The world I was born into no longer exists. By the middle of the last century (wow, that sounds so long ago) the human population had risen sharply and was already orders of magnitude greater than the historical average.
I, and perhaps you too, came along right in the middle of the vertical part of the hockey stick, that sharp rise in everything: population, energy use, carbon emissions, you name it. As part of the so-called baby boom, I contributed to the near tripling of our numbers since the 1950s.
That is amazing to me. We have created peak everything.
To feed ourselves, we’ve co-opted most of the arable land and continue to force thousands of species large and small into extinction. We have significantly altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere and oceans; no small feat.
As a result, the thermal dynamics of the planet are shifting. The effects of those changes do not bode well for our future.
The situation we are in was not intentional. A complex set of circumstances, discoveries and decisions have resulted in a system that tends to promote damaging behavior.
We are completely embedded in the paradigm of our modern industrial culture. As toxic as it has become, it is difficult to imagine something else, let alone something better that can provide healing.
The shift we need will not come from the magic of technology, though I think it can play a role if managed properly and with restraint (something we’re not very good at yet). Hopeful thinking is not enough either. It takes work to create change, but the real solution lies within.
When we choose to acknowledge our responsibility to future generations, human and nonhuman alike, we begin to live as if every single thing we do matters to them. We strive to become great ancestors.
This column focuses on what we can do in our daily lives that can help us gain that admirable status. Our homes are at the core of our consumptive behavior, and everything connects there: food, energy, reproduction, travel, health and so on.
Our current set of living arrangements has provided unprecedented comfort and convenience, at a cost. As it stands (somewhat shakily I suspect), the benefits can only be temporary.
We’ve struck a bargain: lavish lifestyles (for those living in “modern” countries) in exchange for rapid changes in global conditions that have, up until now, provided a stable and nurturing environment. We’ve gone crazy consuming goods and services made possible solely by digging up massive amounts of ancient sunlight that had been naturally and safely sequestered underground as fossil fuels. Our discovery of this new form of fire fueled growth as never before.
Good old muscle power was replaced and amplified millions of times over by this incredibly potent energy. We found it irresistible, much like a teenager with a new credit card who has yet to learn the consequences of unchecked spending.
The question is obvious. Can we pay the bill or withstand the inevitable interest that is accruing?
Suze Orman might advise someone in our situation to get out of debt as quickly as possible. That is exactly what we must do.
Living within our means is the only sane path in what has become an insane culture. Wise ancestors don’t continue to burn money (in this case, the capital of our living systems); they conserve and protect it.
So how do we begin? By doing less. It is not rational to continue to extract and burn fossil fuels, yet almost everything we do depends on it. Homes can be made more efficient, and they should be, but from here on out, smaller is better, and everything we build should produce more energy than it consumes.
Travel is fun and exciting, but very destructive. Learn to live in place by working near your home. Use technology such as Skype to connect with distant friends and loved ones.
As we diversify and localize our economy, we can move away from our dependence on moving massive numbers of people from place to place for temporary and fleeting thrills. Learn to love where you are.
This is truly a case of “less is more.” Anything we can do to lessen the literal consumption of our planet is an admirable pursuit.
It’s not about scarcity. Quite the opposite, it is about creating the best sort of abundance: that which can be shared and enjoyed indefinitely and by all. Wise ancestors know this.
Steve Rypka is a green living consultant and president of GreenDream Enterprises, a company committed to helping people live lighter on the planet. For more information and links to additional resources relating to this column, or to reach Rypka, visit www.greendream.biz.