In response to a comment in a recent post of mine, I replied,
"I think lots of us know what we have to do -- change radically -- but far too few are actually doing it. Problems abound, but so do solutions -- they're just expensive, inconvenient, and scratchy.
That's the theme of this diary -- that we can no longer be lazy, and that it can't be cheap, or convenient, or easy to save ourselves.
We've been living with ease for longer than I've been alive. I'm 52 now, and for all that time, life has been relatively easy. I don't mean individually, of course -- I've been functionally homeless, pulled past-dated food from grocery dumpsters, and had to do hard work for low pay -- but rather, I mean societally easy.
Energy has been cheap in those years, the environment has been forgiving and able to take whatever we gave it, and the natural bounty of the world gave itself to us without much in the way of barriers.
We learned to expect convenience as a generic right -- I mean, heck, that past-date cheese in the dumpster was wrapped in impermeable plastic, and I could drive to the back of the store to get it. Convenient dumpster-diving.
Cheap energy writ large has created bad habits and worse expectations, and strengthened our own laziest, most cheap-ass and self-interested worst selves. We have taken the lazy way to most everything, constructing a consumer culture that is both sucking the ecosystem dry, and actively poisoning it. But hey, that's business and politics, right?
We pump out toxic heavy metals from coal plants, have added an extra third of CO2 into the atmosphere, and produce dead zones that now seem "traditional," at the base of major rivers: fertilizer runoff has fed algae, which has denuded the oxygen from state-sized ocean areas.
As part of that process, we've turned farmland topsoil into a lifeless substrate, able to absorb pesticide, and herbicide, and fertilizer, but otherwise a nearly sterile substance. Worms? That's for gardens.
In that time, we've shifted from a network of mostly smallholder farms to a collection of giant, thousands-of-acres "farms" that require gigantic machinery, and gigantic debt, to harvest gigantic monocrops of soybeans, or corn, or wheat -- mostly GMO. We concentrate and overmedicate cows, pigs, and chickens by their thousands, who shit and piss and eat things they're not evolved to eat. Efficient? Probably. Sustainable? Not likely.
In these fifty years, we fished out the North Atlantic cod -- in living memory, once so plentiful that a man could make a fair living with two handlines and a dory. Could, that is, until high-energy industrial fishing got so efficient that the cod simply got used up. Ah well, there's more fish in the sea, right? Wrong.
In that time, we've initiated a hygiene project of mammoth proportions. The corporate PR machine has convinced us that body odor, noticeable breath, facial pores, natural lips, or the possibility of any bacteria is to be shunned. We are provided with semi-toxic unguents, at a high price, which replace personal aromas with generic floral perfumes, and are sold antibacterial soaps, socks, and substances that become evolutionary pressures that (surprise!) means we forcibly evolve antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The lip glosses and makeups and antiperspirants have chemicals that, because they're not "food," are utterly untested for toxic buildup, or endocrine disruption, or anything else.
We have gotten fat, and lazy, and spoiled during that period. Energy companies and corporate capitalism have convinced us that it's reasonable and natural to commute 1.5 hours each way, costing us at least a sixth of our waking lives, and dumping CO2 into the atmosphere. Processed food companies have convinced us that pre-formed processed cheese food spread is somehow safer than, say, Vermont cheddar. We've been convinced that constant distraction is embedded in the Constitution, and that digital games are a valid and viable means of somehow "preparing for the future."
The "outside" is a place of fear, and so "playdates" are held within protected, artificial, and frequently commercially-sponsored seemingly-sterile microenvironments. When was the last time some kid was let loose to "play outside"? Probably in the late 80s.
We have been taught that we can just throw something away, and it's gone. As if the earth was not a closed system, and as if all that "disposable" plastic (none of which -- none -- has begun to biodegrade) was magically -- poof -- disappeared.
And almost all of these habits are two generations old -- practically "traditional." We almost can't imagine slowing down, or having to grow our own food. We almost can't imagine having to repair or craft something instead of buying it. And most stuff has been consciously engineered to have no "user-serviceable parts." And those bad habits are even engineered in: your TV is designed to be always on, just waiting for you to click the remote. That way, you have instant gratification.
And of course, these kinds of habits are in danger of killing us. Or at least killing scads of us slowly, while making the world an ever more ugly, desperate place.
We know what we're doing -- we're warming the world, melting the icecaps and the permafrost and the glaciers, toxifying the water, killing shit off willy-nilly, and on and on. You are already likely bored with this diary, since you already "know" all of this.
So how the hell do we fix this?
The solutions are pretty straightforward.
We can fix this -- heck, Portugal is going to have reached 45% renewable energy, after a mere five years of trying -- but it will require some sacrifice. We can make single-use nonbiodegradable plastic illegal. We can stop wearing make-up, stop stupid car trips, stop leaving our TVs on, stop leaving our computers on, stop buying industrial agricultural products. We can dig up our backyards to raise our own food, and put up a line to dry our clothes instead of using that dryer. We can stop drinking flavored sugarwater shipped from far away, and bottled water ever. We can avoid plastic whenever possible, and push for more support for solar, and start riding bikes more often....
But what a lot of work. What a disruption to the economy. What a lot of attention you'd have to pay. Besides, I like shopping!
Well, it's not going to be easy to remake society, but it'll make it easier if we all understand that, well, it won't be easy.
It will be expensive. Without regulatory change, coal and oil will remain the cheapest means of ease, because the cost to the environment isn't somehow embedded in its price. Without a rational environmental surcharge on Mini-Moo creamers, there's little motivation to have washable containers. The cost of upgrading water treatment systems to handle endocrine disruptors needs to be passed on somehow, or it's an irrational natural economy.
Bluntly, it has get more expensive to do bad shit to the ecosystem, or we won't stop doing what we're doing.
It'll be inconvenient. It's not as simple as flicking off a light. It's physical effort, with the attendant aches and pains (especially for screeniacs) of waking up muscles long disused. It's planning and carrying your lunch, instead of buying fast food. It's having to wait for a ride, instead of always driving. It's using cloth diapers rather than "disposable." It's a nuisance -- but convenience has high CO2, pollution, and toxics costs.
It will by necessity be slower; convenience, after all, is about saving time. But faster isn't always better. In fact, it rarely is.
It'll be scratchy. Irritations will abound. Socks will be darned. Tender hands will have to learn to work soil. We won't be sport-shopping anymore, or having new stuff all the time. We'll bitch about how costly everything is, and how that "damage tax" isn't really fair for that lawn mower, since you're going to use it to make compost, which'll get me a carbon credit anyway.
There will be mini-revolutions -- small-scale power from nanobots, or printable solar panels, or whatever -- but the fundamentals of how bad it is won't change. No single "solution" will save what we are destroying.
The consumer culture will have to shift to a sustainable recovery culture, or it will crash. And if it crashes, it will be unexpected, and monstrous with suffering.
Instead, we'll have to suck it up soon, and bring out our better selves in society -- the part that likes to work hard, is altruistic, and is willing to work for a common abstract goal. We will have fewer luxuries; fewer long trips, and fewer short trips to the store; fewer "disposable" things; fewer apples in January. We will make better use of available efficiencies, and still will yearn for the days when air conditioning was cheap. We will reshape expectations, and reprioritize our lives.
We will radically remake culture as if people matter more than money or things.
We can also make it fun. We can make more music, more community, more homecooked meals; have better health, better sleep, better mornings.
And maybe, have a future we recognize.