I’ve got to get a farm!” Now I love my farm - I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But I liked being a city girl too - I still miss car-free life, since I didn’t drive until I was 28 (and I still hate it), and I loved the vibrancy and culture.

So what can you do to save the world if you live in NYC, or Boston, LA or SF? Well, you could do what Colin Beavan and his family are doing at They are living a life without disposable anything (including tp), with only local food, no cars, no nothing, minimal appliances, no buying (like us, but we still buy recycled toilet paper) and it sounds like fun to me. Colin is a smart guy, and there will be a movie and a book about this as well.

All of which should just remind everyone that there are no excuses - you do what you need to now, where you are, in your place. If you can’t grow a victory garden, get a windowbox. If you can’t give up your car, walk or bike a little more each day. If you can’t undo what you’ve done, start now and begin thinking “what do I really need, and what gets me the life I believe in.”

And check out Colin’s cool blog. And if I’m going to keep up with the Beavens’, I’d better go try and persuade Eric to go toilet paper free. Hmmm…I wonder how high the impact of all that divorce paperwork would be… ;-).

Sharon, who has actually been experimenting for some time with mullein and lambs ears leaves ;-).

Not the End of the World

Sharon March 22nd, 2007

-Not the End of the World

Peak oil is a big deal. Climate change is a big deal. The likely economic restructuring that will accompany both of them is a big deal. But it isn’t the end of the world, or at least, it need not be.

In spring, this season of renewal, I think it is important to remind ourselves of that fact.
Marie Mies, one of the authors of _The Subsistence Perspective_, recounts the story of attending a symposium on the future. Great scientists and scholars arrived from every nation, and Mies was invited to represent the “feminist perspective” (read - be the token woman) among the great men. The scholars prognosticated bleakly on an environmentally devastated future in which nuclear violence, climate change and overpopulation end the world as we know it. And then Mies spoke, saying

“Please, remember where we are in Trier, in the midst of the ruins of what was one of the capitals of the Roman empire. An empire whose collapse people then thought would mean the end of the world. But the world did not come to end with the end of Rome. The plough of my father, a peasant in the Eifel, used to hit ths tone of the Roman road that connected Trier with Cologne. On this road where the Roman legions had marched grass had grown, and now we grew our potatoes on that road.”
(Mies and Bennholdt-Thomas, 25)

Mies pissed off the guys at the symposium, whose claims were that there was no hope, no future to prepare for, no reason to go forward with the next thing, to plant the next potato. In fact one of them, Josef Weizenbaum argued that we women were at fault, because we keep going on, and don’t cease entirely to bear children. Weizenbaum said to Mies that women should go on sex strike. And perhaps that’s not the worst way to get people to behave themselves (a la Lysistrata), but Mies also pointed out that we women often clean up the mess and go on, that there notion that nothing more will come when we have lost what we’re accustomed to is a male one. Men, not exclusively but still more often than women, hold the power of large things in their hands. And I think when large things fall away, it is easy to forget that small things - the seed, the child, the need for dinner - stil go on. And so will we, at least in some way.

I don’t insist on the notion that there is something fundamentally gendered about this difference - that’s perhaps a little essentialist to me. But ultimately, many of us are going to have shift our focus away from distant things to the local ones, away from our preoccupations with things like B-to-B software engineering and averting the client’s latest crisis, and back to things like dirt and water and dinner. We will have to turn our eyes towards the things that enable us to go on, rather than the less necessary things that put our going forward at risk.

Empires end. Eras end. Ways of life end. But people mostly go on. Yes, there’s always Easter Island, and it is technically possible that we’ll render the planet unhabitable by warming it. More likely we’ll just kill a few billion people. But none of that has to happen. None of it is necessary. And much of what is required to prevent it is simply coming to terms with the notion that a radical change in your way of life is not the same thing as the end of the world. I think many people tend to associate the two - we have always been wealthy and comfortable and lucky here in the west, and the loss of some or all of those things seems like a disaster of unimaginable proportions. But it doesn’t have to be - that’s a way of thinking we can choose to discard, recognizing that those who live less comfortable lives often value them equally.

Take the toilet. Most of us are rather attached to indoor plumbing. We like it, we consider it a convenience, and more. Many of us are disgusted, sometimes violently so, by the thought of coming into contact with - even just for a moment - our own urine and feces. We have become accustomed to the notion that fresh drinking water will simply whisk away anything that we deem unpleasant. The same people who change diapers and scoop cat feces out of litter boxes are irrevocably opposed to the notion of once in a while emptying out a drawer full of dry compost from a composting toilet. People who have shit in the woods while camping would rather die than give up their flush potties at home, because they somehow have attached the whole structure of civilization to their toilets in their heads.

But there’s nothing natural about the idea that we shouldn’t have to deal with our own wastes - through all of human history we’ve done it. In fact, the last couple of generations of rich white American folk were really the only people in history ever to have to have nothing to do with their own poop. In us is the capacity to get over the toilet, or the lack thereof, to stop wasting drinking water and start building soil fertility from human waste, rather than from artificial nitrogens that warm the planet and destroy the environment.

And the same is true of all the other things we’ve become accustomed to - we’ve tended to think
that if we don’t have X, or live Y way, the world will come to an end - we’ll be savages, awash in a Mad Max-esque world with nothing worth living in it. But not only is that wrong, it is a demeaning way of thinking - demeaning to our ancestors and everyone else in the world who lives without the luxuries we have. For us to say “life without hot showers wouldn’t be worth living” even in jest, is to begin our thinking with the assumption that those who don’t have hot showers somehow live a lesser life than we do. But were our grandmothers less civilized, less human, less valuable because their lives didn’t begin with indoor plumbing?

Even deeper things and those of more value than hot showers carry the same false associations. Modern medicine is in many ways a good thing, and people who advocate doing anything to preserve technology often talk about defibrillators and appendicitis and emergency response. And I’d like to see these things continue too - but more people die every year from medical errors than would die if we didn’t have surgeons for appendicitis. Fewer of us would need defibrillators if we lived in a society with less meat and more exercise. And 1/3 of all emergency response calls are in relation to car-related injuries - 1 million people die every year because of cars. But that’s a holocaust we’re willing to tolerate because we’re comfortable with it and we see it as an inevitable downside of our society, rather than something that if we changed it, we wouldn’t have to endure. A life without much of modern medicine - still keeping the germ theory of disease and knowledge of low-intervention care like splinting bones, washing hands and midwifery would undoubtably lose more people to death in childbirth, accidents and sudden heart attacks. It would also lose less people do to superbugs, medical errors, car accidents and other downsides of modern life. I haven’t run the numbers - I don’t know which would save more lives in the end. But what matters here is that a life in which appendicitis condemns you to death is not inherently more hellish than one where riding to work condemns you to death - we tend to associate what we have with the “civilized and good” and what we don’t as “uncivilized and terrible” - but again, that’s a habit of thought we can change.

Civilization is not a lifestyle, it is a way of thinking about our relationship to other people. In a civilized society, you act as though other people are as real as you are - that is, you assume that they feel pain like you do, and you endeavor to do unto others as you would have done to you. In a civilized society you believe that others have rights, just as you believe you do, and you attempt to extend them as justly and fairly as possible. Perhaps we cannot offer everyone the right to be free of hunger - I hope we can, but perhaps it won’t be possible - civilization begins at the moment that we try to create some kind of real equity, and at best, don’t go around enjoying our enormous meals in front of the starving as we do today. Civilization has existed in all of human history at one point or another - and if it has a definition, if you can sort out the societies that thought public beheadings were civilized from the ones that didn’t - it comes down to the notion that we have responsiblities towards other people, and the other people have rights and responsibilities towards us. The rest is culture - and culture is valuable, but we are not so written into our culture that we cannot learn to think anew.

And there is nothing in civilization that has anything to do with lights, ipods, toilet paper, social security and clean underwear every morning. We have gotten in the habit of associating the *objects* of our civilization with the *fact* of civilization, and thus seeing in the absence of those objects, the end of the world. And that is a real and serious mistake.

It is a mistake for two reasons. First, it leads us in the wrong direction - it means when we seek to preserve what is good about our lives we are focusing on what things we can keep going, as if that was the central issue, rather than what objects we need to achieve a just and decent society. And second, when it turns out that we can’t all have our own ipods anymore, it plunges us into despair, thinking that we have lost our world. But our world is not its objects or comforts, and it is not our wealth.

Beyond certain fairly simple needs - home, shelter, food, water, clothing, love, society, in many cases, the things we have are barriers to civilization - they are barriers to doing good, honorable work that doesn’t harm anyone. If we substitute a powered object that warms the planet for something we can do fairly easily - like hang laundry or mix bread - we have stepped away from what we consider civilized and done injustice for no reason other than a few minutes of saved time. And the moment we begin justifying harm to others and the future by saying “well, I’m very very busy, and my very important work justifies this…” we’ve stepped onto the road to moral evil. As long we believe our own comfort is worthy of doing others harm, even our own children, we will never be able to achieve justice. And many times, the objects we have implicitly tell us that we are not competent to do these things the right way - the rototillers stands speaks volumes as it says, “the hoe is too hard.”

The same is true, more explicitly, of the industrial economy - its functioning depends on making itself indispensible. That is, we must need corporations enough so that however they act, we will continue to absolve them because we need them for food and clothing and shelter. Our dependency narrows our choices - it means, for example, that we cannot require the industrial economy and the things it makes to serve us and our definition of justice - we must accomodate ourselves to it. And so we are told that an increasing host of things that no human being before us ever needed our indispensible to human life - that we cannot go on without the objects of civilization, and the multinationals that provide them. This is, of course, a lie. Perhaps *the* lie.

As long as we perceive civilization in the objects of civilization, we will be dependent on the industrial economy, industrial agriculture, and all the other things that do harm to us and the future. I do not mean this in a purely sentimental sense - I don’t think it is possible to live without doing harm, and there are tools that we all use to make life better. But understanding the harm they do, and choosing wisely and honestly, from a perspective that understands that these are merely tools to be picked up or laid down as we choose, a useful means to the kind of world we want to live in - is the key to having power over our future. We accept that a politician who takes money from agribusiness is probably influenced by their desires. But we are not free of the influence of agribusiness as long as we are dependent upon it to feed us. And as long as we are dependent upon the growth economy to supply our most basic needs, we may speak of resistance, but we are voting with our dollars for industrial society, and our dollars always speak louder than our words.

We must begin to turn around our thinking, and begin not from the objects we associate with civilization, but from the values we hold dear. From there, we can move forward again in a meaningful way, asking ourselves of each choice “is this truly necessary, and are its consequences things we want.” We might think, as the Amish do, for example, before we adopt a technology, whether its unintended consequences are worth it to us. The Amish do not drive cars, not because they believe cars are evil - they will ride in them - but because they believe cars enable a society of distance and independence that is incompatible with their basic beliefs and values. What would the world be like if we evaluated everything we chose in the same terms - if we looked at the things in our life not as links to civilization, but as catalysts for a particular kind of society, and asked ourselves, are we choosing the right catalysts. What might our culture look like if we chose only to take the best and most essential elements of what we have, and conserve the rest? What might it look like if we held any values dear enough to limit ourselves in order to enjoy them? I suspect, in fact, that we *do* as people hold values dear. And thus, the ones we claim we care about - freedom and justice, honor and integrity - those are the things the structure of our society should reinforce.

There is very little doubt that we have enough resources on the earth today to enable our society to gradually come to a sustainable population and avoid any kind of disaster - if we in the rich world are willing to give up many of the things we have come to associate with our culture and civilization itself. There is no need for hunger, or continued warming of the planet - but in order to create a world in which resources are used more wisely, we’d have to undergo tremendous cultural change. And the first such change would be the disassociation of the world itself with the way of life we have become accustomed to, with a real and serious evaluation what it is we want our lives to be for.

Someday - whether in 10 years or 500, the odds are good that someone will plant potatoes on the highway that passes my town. Societies end. Ways of life end. The grass comes up again. And it will for all of us. The question is what do we offer the people who are here now and those who come after us - is the best we can hope for to have them scramble to survive in the ashes of our “civilization” or can we do better.

The grass will be up soon here. Perhaps we had better choose. And wisely.


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