So today, dear reader, I would urge you to be involved in sustainable business. For many of this you this may mean as customers: every local farmer needs at least a couple dozen of them. If that’s too much and overwhelming, don’t sweat it. There really are times when you have to buckle down and just survive, ‘cause I’ll say it again—it’s an insane, addicted, codependent, abusive world we live in. Get through this and we’ll talk again when things are better.
Or if you’re in a more secure place and mere patronage doesn’t feel “big” enough for you, there are scads of other things you can do to forward local agriculture in your area—it’s struggling and really can use some passionate non-farmers to fill in the gaps. Maybe you could find a few friends from church and your neighborhood to form a buying co-op and bring in weekly deliveries of some local food that you can’t get in stores, but is too far away to justify actually driving to the farm to get it every. stinking. week. Start a middleman business moving fresh produce from small local farms to local institutional buyers like schools and hospitals—a big missing link in most communities, because neither farmers nor institutions have time to devote to this. (Farmers would love it if you did any of these things. Really, they would.)
You, or any enterprising 16+ year old with a driver’s license, could start a diaper service. Or a composting diaper service, if you live in a desert.
Partner with a beginning farmer. (Joel Salatin, alternative farmer extraordinaire, discusses this at length in his books—I couldn’t have thought of this on my own.) A lot of people have dreams of retiring early to farm. Here’s the bad news: Farms have a life cycle, and by the time you hit early retirement, you’re already going to die too soon for your farm to be viable as anything but a hobby. It’s our economy’s cruel little joke that once you’re financially established enough to start something, it’s too late to see it through. I only see this getting moreso as student debt continues to climb.
How about instead, you partner up with someone whose gut-busting-labor years are still ahead of them? You can provide them with capital and general worldly experience that they need desperately. They can take their energy and go far with it, providing you with some side income and maybe a sweet farm to live on in your working and retired years, and be established enough to carry the cycle on when you pass. This, to me, is one of those Spirit of Elijah things—we need to bring our generations back together in this way just for our own selves, and if we’re serious about replenishing the earth.
If your town, like mine, has a suburban expanse connected to the main workplace districts by roads that get rock-solid constipated during rush hour, another partnership of the established-and-moneyed with the young could run a jitney shuttle service.
Become a solar power baron. States and utilities are draggin’ their fool feet, so it’s probably just up to people like us. I would suggest teaming up with farmers or warehouse businesses; they often have big roofs so the installation cost per watt is much lower than it would be if you put little panels on individual homes. Also, farms and businesses are often eligible for tax breaks or outright refunds that homes are not. Should you and/or your co-op manage to install enough acreage, you may even find yourself in a good bargaining position to get a better rate from the power company.
…And so forth. The moral of the story is we can’t just be choice takers if we want to be good stewards. We have to create the choices we want. We also need to ensure that the means by which those choices are provided are self-sustaining—that they can provide at least a sideline income—so that we don’t remain dependent on our abusers.
I believe that non-profit environmentalism is unsustainable. If environmentalism is charity, then it requires profitable non-environmentalism to fund it. You’re eternally stuck robbing Peter to pay Paul.
We need to take our cue from nature: organisms survive by making their living from activities that actively benefit their community. Cleaner fish, dung beetles, vultures, the wandering herds and the wolves that follow them, corals, the horse-guard wasps—these are our role models. We must become able to actually make a living replenishing our earth. It cannot be a hobby.
We will continue to need clothing, food, shelter, etc for the foreseeable future, and we are already becoming more able to do so locally. That builds local economies that are much less prone to widespread, systematic abuse, because in local economies businesses have to live with their mistakes. It also takes customers and dollars—their only source of power—from the multinationals, or what I like to think of as the “locust economy.”
And if there’s anything I learned from my genocidally deranged Anglo-American ancestors, it’s this: that it might feel good to fight your enemies, but carving apart their resource base and starving them out is so much more effective.
The best part of growing up is making your own path. The broken world of the abuser, which has only two roles (abuser or victim), would have you either accept or deny its paradigm wholesale. Either you acquiesce to some degree or another, doing the best you can with CFLs and Priuses and accepting the overall will of the abusers (thus becoming one of them yourself). Or you run. You live the happy life with the birds (which will soon be extinct)—in which case, you’re just a victim. It’s like the frickin’ Hotel California. You can check out any time you want, but you can’t ever leave.
I think of Jesus, who came to a place and a time of lots of Either/Or thinking. Should we have Greek-centered or Judaism-centered culture? Sadducees or Pharisees? Capitulation to Rome or armed revolt?
Confronted with all these ridiculous nonsense choices, the Son of God called them all ridiculous nonsense. He struck out in His own way and lived and taught a better life than anyone could have thought of before He came along.
How good it is to follow Him.
It turns out that recovering from abuse is a lot like repentance. It’s the flip-side version of repentance, of course, because you didn’t do anything wrong yourself. (Actually, many abusers enjoy forcing their victims to do things they find morally repugnant. Think Abu Ghraib. For many people whose abuse included these domination-submission games, it can be an entire process in itself just to remember what the difference is between the two. Those of us trying to make do with CFLs and cloth shopping bags know a tiny taste of that insanity.)
But so many things are the same.
In order to repent, an abuser has to change their view of the world to one where other peoples’ agency matters.
In order to heal, recipients of abuse have to change their view of the world to one where other peoples’ agency matters.
For victims, this means coming to terms with the fact that someone really did force them to do something. This is difficult because, while it allows one kind of healing to begin—the acquittal of guilt—it also requires the realization of exactly how vulnerable we are. This is a large part of what makes recovery from rape so difficult—to realize how easy it was for someone to just make you their bitch because they felt like it.
That realization is terrifying. It’s why so many of us cling to illusions of control. It’s why we like to blame victims (“She was asking for it,” “Look what she was wearing,” “She’s exaggerating how bad it was,” etc). It’s why we’d rather self-loathe for being wishy-washy environmentalists than admit that we’re being coerced into doing things we don’t want to do.
I feel very strongly that our biggest environmental problem right now is that few persons, families, or institutions actually have real choices. Food’s a great example. I have been so happy to see the burgeoning growth in local, organic, etc food. At the same time, the field is very young and green and in no way prepared to provide sustainable resources for all or even most of us at this time. Our options for, say yogurt in this area are: normal year-round agrobiz yogurt at the grocery store; greenwashed year-round industrial-organic yogurt at the grocery store; driving miles into the sticks every week to buy the local seasonal “for pet food only” brew; or make it myself… using milk sourced from any of the three above sources. And as much as I’m on the right track to fulfill my dream of running a water buffalo dairy etc when I grow up, we’ve got a boatload of student debt and it ain’t happening any time soon.
In the end, most of us are just stuck choosing from the options “allowed” by the businessmen and lawmakers businessmen around us. In a very real sense, we are children living with an addicted, abusive extended family, and it is doing everything it can to keep us in its web of codependency.
It might feel good to move out (or in this case, drop out of society). But if you haven’t formed new patterns of behavior other than the ones they taught you—if you haven’t created new options for yourself—moving out won’t change a thing. Even the most whole, healthy person can’t have healthy relationships if everyone around them is abusive and/or insane. And you can’t live lightly on the earth with the options we presently have.
If we want to heal, we can’t just do our best to cope in the bad house or move out—we have to build a new house.
What if we stopped talking about the “oil addiction” as a metaphor and actually started treating it like an addiction?
Addiction has many characteristics: I will leave it to better social-service specialists than I to lay it all out.
What I want to talk about today is recovery.
The way I see it, the principal problem we face in our dependency on oil (and factory slaves, and industrial agriculture, and so on) is there really aren’t alternatives.
Our civilization is kinda like a wino stranded in a city where the only choices for calories are beer, whiskey, or wine. He may be able to supplement with the odd free-range pigeon; but no matter how desperately the alcoholic wants out, or how deep his self-disgust every time he drinks, his odds of quitting aren’t good.
It offends, I think, many peoples’ sensibilities to genuinely see themselves as coerced by outside forces into choosing from a few poor or mediocre choices. We’re a-MARE-kins, dadgummit, and we’re the captains of our souls. We know that if we’re not living 100% (or at least 90%) in accord with our environmentalist convictions, it’s just because we lack the blistering zeal that we should have. You know, the blistering zeal that would enable us to finally admit out loud that Yes, we’ve known all along that CFLs and cloth shopping bags doesn’t really do that much in the big picture, and push us over that final hump to drop out of society and go live lightly on the land where we’ll turn our kids’ education over to the birds and the trees.
Hold it right there! Shouldn’t it be clear that if your best option for an environmentally sound life is to drop out of society, then the real problem is a lot bigger than you? This is not a problem of you being a faulty individual with insufficient chutzpah to live your convictions. It is a very real lack of choices. We don’t dare train our kids up to be like the birds and the trees, because we’ve seen what happens to the birds and the trees.