Leaf and Blade: a blast from the past …

This was actually posted originally on my Livejournal blog. I’ve pretty much let this one go as most of my efforts get recorded here and in my other blog.

I was quietly and placidly grading exams today when I was overcome with a fit of rage. With a mórbhuile on me, the following spilled out:

Ok, I am officially angry. I have spent my entire life with a vague though often intense feeling of misapprehension about our post-industrial world, and at odd times this has broken out into a palpably seething distemper, but now I am simply angry. I am angry at the stupid, myopia of current global societies. I mean seriously — how many times in An Inconvenient Truth do we watch Al Gore flying in his airplane? Is he really so stupid as not to realize how damaging air travel is to the environment? I am angry that billions of people, however conscious they may be of ‘environmental issues’ still presume that making our decisions based on affordability and economic viability is ethically justifiable.  I am angry that now, after more than a decade of raging about the environment, there are still summits and meetings and committees trying to figure out what to do about climate change. Is it really that difficult to see what needs to happen?

Everything about our culture and perspective needs to change, and I offer the following points to indicate the extremity of the necessary change.

  • People need to start growing and processing their own food. If pests and funguses come along, then we need to deal with them as our forebears did: creatively and mechanically with the most careful application of homemade ‘chemicals’ (like using urine as a source of ammonia, or vinegar as an astringent). Saleable food should come from a surplus.
  • Chemical plastics, monoculture farming, and automobile industries should be outlawed. Moreover, the use of internal combustion engines should be heavily, but carefully taxed in order to limit their use: i.e. travel by train should replace travel by air for standard, long- and middle-distance transport (short-range travel being ideally taken back to animal traction).
  • Daily items (clothing, paper, utensils etc.) should, where possible, be made from, small-scale renewable materials: e.g. fast-growing plants like rattan, bamboo, hemp, rushes and grasses, and animal products such as horn, bone, wool and hide. Again, an emphasis on localised skills is necessary, as most people’s material goods could be made for immediate use.
  • Large-scale power grids need to be dismantled in favour of localised structures; and by ‘localised structure’ I mean that each steading should supply its own power using wind and sun. We simply do not need to use as much power as we do; most of our lighting can be handled far more creatively using the sun directly during the day and stored energy at night. The amount of energy used in commerce for lighting billboards, electric signage and poorly designed office buildings is egregious in the extreme. I was in Toronto for the blackout of the East Coast in 2003. When the power came back on, private individuals went without basic refrigeration and lighting, while in downtown animated neon strippers and sky-scraping office buildings empty of all workers blazed with light day and night.

In essence, what I am calling for is an increased sense of self-sufficiency and practicality. So long as our viewpoint presumes that people half-way around the world will prepare our food, clothe us and supply our power — in short, manage the productive logistics of our lives — then not only will we continue to destroy the land, air and sea just trying to get these bits of our material lives to us, but we will also permanently remove from ourselves the most basic and fundamental element of our own power basis, first to those who actually make these things and second to those whose job it is to translate their goods to our use. We need to stop taking the elements of our modern life for granted and get properly ‘back to basics’.

Am I the only one who sees this? Has it all gone too far and now we are locked into a self-destructive cycle where only the kind of vast crisis that increasingly appears in our entertainment (à la 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow) will create any real change? Are we really this catastrophically stupid and incapable of self-direction? Surely things are not so interconnected and self-bound that it all has to change or none of it will. Must it either all happen at once or it won’t happen at all? I suppose this is the question that all the summits and meetings are trying to answer, but it’s simply taking too long.

This all should have happened already.

Since writing this, I have cooled down a bit and thought about it long and hard. I have always maintained that whatever excites your passions indicates the course you should chart. No one sees the world like anyone else, so no one will have seen things the way I have (or if they have, then I’ve not actually met them yet). What I think should have happened already is almost certainly what I should already have been long working towards, so while I am still a bit angry I can let most of it go in the knowledge that it is up to me to change things. It’s time to get into politics, religion and print. It’s time to get to know as many people as possible and bring together the right kinds. It’s time to get active and change things.

It’s time to get busy and get a life.

P.S. (later that evening) After I wrote this and exchanged responses in the comments, I heard for the first time about the oil spill in the Gulf that has been pumping oil for the last 43 days. I did not think that I could become more indignant over this issue or be more adamant in my belief that a change in ‘our way of life’ is necessary, but now I consider these measures mild. Things need to change now.

From the comments, one of my colleagues posted the following:

Well, most of what you’ve outlined is going to be pretty closed to impossible in a liberal democracy or even an authoritarian state. If stopping damage to the planet is a matter of coercion, it’s going to fail. Seriously, if you take the yuppie who drives a Prius as a means of social signaling and actually make him make real sacrifices, you’ll see how far love of the environment doesn’t go.

OTOH, I’m not pessimistic for the simple reason that the Hubbert Peak is going to help us figure out ways to get beyond fossil fuels in a way that state power and eco-consciousness won’t. Look at what oil prices in 2007-2008 did to fossil fuel consumption, mass transit use, etc. Once oil gets back up (and it will as an economic recovery takes hold), folks are going to conserve energy because it’s going to be the more economic option.

The answer is of course the sharing of ideas and allowing their viral nature to infect as many people as possible – hence my keeping blogs. What happens to one happens to all, so culture will come around when the new ideas and states of being feed out into all awarenesses. The only question is how long the process will take …

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