Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Hour of Power

If you have time while you're washing dishes or doing tasks at work that don't require heavy reading or writing, consider this:
It's a 75-minute discussion among climate journalists and activists about some of the possible ways to mitigate climate change, mostly from a policy perspective. I don't buy into it all, not by a long shot, but these are the kinds of conversations that are good to have.

Monday, May 20, 2013


Here's the newest video/lecture I've found that has inspired me today.

I'm still reading Sacred Demise, even as I read other compelling posts about how failing to resist is immoral. As I wrote on my other blog this morning, I think I can hold the two tense opposing philosophies in my mind at the same time, try to make intellectual and spiritual sense of them, and live in a way that meets my moral and physical needs. I want to resist as much as I can and still be "sane" (a loaded word, but I mean more personally healthy than 'abiding by the societal rules other people set for me') but also accept the very likely demise of life on earth and not let that knowledge paralyze my action. Make sense?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Sacred Demise

Last week's film screening and its attendees inspired me to consider spending less time and energy reading the doomsday scenarios. After all, I'm already convinced of the imminent eventuality of the demise of Western Civilization. What am I gonna do about it?

Right now I'm reading Dr. Carolyn Baker's Sacred Demise: Walking the Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization's Collapse. People who see me reading it think I'm crazy. So be it. Here's what has struck me so far:

I'm a sucker for etymology. Turns out the word "apocalypse" means unveiling or revealing.

Baker, via What a Way to Go, recommends we do some of these things to change our lives:

  1. Fully acknowledge and internalize that the culture of Empire is destroying the support systems on which the community of life depends, and robbing us of our essential humanity.
  2. Talk about your concerns with everyone you know. Make Peak Oil, climate change, mass extinction and population overshoot household words.
  3. Find your work in the world to preserve life, change this culture and/or create restorative ways for individuals and communities to live in harmony with each other and the non-human world.
  4. Assess what you actually need during this transition in order to live and do your work. Only buy what you need and buy from local sources in order to support the creation of local economies.
  5. Find or deepen your spiritual connection to that which is greater than you. Ask and then listen for guidance about how to live joyfully and creatively in the face of these unprecedented times (xliii).
I feel like I'm doing pretty well in many of those areas. Most of the time I let myself understand and be aware of the problem of Empire. I talk more and more about what I know, to the point of starting to alienate some of them. Finding my work in the world is a constant struggle. I feel like I'm making meaningful choices all the time, though. I've been working on number 4 for a while. It's how I was raised, to a point. It's what true conservatism means, or so I thought. And the fifth one is something I love to pursue. It's where my heart lies.

Baker then borrows from Daniel Quinn and claims that there are four myths we civilized humans tell ourselves. The ones that get to me are #3, that the "economic growth and technological 'advancement' of the 'civilized' world creates a 'better' life." The truth is that this better life "requires the degradation and annihilation of natural systems for the benefit of a few, self-selected humans" (lii). And the answer to it all is endless growth without limits. But even if there are limits, technology will save us, right? (Not right.)

Despite the certainty that these things are going to happen, Baker is a happy person. She's not optimistic that things will change and civilization will be redeemed. She is optimistic and thankful, it seems, that she can choose to live life more appropriately in the meantime. 

I'm not done reading Ahmed's Crisis of Civilization. Baker's book came from a different library and is due back much sooner than CoC. I'll continue posting my musings on this and other subjects in this venue.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Week in Transition

It's been a long week. I had an early conference call at work Monday morning, and I was so involved in that and some sponsorship opportunities and conversations with colleagues that I forgot to attend this lecture about Global Food Policy and Trade until it was too late to start walking across campus and even hope to make it in time. It may be just as well, though, because I imagine I would have wanted to argue (out loud) with the underlying assumption that people should not worry about becoming food independent but try to make money off of the commodities their nations can export in the global economy.

It's really weird, because in theory I love the idea of globalization. We are the world, we have so much in common, we want to raise everybody to a high standard of living. But in doing this, we ignore that niggling little fact that we live on a finite planet. We don't have the resources to burn to bring everybody to where we are; AND the toxic outputs of our industrialized civilization are going to kill the entire biosphere before we get anywhere close. Our idea of economics came into being and is dependent upon the idea of cheap, abundant oil (fossil fuels in general). The fact is that this fuel source will not last forever. Even if there's more in the ground than all the many scientists theorize, it's still finite and it's getting harder (more expensive and more destructive to human and non-human life) to harvest it. Prices will go up. People who depend most on cheap oil to make ends meet (and think about how much oil is involved in our food system, how cheap and subsidized food is in the United States, and how the U.S. poor have enough trouble already buying groceries, just as one tiny and local example of this pervasive global problem) are going to find it harder and harder to get by.

I screened the film GrowthBusters at my church Tuesday evening. Afterwards, the eight of us present had a really lively discussion about the problems we face. Unlike at the previous two film screenings, though, this time we reined it in a little bit, did less bemoaning of the state of the world, and talked instead about solutions. What can we do in our individual lives to get by on less, to avoid working in a broken system? Top-down changes are nice (and may eventually be necessary), but what do the people who are struggling to make ends meet do now? And what do folks like me that still live cushy lives but see the decline of The System in sight do to prepare and mitigate?

Well, we start Transition groups. We do more local gardening. What about the 80-year-old woman whose back hurts too much to weed and pick veggies and has trouble chopping and chewing all that real food? She makes friends with people - covenants in community - who have skills and resources she needs. Sybil has social work skills and she has her own home. I have a young back and don't mind stooping and sweating for a few hours. Other friends have seeds. Other friends have tools. Other friends have skills in carpentry, electricianship, etc. It's crazy and utopian, right? The thought that we can get together at small, local levels and take care of ourselves? Doesn't this go against the idea that we should all strive to be the best of our brand of specialized cog in a huge and highly oiled (in all senses) machine? That we can count on going to the grocery store as being the cheapest and most efficient way to get our food? That big box stores can give us everything we need by the most convenient methods?

This system is shutting down. It's based on growth, our favorite new religion/dogma/creed, and growth is based on the idea of cheap, abundant fossil fuels. And that idea was once a myth and is now a bold-faced lie. So what's the solution?

I'm not going to be an ecoterrorist and tell you to topple your system. I am going to encourage you to detach, whenever and wherever you can, from the system. Stop being dependent (as much as you can - this is an individual thing based on what you can do and what you feel comfortable doing) on the system that is so big it cannot possibly care about you. Go instead to your neighbors - the people who make up your community and live on your land base - and make connections. This is where some of the more fringe groups of the Tea Party and other seemingly right-wing movements get it right, I think. Big government is going to fail, one way or another. I still personally prefer the branch of big government that gives rights to my gay and black and Latino and poor and differently abled members of my society to the branch of big government that would prefer to demonize and cleanse the things it thinks are different and icky, but my Truth is that both branches of the U.S. political system are in it for their own power and they are owned by the energy-sucking companies that make civilization work. And I don't trust them anymore.

So part of me is becoming politically radical. But another part of me is seeing with every new day how this is a moral issue. This is the issue that I believe can be tackled head-on with my faith, Unitarian Universalism, a faith that doesn't have a dogma or creed but has many sources and seven principles, my favorite and most radical of which are the first and last:
- the inherent worth and dignity of every person; and
- respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part

These are profoundly challenging principles when you think about them. Are starving people in Africa and the oppressed people in Afghanistan deserving of the same respect and dignity that I am? Then why do I allow the government that represents me to forcibly take their natural resources and turn their people into desperate, angry scared slaves to neoliberal capitalism? If I believe in the web of existence, then why do I allow frackers in Montana to repeatedly decrease and pollute the water supply of the peoples and other species that live there? Why do I allow my brothers and sisters to kill off 200 species a day through overfishing and chemical pollution and countless other acts of xenocide?

I allow these things because I am afraid. I allow them because the problems are huge and I don't know how to start. And the answer is to form beloved communities and to respect limits and life and love. To overcome fear. To be willing to be different. To be willing to work hard. 

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

All My Favorite People

This documentary starts a little bit slowly, but it's worth dipping into, especially if you're new to the idea and want a primer on the crisis of civilization and how we can and should (and will, eventually) be living differently. I've put it on my list as something to show at my church, either as a full documentary screening or possibly in smaller segments in sermons between ministers.

Oh yeah, the favorite people bit. The documentary includes interviews with Richard Heinberg and Derrick Jensen (my favorite "ecoterrorist" and Daniel Quinn and Ren Prieur (a new favorite) and the incredibly adorable Wendell Berry. Lots of other interviews with other people I'll have to look into.

I hope you'll give it a shot.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Crisis of Civilization.8

Today I finished reading Nafeez's section on Energy Scarcity and started the chapter on Food Insecurity. So far, I haven't learned much of anything new, though it's nice to see that my man Nafeez references my man Lester Brown. Notes:

  • In the US, "the share accrued by the farmer of every consumer dollar spent on food has declined from over 40 cents before 1950 to about 7 cents today" (95).
  • Agricultural economists in the US like to say that food self-sufficiency does not equal food security. With rising energy prices, though, I think they're wrong. (Not to mention violent and exploitative methods of securing those trade agreements.) Colombia produces 62% of all the cute flowers imported by the US, but 13% of its population is malnourished (95).
  • Modern industrial farming is bad for a lot of reasons (97):
    • it takes 500 years to renew a lost inch of topsoil
    • over the last 100 years, the US has lost half its topsoil
    • topsoil in the US is eroding 30 times faster than natural rates
    • 2 million acres of cropland are lost per year in the US through erosion, desalinization, and waterogging
    • 1 million acres of cropland are lost per year in the US through urbanization, roads, and industry
  • Agriculture consumes 86% of US freshwater resources.
I don't have a particular thesis or message today. Not much hope except for the advice that keeps popping up among thinkers, poets, researchers, activists, scholars, etc: live in community and work from the ground up, learn new skills, and respect your land base.