06 January 2009

What Now?

The other night we were talking about our environmental impact and looking at ways we can reduce it. The overall feeling that I took away from that conversation is that we are not thinking any where near radically enough. All our ideas are tinkering at the edges. What we need is a total, communal, global revolution in how we live. We have a human society that is growing rapidly in both sheer numbers of people and in the standard of material comfort we demand. The planet is already near the breaking point, and suddenly billions more people want, and are building, the standard of living we have here in the over-developed world.

So, wrapping the hot water heater, and installing solar hot water panels, and turning off our lights, and carpooling, while good and useful things, seem utterly inadequate. We need a whole new way of living. "We" means all of us. We need a miracle. And we need it now.

There are signs that little shifts are happening all over the place. But most of those shifts appear to be more cosmetic than deep. We need a radical shift. A shift at the very root of who and what we are and how we live. Not just a greener image. Not just a new president. A deep understanding of and orientation to our place in the natural order.

I am continuously frustrated by several attitudes that stand in the way of focusing our intelligence and energy on creating a new way of living.

There is the old attitude of "It's not really a problem. I don't have to change anything." Simple denial. Increasingly difficult to maintain, but lots of us are holding on anyway.

Then there is despair. "It's too big a problem. There is no way we can all change that much in that short a time. So I'll just carry on as always and hope it doesn't hit me too hard personally."

Finally, there is false hope. "Look at all the shifts taking place. Look at the new president. Just relax. It is all going to work out just fine."

Denial. Despair. False hope. All deadly.

Here is my feeling about this. Total, radical change is possible. It is necessary. It is inevitable. We will bring it about or it will be forced upon us by circumstance. The former is far preferable.

But to bring it about we need to set aside our denial, and our despair, and our false, easy hopes. We need to open our eyes. We need to get to work. We need to be ready for radical changes in our lifestyles and material comforts. Yes, I do think so. Most of the green gurus want us to think the easy changes will suffice. Just change a few light bulbs and all will be well.

And they want us to believe that infinite growth in every one's material comfort is still possible. But we have to be ready to give all of that up. In fact, the fastest way for all of us to survive is simply to stop demanding continuous growth in our material lives. Every other approach is going to take too much time and way too much luck.

The idea that infinite economic growth lies at the heart of our well-being is a relatively new phenomenon in human society, and a very new thing on the planet. A strictly human invention. I am no economist, but as far as I understand, this growth is fueled by an economy based essentially on lending with interest, and on legally-mandated corporate profits. This is seen nowhere else in the natural world. It has to go. It is already falling apart.

Looking at my own life, I can see that a big part of the resistance to change is based on fear. It is based on various beliefs about who I am and what I need and what I want, all of which go into making up my sense of self, who I think I am. That is why I have spent so much time talking about the self, the illusory self. We are so committed to maintaining this idea of ourselves. More committed to that, it seems, than to the well being of life on earth.

This situation we find ourselves in really does seem to require of us that we cut our ties to the past. I mean the past that tells us who we are. The past that tells us what can and can not be done.

Who knows what is possible? The other day I was pretty much slapped down, at least that is how it felt, for my attitude that I can do something to save the whales from destruction. That I can do the impossible. When all I was trying to do is get a bunch of other people to care enough to look at their own lives and figure out what they can do, what we all can do together. This is not impossible. Why is it labeled impossible? We are the source of the problem. We are the source of the solution. Maybe impossible for me alone, but not at all impossible for us together. What is truly impossible is that we will all continue to live as we are living now, and the outcome will be different from the toxic catastrophe we see now.

Our assumptions about who we are and what we need, and what is possible, are destroying the planet, our home, the source of our lives. We are in major self-destruct mode. All in the name of having more for our selves. Crazy.

There is no blame here. We are all doing the best we can. And we can do much better. We simply don't need all this stuff. We don't need it to be happy. It doesn't make us happy.

The poorest 3 billion people on the planet do need more to live decent lives. But you and I do not need any more. We need less. Much less. There is so much we need to shed. Assumptions. Guilt. Blame. Rationalizations. Fear. The past. The false self. Tons of stuff. The planet needs for us to possess less.

Let it all go, and face this moment in all its wonder and its dynamic complexity. Face it fully, falling neither into despair nor into false hope. Do all the obvious and easy things, and then dig deeper, into the very heart of who we think we are. Every moment, drop the assumptions of the past. The assumptions of last year. The assumptions of yesterday. What is possible now? And now? And now? What now? What now?

Donella Meadows liked to say, there is just enough time for this radical change, if we start now. I would put it slightly differently. There is just enough time for this radical change, and that time IS now. Now is the only time we will ever have.

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