02 February 2009

Parallel but reasonable

I feel like I live in a parallel universe to the one inhabited by the powers that be. In my universe humans are rapidly making the planet uninhabitable through profligate consumption. In the universe TPTB are in, the main problem is that the economy is sinking and people aren't consuming enough. In my universe, fossil fuels are becoming scarcer and more difficult to extract. In the parallel universe, technological solutions will solve any energy problems that may arise in the future. In my universe, climate change is a threat to most lifeforms on Earth. In the parallel universe, climate change will allow agriculture in marginal areas and open the Arctic to fossil fuel extraction.

How is it that I can exist in what appears to be the same time and place as TPTB and arrive at such different conclusions? I've been accused of exposing myself only to pessimistic sources of information and thus missing out on the optimistic perspective. Unfortunately, I don't know where to find these optimistic news sources. I think TPTB say things that make us think they have some optimistic news somewhere to back up their utterances. When Barack Obama says “we will not apologize for our way of life” he makes it sound like it would be reasonable to continue living the American way of life. But where did he get that idea? When politicians of every stripe go on about economic stimulus, they make it sound like there's some credible information that pouring money into the exploded carcass of the financial world will solve anything. When TPTB argue that the economy is more important than the environment, they insinuate that it is possible to live well on a dying planet. Is it that they're not paying attention or are they lying to us to advance an agenda?

I'm certainly not so naïve as to believe that anyone capable of achieving high rank in government or business is incapable of spinning the truth, but I think it's more than that. Here's why. Most of TPTB have kids. And most of the ones with kids actually love them and want what's best for them, because that's what parents do. They may not give a crap for anyone else's kids but they generally love their own. Wanting what's best for your kids, to most people, means thinking about what kind of life they're going to have when they're grown up. You want them to have good relationships, good work, good health, clean air, clean water and healthy food. Don't you? And if you wanted those things for your kids wouldn't you make decisions that promote a good future? Isn't that what parents do? Don't parents sacrifice so that their children can have good lives? Ok, this argument doesn't make sense unless you add in a huge smear of willful ignorance and apply it to everyone. We all love our kids and we're all pretending things aren't going to be worse for them because of our greed and stupidity. We demand to be lied to so we can trade our clean air, water, topsoil and trees for money and feel like we're doing the right thing.

It turns out I'm not actually alone in my parallel universe. Sharon Astyk has recently published a fabulous book called Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front Or One Woman's Solutions to Finding Abundance for Your Family while Coming to Terms with Peak Oil, Climate Change and Hard Times. This is my new favourite book and I encourage everyone to read it. Sharon is at least as concerned about the future as I am (well, probably way more because she's done more research and she's doing something about it) and instead of just ranting has set about to help people adjust to the new reality in a positive way. She focuses on the domestic economy as the foundation of a reasonable life, especially during hard times. She advocates a return to home as the centre of family life, establishing roots in community, growing and preparing your own food, sharing with family and neighbours, and being prepared to live largely outside the formal economy. And if we all do that, maybe our kids can have reasonable lives too.


  1. Most of TPTB have kids. And most of the ones with kids actually love them and want what's best for them, because that's what parents do. They may not give a crap for anyone else's kids but they generally love their own.

    Tragedy of the commons



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