First Steps To Sustainability

SUBHEAD: Some excerpts from John Greer’s THE LONG DESCENT.
By John Michael Greer on 22 February 2009 in HopeDance
Image above: "Shelter" in Phnom Penh Cambodia by Maciej Dakowicz.From

Sooner or later in the process, we’ll see the breakdown of existing social, political, and economic forms and the rise of transitional structures. At some point, continental governments such as the United States and Canada will come apart, in fact if not in name, to be replaced by regional and local governments cobbled together on an ad hoc basis; the global corporate economy will be replaced by jerry-built local exchange systems, and so on. The more sustainable, stable, and effective these transitional structures are, the more people, technology, knowledge, and culture will make it through the couple of centuries that this whole process will take.

That last is the detail that has to be remembered. Nobody now alive will see the end of the process that’s now under way. The challenge we face in the short term is how to weather the next round of crises when it arrives. In the long term, the challenge is to get through the Long Descent with as much useful information and resources as possible, and to transmit them to the successor cultures that, to judge by past models, will begin coalescing sometime in the 23rd and 24th centuries. That means making sure that people right now have the information and connections they need to adapt constructively to the changes brought by the decline of our civilization, rather than backing themselves into one blind alley or another. It also means taking a hard look at some of the most fundamental ways people in today’s industrial societies think about the world.

First Steps Toward Sustainability

Many of the strategies just outlined extend well beyond the reach of the individual, and to some extent this cannot be avoided. The community, not the isolated individual, is the basic unit of human survival, and one of the central lessons of the deindustrial age will likely be the value of community connections. Still, there are things that individuals can do by themselves to start down the road to sustainability. For some people the following ideas will be impractical, and for almost everyone they will be at least a little inconvenient. All of them, however, will be an inescapable part of the reality most people will have to live with in the future — and quite possibly the very near future, at that. The sooner people concerned with peak oil and the rest of the predicament of industrial society make changes like these in their own lives, the better able they will be to surf the waves of industrial decline and help other people make the transition toward sustainability.

Replace your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents. If you haven’t done this already you haven’t been paying attention. Compact fluorescent bulbs last about eight times as long as ordinary light bulbs, producing the same amount of light for a quarter the electricity. The less wattage you use, the less of a burden you put on the electrical grid and the biosphere. Go shopping for compact fluorescent bulbs this week, and notice the impact on your electric bill next month.

Retrofit your home for energy conservation. Most of the lessons of the 1970s energy crises were forgotten long before the recent housing bubble took off, and nearly all recent residential construction leaks heat the way a sieve leaks water — not a good thing in a world of rising energy costs. Fortunately this can be fixed easily for a very modest investment of money and labor. Weatherstripping doors and windows, putting foam gaskets behind light switch and electrical outlet plates, and the like can be done even by apartment dwellers, and more extensive projects such as putting an extra layer of insulation in the attic are within the range of most homeowners and house renters. As energy prices rise, heat will once again be too precious to waste. Over the coming year, learn what you can do to conserve energy at home, and do it; your bank balance will thank you, and so will the planet.

Cut back on your gasoline consumption. Our dependence on cars is as much emotional and psychological as it is practical, but few people are willing to take the step we’re all going to have to take sooner or later and actually get rid of their cars. Everyone can cut down on the amount of gas they use, however.

Whether you do it by trading in a gas-guzzler for a more modest and more efficient car, cutting back on casual driving, walking or bicycling more, or switching to carpooling or public transit for your commute, each gallon of gas you don’t use helps stretch out the downside of the Hubbert curve and buys time for a transition to sustainability. Keep track of how much gas you use each month, and try to make the total go down each month.

Plant an organic vegetable garden. Today’s agricultural practices depend on fossil fuels to power equipment, transport produce, and provide fertilizers and pesticides. This makes organic food gardening one of the skills that will be needed most desperately as fossil fuels run short in the decades to come. Pick up a good book on organic gardening and find a patch of soil for your garden, and you’re ready to go.

Apartment dwellers can often use window boxes or half-barrels full of dirt on a patio or balcony as a micro-garden, arrange to borrow a corner of a house-owning friend’s yard, or get a patch in a community garden. It doesn’t matter if you can only grow a few pounds of vegetables over the course of the season — the important thing is getting past the steepest part of the learning curve before you need to rely on your own produce.

Compost your food waste. Vegetable waste from your kitchen should go back to the soil, not into a landfill. Composting is a simple technology that does the job quickly, cleanly, and efficiently. Read a good book on composting and go to work. If you have a yard, set up a compost bin and use it for your kitchen and yard waste. If you don’t, talk to a friend who gardens — if she composts, she’ll likely be grateful for your compostable waste. If you own your home and your local code permits (most do), consider replacing your flush toilet with a composting toilet.

 In the deindustrial age, survival will depend on understanding nutrient cycles and working with them, not against them. You might as well get started now. . Take up a handicraft. The end of the age of cheap energy means, among other things, that economies based on centralized mass production are on their way out. In the future, just as in the past, most goods and services will have to be produced by local craftspeople or the end users themselves.

The coming of peak oil requires the recovery of the old handicrafts people once used to preserve food, make clothes, fashion tools, and produce a hundred other things now shipped worldwide from sweatshops in the nonindustrial world. All these crafts require practice to master, so the sooner you learn them, the better off you’ll be.

Adopt an “obsolete” technology. In recent decades, the social changes we are pleased to call “progress” have replaced many older, sustainable technologies with newer ones that use energy more extravagantly, wear out or break down more frequently, and depend on an ever widening network of other machines. These changes will come undone in a big way as the end of cheap energy makes most of the 20th century’s technological changes unsustainable.

As energy supplies peak and begin to decline, a window of opportunity exists for some of the older technologies to be brought back into use before they are forgotten and have to be laboriously reinvented decades or centuries in the future. Many of them work just as well as their more modern replacements — a slide rule can crunch numbers as effectively as a pocket calculator, for example, and a hand-cranked beater will beat eggs just as well as an electric one. Choose an old technology that interests you and make it an everyday part of your life.

Take charge of your own health care. Health care in the industrial nations has become a massive industry even more dependent on extravagant energy consumption and international supply chains than most. In the United States, at least, it has already become so costly that almost half of Americans can no longer afford even routine care, and it will likely be among the first economic sectors to break down as energy supplies contract and the global economy fractures. Older, less energy-dependent healing methods, most of them part of today’s alternative healing movement, offer one of the few ways of responding to this.

Many of them can be learned and practiced, at least in a basic form, without a great deal of training. Choose a method of providing your own health care, learn its strengths and limitations, and use it to maintain your health and treat your minor illnesses.

Help build your local community. The Petroleum Age saw the twilight of community across the industrial world and the birth of a mass society of isolated individuals tied to the larger society only by economic inter -actions. The results have not been good, and they will likely get much worse as the Petroleum Age ends and the economic glue of mass society comes apart. Many of the old institutions of community still exist, and new networks have begun to take shape in many communities. More than anything else, such networks need people willing to invest a modest amount of time in them. Choose one of them, get involved, and stay active in it.

. Explore your spirituality. At the core of the consumer society — and the fossil fuel-powered industrial system that spawned it — lies the conviction that the highest goals of human existence can be found in material consumption.

This notion took shape in opposition to an equally dysfunctional belief that despised the material world and grounded all human hopes in an invisible otherworld on the far side of death. The bitter sibling rivalry between these twin ideologies has hidden from many people the fact that many other options exist.

In the twilight of the industrial age, the faith in progress that buoyed the consumer economy faces extinction, but the hopes once confided to it deserve better homes. In spirituality as well as ecology, diversity is a positive good, and it’s long past time we discard the claim that every human being can, much less should, approach the great mysteries of existence in the same way. Whatever your own vision of spirituality may be, then, explore it more deeply, and study its teachings in the context of the coming deindustrial age. You may find that, seen in that light, those teachings make an uncommon amount of sense.

There are a good many other, similar steps that can be taken. Anything that provides functional alternatives to energy-wasting lifestyles lays foundations for the transitional societies of the late 21st century and ultimately for the sustainable successor cultures that will most likely begin to emerge in North America in the 23rd and 24th centuries. The important point, it seems to me, is to do something constructive now.

No comments :

Post a Comment