From JOHN MICHAEL GREER
[…] What I’m saying is that any meaningful response to the crisis of our time has to begin on the individual level, with changes in our own lives. To say that it should begin there doesn’t mean that it should end there; what it does mean is that without the foundation of personal change, neither activism nor community building nor anything else is going to do much. We’ve already seen what happens when climate activists go around insisting that other people ought to decrease their carbon footprint, while refusing to do so themselves, and the results have not exactly been good. Equally, if none of the members of a community are willing to make the changes necessary to decrease their own dependence on a failing industrial system, just what good is the community as a whole supposed to do?
A great many people like to insist that changing your own life isn’t enough, and then act as though that means that changing your own life isn’t necessary. Again, not so. If industrial society as a whole has to stop dumping excess carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, dear reader, that means among many other things that you, personally, have to stop contributing your share of that excess. Equally, if industrial society as a whole is running short of fossil fuels, that means among many other things that you, personally, are going to have to get used to living without them. That being the case, why not start with the part of the problem about which you can actually do something—your own consumption of fossil fuels and your own production of carbon dioxide—and then go from there?
Political activism, community building, and a great many other proposed responses to the crisis of our time are entirely valid and workable approaches if those who pursue them start by making the changes in their own lives they expect other people to make in turn. Lacking that foundation, they go nowhere. It’s not even worth arguing any more about what happens when people try to get other people to do the things they won’t do themselves; we’ve had decades of that, it hasn’t helped, and it’s high time that the obvious lessons get drawn from that fact. Once again, if you always do what you’ve always done…
That being said, here are some suggested New Year’s resolutions for those of my readers who are interested in being part of the solution:
1. Caulk, weatherstrip, and insulate the place where you live. Most Americans can cut between 5% and 25% of their total annual energy use by weatherizing their homes. None of the work is rocket science; your local hardware store can sell you everything you need for a very modest amount of money, and there are plenty of sources in print and online that can teach you everything you need to know. The sooner you get to work, the sooner you start saving money, and the sooner a good chunk of your share of excess carbon dioxide stops messing with the atmosphere.
2. Make at least one commute or run at least one errand a week on foot, by bicycle, or by public transit. A great many Americans don’t actually need cars at all. A good many of those who do, due to a half century of idiotic land use planning, need them a great deal less often than they think. The best way to learn this is to experience what it’s like to travel by some other means. It’s long past time to ditch the “yuppie logic” that suggests that it’s a good idea to drive a mile to the health club to get on a treadmill and get the exercise you didn’t get by walking to the health club. It’s also long past time to ditch the equally false logic that insists that getting there faster is the only thing that matters.
3. If you take a vacation, take the train. Traveling by train uses a small fraction of the fuel per mile that a plane needs, and the trip is part of the vacation rather than an ordeal to endure between one place and the next. Give it a try. If you live in the US, you might also consider supporting the National Association of Railroad Passengers, which lobbies for expanded passenger rail service and offers a discount on fares for members.
4. Buy it used. This applies to everything from cars, should you actually need one, to the cheapest of trinkets. By buying a used product rather than a new one, you save the energy cost of manufacturing the new product, and you also keep things out of the waste stream. Used computers are particularly worth your while; if you live in a tolerably large urban area in the US, you can often get more computers than you need by letting your circle of friends know that you’ll take used but working devices off their hands for free. You won’t be able to play the latest computer games on them, sure, but if you’re obsessed with playing the latest computer games, you don’t need a computer; you need a life. Speaking of getting a life…
5. Turn off the boob tube. Better still, if you can talk the people you live with into it, get rid of the thing altogether. Commercial television exists to fill your brain with emotionally manipulative imagery that lures you into buying products you wouldn’t otherwise need or want. Public television? Replace “products” with “opinions” and you’re not too far off. (Huge rapacious corporations spend millions of dollars to fund public TV programs; I hope none of my readers are naive enough to think that these corporations do this out of some vague sense of moral obligation.) You don’t need any of that stuff cluttering up your brain. While you’re at it…
6. Take up an art, craft, or hobby. Once you turn off the TV, you’re going to have the one luxury that nobody in a modern consumer society is ever supposed to have: actual, unstructured free time. It’s worth luxuriating in that for a bit, but pretty soon you’ll find that you want to do something with that time, and one of the best options is to learn how to do something interesting with your hands. Three quarters of a century ago, most people had at least one activity that gave them something creative to do in their off hours, and a good many of those activities also produced useful and valuable things. Unless you’re at least seventy years old or come from a very unusual family, you have no idea how many arts, crafts and hobbies Americans used to pursue, or how little money it takes to get started with most of them. By the way, if you think you’re too old to take up playing the guitar or doing some other seemingly complicated skill, you’re not.
7. Do without something this year. This is the scary one for most people in today’s consumer society. To be able to have something, and choose not to have it, challenges some of the deepest of modern taboos. Give it a try. The point isn’t to strike an assumed pose of ecological virtue, by the way, so don’t tell anybody what you’re doing without, or even that you’re doing without something. Nor is this about “being good” in some socially approved manner, so don’t choose something that you’re supposed to want to do without. Just quietly neglect to make something part of your life, and pay attention to your own emotional reactions. If you’re like most people in today’s America, you’ll be in for a wild ride, but the destination is worth reaching.
So there you are. As we head deeper into the unknown country of 2013, have a happy and sustainable new year!