Beyond Doom, Beyond Sustainability

Transition Voice

Wars, peak oil, climate change, continuing global economic crises. We live in such uncertain times.

It could be so easy to throw up our hands in frustration and disgust, to go down that dark road of disillusionment, of morbidly chalking it all up to human nature. It could be so easy to buy into the thinking that we’ve destroyed ourselves, and it is just a matter of time before the bomb we’ve set explodes in our faces.

Or, we could play for the best in humanity:

Peak oil is as inevitable as death and taxes. But for every convert that peak oil’s doom-and-gloom extremism sweeps up, it alienates plenty of people who might otherwise climb down from their SUVs. -Toby Hemenway in “Apocalypse, Not”

When hope is more realistic than despair

“Sustainability” is not just a new, trendy buzzword that hippies and hipsters wax lyrical about in the coolest coffeehouses about town. Sustainably is how we lived, out of necessity, for millennia: making the best we could from the gifts we found in nature.

Nature moves in exponential cycles. Hence the quickening we are experiencing now, this hurtling towards potential and spectacular impending doom. Ecological, economic and cultural disaster, all converging into one great big gigantic cosmic SPLAT.

Though if nature moves in exponential cycles, then might it not also be possible to harness this energy, and to use the forces of nature to reverse the cycle of damage we have done?

Permaculture, the ethics-based design science from which the Transition movement grew, teaches us to observe and interact with the natural world around us, seeking to explore and mimic nature’s patterns in cultivated ecological systems, to become stewards in a mutually beneficial relationship where each party flourishes, so that we can harness the regenerative powers of the planet which blossom all around us, every day, in every season.

Indeed, the Transition movement was born out of a positive response to peak oil; moving beyond “Is peak oil real?” to action based on the underlying assumption that yes, peak oil is very real and is going to very really affect us, and so what are we going to do to transition to this new lifestyle?

Transitioners walk the line daily, between a positive response to changing cultural and climatic conditions on the one hand, and the possibility of apocalyptic abyss on the other. Like a motorcyclist taking a corner at high speed, who must keep his eyes on where he wants to go (lest he end up in a ditch on the side of that road), so too must we keep our eyes on the bright green future that we want to create, instead of the admittedly dire possible alternatives.

One of the Transition movement’s biggest assets is that it recognizes that high-intellect, high-tech design won’t solve the problems of peak oil, climate change and economic crisis. You can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created it:

“Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple,” as Bill Mollison, the Australian naturalist known  as “the father of permaculture” has put it.

A postcard from the developing world

Low-tech, remembered knowledge of how to move and work in harmony with the natural world around us is, well, the natural way.

Each of us comes from an indigenous culture if we trace our roots back far enough, and therefore all of us bear somewhere within us the knowledge of our ancestors, for whom living within ecological boundaries was not even a concept; it was a given, like drinking water or breathing air.

When working in the developing world as I have done, one has an opportunity to experience the depths of human resilience, to experience generosity from people who have access to fewer resources in one year than we take for granted in a day.

You can feel the heartfelt human connection that transcends language barriers, cultural differences and geographic separation. And you can discover on a practical level what people should know already, but clearly need to be reminded of. That all of us, no matter where we are in the world, want the same things: to feel loved, to connect with our community and to create a better life for our children.

We do truly live in a Garden of Eden, with everything that we need to create a beautiful, vibrant, healthy community and life right before us, if only we train our eyes and hearts to see. With the right perspective, suddenly, problems can become solutions and waste materials can become valuable resources. It just requires a slight shift in perception and a simple foundation of ethics and principles to guide us.

“Sustainable” isn’t natural

With a little discipline and nurturing, we can create the fulfilling relationship with our planet that we only dream of now.

But here’s the rub. When was the last time you referred to the most fulfilling relationship of your dreams as “sustainable”?

Sustainability is simply living – living simply, within our means, and working with natural laws and forces. To expand that means to expand our lives. In nature, energy cycles through the Earth’s system. It changes form and then it comes back again. If you ignore this law you get modern society. To paraphrase the old saying, the Piper always collects his due in the end.

It is time to move beyond sustainability.

We get what we focus on, so let’s play bigger.

Instead of focusing on how to reduce our footprints, what if we were to focus on creating human systems inspired by nature, using biological resources, in order to flourish?

What if we were to focus on re-discovering and re-organizing the vast amount of natural living resources we have all around us, and incorporating them into our designs to create multiple mutually beneficial relationships?

What if we were to focus on how much we could create and contribute to the world, instead of how much we can reduce and reuse? Or worse still (for those who still insist upon business as usual), upon how much we can consume and accumulate?

What if we were to focus on how big a positive impact we could make, rather than how much we can shrink ourselves to minimize our impact?

What if instead, we were to focus on doing things that are healing and inspiring?

Restoring? Regenerating? Recreating?

What kind of world could we create?

One Comment

Here is Jensen written larger. Despair is the obverse of hope, each a waste of time. Let us stop beating our breasts about what “they” are doing, which we surely have little expectation of changing, and get on about doing whatever we can to alleviate the problems wherever we are able.