SUSTAINABILITY HAS VERY LITTLE TO DO WITH THE STONE AGE

I’ve commented on the wonderfully literary Sun magazine before, and this interview between Arnie Cooper and interviewee Alex Steffen, of worldchanging.com. It’s in an an article called The Bright Green City. I like what it says:

Cooper: Author Derrick Jensen, in a talk he gave in Toronto, said that the only sustainable way of life humans have had was during the Stone Age.

Steffen: I have problems with the ethics of that statement, because it ignores the catastrophic human suffering that would be involved in a return to a Stone Age way of life. We know that way of life can’t support a population in the billions, so trying to go back to it would require the death of most of the world’s people. Beyond that, I think it’s obvious that nature is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Humanity, Inc. We have the capacity to take it down [much of it, anyway] with us if we choose, and people who are put into desperate situations will do just that.

There’s this sort of college-town anarchist [the worst definition of the word] idea that if we let it all fall apart, out of the ruins will come something clean and noncommercial and egalitarian and more in touch with nature, but that’s just crazy. Hungry people don’t think about the future.

As my colleague Alan AtKisson says, a world of starving people will be a world without panda bears, dolphins, or rain forests. By the time we got back to the Stone Age, we wouldn’t have the same world we had during the Stone Age. We can’t go back; there’s no “back” to go back to.

There’s a similar, equally deluded idea from the other side, which is to assume that technology will magically find a way to let us continue living wasteful, suburban lives based on throwaway consumption. At the wildest extreme are those who argue that we need to look for ways to “geo-engineer” the planet — for instance, by creating artificial volcanoes [see Iceland!] to fill the atmosphere with particles that reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the ground.

Saying we need to rush back to the caves and saying we need to “terraform” the earth are different sides of the same coin: both are profound retreats from the responsibilities of our day, and both ignore the amazing opportunities we still have available to us to create a sustainable society.

The choices we make today will determine the choices our descendants will have for thousands of years. This is a critical moment, too critical for us to get lost in fantasies.

There seems no doubt that we have to continually find ways to retrofit and reshape what we have already, with sustainable practices, technologies, actions and creative genius. What could be more destructive than smashing it to rubble, or building everything new—which takes remarkable amounts of energy? I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve read that it’s more sustainable to get full life (if we can call it that) out of your present car, then simply abandoning it and buying a hybrid—ie getting a new one built.

(By the way, this retrofitting must include our financial system, that has been left to modern day pirates).

If, as some have said, the rest of the world is pursuing, or desiring, to a degree, the utterly unsustainable American dream, then one of the great objects should be to make the American dream remarkably, stunningly, sustainable (and, yes, profitable)—greener houses, clean rapid transit, figure out the environmental disaster of the suburbs and massive corporate polluters, and still have coffee shops, but make them fair trade. I’m being flippant, but you get what I mean. How do we develop, within the current infrastructure—and I mean that literally—sustainable, renewable energies? It is being done, in the most surprising of places.

But understanding the crucial role of the West is one of the many reasons the American government’s corporate response (and, like a lap dog, the Canadian government’s response) to the Copenhagen Climate Summit plea was such a disappointment. The Mexico summit is coming, but what will be done?

In the meantime, Bolivia is right now having an Earth Summit with delegates from dozens if not hundreds of countries attending, giving voice, I hope, to those countries, and those great voices, who are heard very little, if at all. Unfortunately, even sadly, the American government—and likely the Canadian government—are sending no one. Heaven forbid supporting grass roots organization amongst the poorer nations. What would this due to domestic/multinational business interests? Plus, they’re poor, right?

People are trying, man, and loving. Edward Abbey, from the same article, said, “Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.” There is a process, a means, a process of working with the environment—our inner environment and our outer environment—and making the journey sustainable—as temporary as the journey is (I have the good fortune of giving a little talk about this tomorrow). The refinement needs to be ongoing, collective, imbued with kindness and optimism and facts and discernment, and love. Continued, continued.

At their best, Taoists implore us to smile and understand the Way of working with nature—which we are; Buddhists implore us to understand the temporary nature of all things and remain equanimous under duress; Hindus implore us to see the divine essence in each of us, and on and in this remarkable Mother Earth, the endless provider—and to act to protect the vulnerable, the innocent and all else that is an insufficiently protected miracle.

These are good things. Sending lots of love—may it be sustainable,

Pete xo

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One Response to “SUSTAINABILITY HAS VERY LITTLE TO DO WITH THE STONE AGE”

  1. [...] wrote the other day, in this blog: There seems no doubt that we have to continually find ways to retrofit and reshape what we have [...]

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