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. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Emily--write more, tell more, move me with your words coming alive via your heart, spirit and mind, reach out, don't stop and keep on otherwise, how will I know, or we understand the weakness and strength of all beings-self?

I need to be told over and over and reminded everyday by prophetic voices of urgency, grief and transcendence (transition) because it new, it looks difficult, its not what I have been taught to think and will I transition?

I need a community, yes, even a church community to help with the movement of transition and new life. Its all about new life, new living, saving all resources and moving into moderation and equity for the possibility of a healthy future and retaining life?

If I can start, anyone can, but I need to be reminded for now as we push forward, hopefully before it is tooo late.

Keep writing, reading and thinking and keep feeling the passion, the hope in even in the darkness for the love of life. What else is there really? Thanks!