You’ve seen Lightbulb lists. You know what I’m talking about. These are the lists of 10, 25, 50 things you can do to lower your carbon footprint today! Generally they begin with switching out your lightbulbs for CFLs (compact flourescent lights) and making sure that you unplug electronics you’re not using–your TV, computer, etc. Somewhere on the list you find things like not eating beef (darn methane factories) or eating locally and lower on the ladder–weekday vegetarianism, veganism, etc.
While these lists are important for helping people realize ways they can reduce their overall consumption–in our consumption-driven culture–these lists do little to actually push people toward talking about the larger issues, about the ways in which we will deal with the poisons we put in our air, our water, our soil. We don’t talk about the social inequalities that may prevent people from making these changes (of which low-income and food deserts are just two of many issues), or about the ways in which many of the items that wind up on this list are more reactionary than anything else. By the time most things reach the public spectrum, it’s too late.
I recently had the question posed to me (and several other like-minded people–this is also a problem, preaching to the choir): How do we make policy, how do we act, for the future that will come, rather than thinking for the problems we’re experiencing now?
Bill McKibben, in Eaarth makes the argument that we need to learn to live in the world that we’ve created for ourselves, that past generations have created for us. We need to learn to hunker down, we need to learn, or re-learn, basic life skills. McKibben argues that climate change is already underway, that our discussions about how to stop it are, more or less, moot. Sure, perhaps we can do something to curb it (rather than exacerbate the problem) for future generations–but we need to focus our energies on learning to survive in the world that is coming. This is almost a post-apocalyptic view that McKibben takes on. But, as Dale Bailey points out in “The End of the World as We Know It,” the world is always ending for someone, somewhere, on some level. The world as we know it, the world we’re living in a bit blindly, is on its waning days.
We’re on our way to a water crisis, particularly in places like China where 80% of grain crops are watered through irrigation. In the US, the figure is around 20%. We are using up our supplies of fresh water. We are poisoning our fresh water. We are melting the ice caps, decreasing the salination of the oceans while at the same time increasing the overall level of the oceans. There are stronger storms, stronger droughts. The weather is more extreme. There is more flooding–just look at the midwest over the past 2 decades–because we’re paving over America, because we’re reducing organic matter in the soil.
America is no longer a superpower.
We are used to relying on technology to make things better, but technology doesn’t seem to be doing that. Technology can help–it can bring fresh water to Africa, for instance, or reduce the number of people who die from diseases. It allows us to communicate with people we’ve never met, with people we live half a world away from. We need to look beyond technology improvements.
We need to start asking ourselves how we can make changes ourselves–Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael P. Nelson propose we bring our passions into this pursuit–and how we can reach people who might not realize the need for these changes–at least not yet. Where does this education start? Who should teach it, or is it something that can be taught? Is it instead, something that needs to be practiced, a shift in the paradigm? How do we get inner-city kids into green spaces? How do we utilize vertical gardening and xeriscaping and community gardens to reduce environmental and social injustice, to increase food accessibility here in the US?
Here’s the thing: we can talk a good talk, we can talk to the people who already care. We can sit in academia and ponder the best solutions–and maybe even try some of them out. But all this really constitutes is moral masturbation. It produces a feel-good sensation, but no solution-babies.
What are the solutions?