The other day I discovered the website TED.com, a site that has tons of videos of talks and speeches by thoughtful, innovative people; I've been watching probably too many videos in my free time. I'll post links to some of my favorites at the bottom of this post. But this one I watched this morning:
Edward Burtynsky on manufactured landscapes
It's a long video for TED, but worth the time. It was interesting and in ways beautiful, but also hard for me to watch. All his images of China, and elsewhere, and the explosive growth, made me remember an article I read years ago, Humans as Cancer. Is there such a thing as explosive cancer? China would be it. But then, China is only the metastasis of Western growth models. It's a scary world we're busy making; it hurts my heart to look at it, to think about it.
I've long felt a despair of sorts, as far as environmentalism goes. For me, it has always been the major issue. I know on this blog I talk a lot about Zen and spirituality and such, but that's only so many words, probably useless to talk about. But the Green Movement, well, that's the big one. If ever there were a field I would go into, that would be it: sustainability, permaculture, deep ecology; these things thrill me, intellectually and practically. Spiritually too, I guess.
But I look at our culture and think it's a waste of time. Despair, not as an oppressive emotion (most of the time), but just as a knowing. We will never be able to transform into a sustainable culture, we are cancer. It stops me from acting, as I continually think it would be a waste of time to devote my life to these things, burnout and broken dreams the inevitable result. Better to escape to the hills, on a private off-the-grid homestead, in my own little corner of the good earth and hope the cancer doesn't follow me in. Fulfilling as that life could be in some ways, it is also apparent that this is supremely selfish.
It is the product of despair: the foolish humans cannot be helped, so fuck 'em. No use trying to fix a fundamentally flawed system, let it crash. It will crash, and what comes then will be an equilibrium-- but only because it was forced to be. We cannot engineer it, our thin layer of rationality cannot beat back the animal greed for more and more. It is a sad future I often foresee, akin to pondering the burning of the library in Alexandria centuries ago-- we will lose so many good things, advanced medical knowledge and ability, other advanced knowledge, democracy perhaps, and our one shot at having enough energy and reach to globally solve problems of hunger, poverty, and oppression through intelligent and compassionate connections and solutions. We may end up sustainable, but probably in the way that the Dark Ages were sustainable. Forced simplicity is poverty.
Growth for the sake of growth, Edward Abbey insightfully said, is the philosophy of the cancer cell. This is evil. There was potential, but it has been squandered. We grew, enriching a few people at the expense of the many, and of the wider biosphere to boot. If only we had grown compassionately, to bring a real "good life" not of material acquisition but of quality life to all. Used fossil fuel energy in moderation to piggyback us into a clean world, in tune with Nature, use resources conservatively and wisely, not, for example, to make products we use once then throw out (bottled water is an obvious example of such ridiculousness). We have been fools. Even the Green Movement, which I'd long hoped for but given up on, surprised me when it became popular... but it was quickly co-opted and ruined by consumerism, now become a cheap version of what it needed to be. Failure. Thus my despair.
A top-down goal is not what I want; those have a tendency to devolve into the totalitarian one-size-fits-all bleakness we see in evangelical religion and fascist states. The world is diverse, and needs a diversity of solutions. I know the value of and need for government and corporate action in all this, but I think the real change is going to come from the roots, organically; something that can be implemented in countless local variations. A network format, not a pyramid. Really, the model of the industrial revolution that brought us here: the individual entrepreneurial spirit, but put to something more than the profit motive. Which is really the ego motive: I want mine, and fuck all you others. But a wider goal, or shall we say vision, is needed first.
So, I watch these videos and feel inspired. I've occasionally met people doing these things, like on my AT thru-hike; in towns and on the trail, they were my first real contact with people who are doing the good things. And I still want to be involved in all that, in a hopeful future. Biomimricy amazes me, permaculture techniques and just the basic discoveries amaze me. The idea of networks, though I have little understanding of them, blows my mind. The stuff about using mushrooms and fungi, among other things, in biologically integrated technologies leaves me feeling giddy (the added thought that fungal networks may be conscious is a further thrill). Green roofs, alternative building techniques (cob, straw bale), community gardens, passive heating/cooling... all wonderful and exciting.
I just don't know how to get involved. I find myself drawn to organic farming/permaculture, through the WWOOF organization, and plan to try it out, if not this spring then next fall. Hopefully I can meet people who can point me in the ways I need to go. My problem is I have a great need to be outside, doing real work. I'm a paradox; I'm a "deep thinker" but for me, in the end abstraction is not an honest living. Too much sitting around thinking, not enough implementing. I want to be out there, in the real, doing the work. But also, I'm not an engineer, I won't be designing products or new technologies. I want to have my own land and live these ideas myself, but I think to limit myself to that is selfish and, well, lonely, futile. I want to have some impact on the world more than just improving a few acres of soil. Hope, I suppose, springs eternal, even in the face of terrible odds. I just don't know where or how to begin.
Alex Steffen sees a sustainable world
Paul Stamets on 6 ways mushrooms can save the world
Janine Benysus: Biomimricy in action
Michael Pollan gives a plant's-eye-view
The Web as random acts of kindness
Christopher McDougall: are we born to run?