Some of our favorite readerboard quotations are submitted by our friends and neighbors, and one of these recent gems suggests that ‘one must break down before you can break through’. This adage surely rings true as it relates to making lifestyle changes seemingly necessary as our environment deteriorates. Human nature appears to require pain in order to spark change. And the greater the urgency for change, or the more immense the needed change, the more intense must be the pain in order to climb the seemingly insurmountable mountain. No pain, no change. Habits are simply hard to break.
Sir Isaac Newton taught us about momentum back in the late 1600’s: bodies in motion tend to stay in motion unless acted upon by an external force… like fear or anxiety! Habits have momentum, and lots of it.
Let’s look at carbon’s momentum in our lives. Stop reading for a moment and look around. Find something that isn’t made of, transported by, fertilized with, or heated by, petroleum or a related carbon cousin, like plastic. Could you find something?
Captains of industry, bent on extraction, want you and me to have plentiful carbon, cheap. And they’re smart, investing wisely in government, buying a senator or two; buying a policy maker who designs the system; converting our politicians into compensated spokespeople.
Three decades ago those of us willing to listen were warned that unless we made profound changes to how we lived upon this great planet, that a distressing set of symptoms would alight upon our world.
What’s happened as a result of these warnings? Most everyone changed very little. And most everyone had lots of babies. So here we are, thirty years later, with most every living system in a tailspin, with very little resilience, with very little self-reliance. Instead of contraction our human impact has exploded.
But you and me, though aware of the science and symptoms of carbon’s increasing parts per million, remain fairly comfortable. Although you need not look very far for evidence of these limits to growth, for the most of part we can still live our lives normally. Much like the frog who doesn’t leap out of a sauce pan whose heat is slowly rising, we’re not leaping out of our cultural soup; we haven’t broken down and we’re therefore not apt to break through.
Author Derek Jensen nailed it when he wrote…“We’re fucked, and life is really, really good.”
Meanwhile we’re losing species; losing ice; losing predictable, bearable climate. We continue to get closer and closer to the cliff’s edge and most of us get that. Commercial interests and their compensated spokespeople deny or ignore it. Instead they comfort us and play aikido with our minds, changing the subject and having us focus instead upon things important, like the evening gowns worn at the Oscars.
What are you and I left to do if we see the fuckedness head on and choose to ignore the evening gowns? How can we break through to a post-carbon culture if the external forces to shift carbon’s momentum are left hidden and ignored by the mainstream press and by our leaders? What tools do we have at hand to force the contraction of our exploding impact?
Until our government gathers the political will to regulate carbon use, population growth and our individual ecological footprint, the only tool we seemingly have to reverse or even slow down our race to the cliff’s edge is voluntary action: wanting less; embracing enough as plenty; voluntary simplicity.
At best, though, voluntary simplicity by the cultural creatives -- the chosen few, from my perspective -- will simply decrease the rate of deterioration, slowing down how quickly the water warms up in the saucepan. And if the water doesn’t get hot enough to induce leaping out, there goes the fear, the angst, the external forces, that would empower our breakdown… and subsequent breakthrough. Thanks to environmentalists, me being one of them, we’ll more slowly heat up until be boil to death.
From my perspective we can’t afford to wait for further deterioration. By the time we break down because of the heat we’ll be so far into resource and environmental over-shoot that it will be too late to rewind the tapes to achieve an attractive, sustainable future. Resources will be depleted; resource wars will be rampant.
How, then, do we break through to a post-carbon paradigm without breaking down first? If the premise here is that human nature appears to require pain in order to spark change, how do we spark change without pain?
Frankly, I don’t see a way. Although science and logic would be my tools of choice to spark change, they are decreasing in importance instead of playing an increasing role in addressing our demise. Our culture’s distrust of science appears to be increasing! OMG.
Although I don’t see a proactive, intelligent way forward this side of a revolution, or eventual civil war, I also can’t stop trying. A moral obligation drives me to continue, even though I understand that all of my efforts may simply result in reducing the water temperature's rate of rise; reducing the chance to break down. What am I to do otherwise? Go out and aggravate the situation? Live the American Dream?
Instead I’ll voluntarily do what I can to deconstruct this system that violates nature; that rapes nature; that rapes you, me and our descendants. Unless our human laws are aligned with our natural laws, achieving sustainability will remain a myth.
Those who govern must be forced to break away from their toxic ties to commerce and embrace the logic and science that tells us about the impending cliff edge. Simply put, it’s killing us to allow people to bear as many children as they’d like; to build as big a home as they’d like; to drive supersized, inefficient vehicles; for 1% of the population to control 95% of the wealth; to continue to ‘legally’ pollute; to succeed by selling under-priced goods that externalize their harm upon you and me; to avoid pollution control by moving production to filthier countries.
‘Enough’ must be regulated if we are to survive and thrive; ‘enough’ must be aligned with the needs of our land base’s carrying capacity.
I don’t know about you, but enough already. Take it down.