Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Let's Face It

I have been reinspired by a blog I stumbled upon ... another blogspot gem: carfreefamily. This guy is a stay-at-home dad and ordinary environmentalist like myself. I sense in his writing the same feeling of helplessness tempered by hope and love for this place. He's honest about the frustrations and difficulties (and joys and rewards) of living without a car, tending a garden, and watching most of America continue down a destructive, consumptive path while ordinary folks are trying to make a difference. I like the way this guy writes and I think I will send him an email to that effect. He should know his thoughts and efforts are impacting people.

I also recently viewed The End of Suburbia, a documentary on the impending crisis of Peak Oil. I hear this term so often these days I feel compelled to capitalize it. We borrowed the DVD from someone at a recent community meeting on environmental issues (about 30 people in attendance). We were forewarned about the film by the person who loaned it to us, and indeed, this movie scared the shit out of me. The gist of it is this: our entire economy, and particularly the very American phenomenon of suburbia, is entirely reliant upon cheap energy.

Think about it: the suburbanite gets in her car, drops the kids off at school, gets on the freeway and sits in traffic for an hour or more, finally arriving at her job in the city, many miles away. There, she sits at a computer terminal and does any number of things which depend on the import/export of foreign goods. After work, she heads home, burning the same amount of gas again. (In all likelihood, her husband is doing the same thing in his own vehicle.) In the evening, the kids are driven to their various activities. Once a week or so, the family packs into the van and drives ten or more miles (at least) to the Big Box store to pick up enormous supplies of food and goods, none of which are produced locally or sustainably. On the way home, it's so-and-so's birthday party next week, so stop at the Strip Mall Department Store to pick up a gift ... plastic toy manufactured in China or Taiwan or Mexico. Stop and fill the tank, head back, feel too tired to make dinner, get drive-thru fare, go home, eat, go to bed, get up and repeat the process. Meanwhile, home is an oversized several-thousand-square-foot box requiring tons of fuel to heat or cool and run the alarm system protecting the entertainment centers and and appliances and clothes and gadgets needed to fill up all this space.

This may sound overly negative. But does it happen? Yes, it is happening all the time, to varying degrees. And every tiny detail of this lifestyle requires cheap and abundant fuel. What The End of Suburbia asserts is the reality that the age of oil is coming to an end. Not that we will run out of oil, but that what is left requires more and more energy (read: oil) to retrieve it. The oil that is available now is extremely deep, requiring natural gas or water to force it out of the ground, and it is "dirty," meaning more energy is required yet again to refine it for use. This can't last. THIS WON'T LAST.

So ... what will become of our lifestyles? Well, they will necessarily change ... for the better, I think. Economies must be localized, and goods and services must be obtained using the least possible amount of fuel. People will need to work and shop within walking or biking distance of their homes. Everything will have to be downsized ... most importantly, our overwhelming and insatiable desire to consume. The upside of all this, if we can manage not to destroy ourselves in the oil and food wars that will inevitably arise while this shift is occurring, is that we will begin to restore and preserve the environment and prevent some of the suffering to which we're currently condemning future generations.

When I was talking to a friend recently about these issues, I had an interesting vision of a moment when everyone in a community would all step out of their homes on to the main street of the town. Looking around, we would see doctors, carpenters, gardeners, police officers, mechanics, teachers, etc. etc. We would have everything we need in skill and intelligence to keep our community going. We just don't see it right now, because so many Americans go from home to car to job and back again. Obviously there are many, many exceptions to this. But ask yourself ... who are your neighbors? If there were a catastrophe how would we pull together? As has been demonstrated clearly by the disaster of Hurricane Katrina, it is folly to think the government will come to our rescue. In the years to come, I think we will see vividly the worst and best of our natures.

James Howard Kunstler was my favorite of the speakers who appeared in the film. He is extremely blunt about the destructive nature of American consumerism and about the strife and violence that is to come. This view appeals to me because, to quote a friend, it leaves no room for apathy. If it "might" happen, then there's some validity in the "wait and see" philosophy ... but the fact is, it is happening. The world is being destroyed by our greed and the oil won't last much longer.

My partner and I are on the same page, fortunately. At some point we'll leave this very dry valley and head back over to the West side of the mountains. The climate is milder there, so winter and summer won't be so difficult to endure without electricity, if necessary. Rainfall is plentiful, and rain barrels will irrigate our garden for free. We are blessed to be musicians with a number of acoustic instruments at hand, and we can light a candle and play music for our own pleasure. It really doesn't sound all that bad, but it will certainly take some doing to acclimate to a lifestyle of creation rather than consumption.

This crisis will not arrive overnight. Gas prices won't suddenly shoot to twenty dollars a gallon. But it is certain that someday, people will look back on these days with nostalgia ... or disgust. I'm looking forward with my eyes and heart open.


At 5:27 PM, Blogger lauren said...

I'm glad that you have re-joined the blogosphere. I stumbled upon your blog about a month ago and enjoyed reading through your archives and nodding in agreement. I've since started my own blog to try to join in figuring out some of these issues. If enough of us raise our voices and try to work collectively to create more sustainable communities, we can really make a difference.

Thanks for the tip on the new blog. Sounds interesting and I'll be sure to check it out!

BTW, I've been trying to get my hands on a copy of The End of Suburbia for some time now. After reading your post, I'm determined to see it. Maybe I'll have to buy it and view it as an investment that I can share with others. Your description of the typical surbanite existence was right on!

Thanks for a great post.

At 10:29 PM, Blogger SustainableGirl said...

Lauren, thank you so much! I really appreciate your comments. Keep the faith! We are going to change the world.


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