Beyond Theory and Politics: Practical Applications
Here is where I diverge from Beckett’s article. I feel that Beckett’s article does not go far enough, or at very least stops short. I agree with most of his points, but it does little in the way to suggest practical and applicable options for going forward.
However, I do not want to understate the very real challenges that stand between the current state of things and the “new world” of the future.
1). Diversity. The world is a very complex place, and there is not one vision, one unified idea for the future. There is a plurality of ideas, and not all of them agree. That is the biggest challenge. My view of the future will not agree, or even reflect the view of the majority. In fact..
2) Minority. As a pagan, and an animist, my views are not even amongst the majority in the minor communities I inhabit. That means that finding common ground will be an important task, a diplomatic solution that makes everyone equally unhappy. I think Ecopagan.com is a good start, and that is why I signed onto the statement. Any future inevitably I envision will be a small drop in a very big pound. Even if a large swath of pagans come together under a common vision (which I have my doubts, see point 1), the fact remains that any world we envision would be our vision alone. We are a small minority, and thus face real limits in political and social influence.
3) The unknown. Beckett rightly pointed out that we cannot know how this will all play out. So even if we agree upon on vision, any plans we make very well may just go to hell.
Thus begs the question, what world would I envision?
If I stopped here, my article would also stop short. The points above are obstacles to be sure, but not impossible challenges. I am not fond of identifying problems without offering some solutions. As such, I offer them with the caveat that they assume I would have the ability to make them happen, that the real challenges above have been overcome.
“A Pagan Community Statement” reads;
“There are certain actions we can take now. It is important for each individual, community, and nation to take stock of what that means for the betterment of the whole. Technical solutions can never move forward without political will…
Any economic or political system which encourages the exploitation of Earth and people must be dismantled or substantially reformed. This includes any system based on endless growth. We should be operating in a closed loop system, not a linear one. This means moving away from disposable development and culture, and moving toward renewable development and culture wherein all products are intended for longevity, repairability, and easy recycling or composting at the end of their use. The sustainable economy of the future will be one with the shortest distances between production, consumption and recycling of byproducts.”
This is a good starting point at least. Living rightly with the rest of the world, and the “web of life” is a big one. While they are all vague notions, we need to work on more ethical and environmentally friendly means of extraction and production. Industrial society, as has been mentioned, is a dangerous machine. However, I am not for the wholesale dismantling of said machine. Surely, there are parts that can be improved, and some that need replaced, but we need to keep realistic changes in mind. This leads into the next point.
The ‘sustainable’ economy of the future, should strive for the ideal of short distances between extraction, production and recyclables. I am all for local economies, and methods of production. However, we need to be realistic about this. Our machines are not built of fully recyclable materials, and those materials we do use are not available in every region. That implies some level of transportation and trade networks.
Some have pointed to societies of the past and claimed they were “local” economies, and that simply is not true. Many examples can be drawn from the North alone, where extensive regional trade networks are in evidence. Flints and ambers from southern Scandinavia have been found in the north, where these things were scare. Some cultures in northern Scandinavia and Finland used slate to build their tools, because they lacked, except through trade, access to good quality flints.
Yes, our materials and means of transportation are different today, but some regions only have slate, whereas other have flint. Trade and transportation is a necessity. Here are a few points we could work on, with the side note that I lack the technical expertise to comment on some of these in depth.
1) Yes, we should strive for local economies and resource management.
We need to select for smaller scale manufacturing and farming. Some big industries and big agricultural, especially factory meat farming, are some of the worst offenders. We need to move towards a more localized food and material production, smaller and more diverse systems, while still maintaining connections and networks beyond our own borders.
Ecosystem preservation and conservation should be a priority. I do my part on my family land and on public land to ensure that these stay clean and viable. The importance of maintaining clean rivers, and truly sustainable forestry are priorities.
2), Yes, we need to make processes of extraction, production and recycling as efficient and environmentally friendly as possible.
In the short term, we are not going to just “stop” using metals and rare earth elements. How can we improve the use of the metal already in existence, especially those where extraction is really harmful, such are rare earths? I do my part by using my forge, and learning metallurgy. In the near future, I would like to build a smelter as well, so I can actually reclaim salvaged metals.
3) But, in cases that longer distance trade is needed, transportation must be as efficient and environmentally friendly as possible. See point 4.
4) All this can imply, a strong need to get away from oil based solutions. We cannot run our trucks, trains and ships on fossil fuels any longer. Renewable sources must be favored.
All applications here will be both short and long term in implementation. We need to realize that we have the technology today to get away from an oil based society. Ethanol can be used in place of gasoline, and our current engine designs can be easily adapted to ethanol use. Ethanol can also be used to supplement, or fully replace power plant production. Oil, and coal are often used in power plants to heat water to run steam turbines, and ethanol can work as a substitute here too. Retrofitting of current infrastructure could easily accommodate a switch to ethanol, and once again, the technology is there today to make this happen.
Ethanol has its problems, don’t get me wrong. Better solutions could be found in the long term, surely. But we need changes we can make now, and ethanol is one option. And, contrary to the big oil “no food for fuel” campaign, there are much more efficient means of producing ethanol than from corn or food grains.
In addition, I have seen first hand that ethanol also presents the opportunity for local production. My family came from Appalachia, and I live in a huge beer state. Local and even backyard production of ethanol is certainly a possibility, provided the proper social and legal framework.
In addition, when supplemented with solar and wind production, a viable short term solution for the power grid is feasible. If for power generation and for transportation, we shifted towards an ethanol and electric, it would go a long way. It is a set of solutions we can implement today, and then work towards better alternatives.
5) Also, new materials will need to be developed and implemented to take the place of those that are non-renewable.
Plastics are a big part of our way of life. Many plastics are made from petroleum based products, and that is a problem. Recycling of plastics goes a small part of the way, but other things must be selected for. More environmentally safe and renewable materials. Honestly, I lack the technical expertise to suggest any solutions. Some have suggested bioplastics, and other such materials, but others can surely comment on these better than I can.
However, the caveat is here that we should not necessarily look to better technologies to solve the problems that other technologies have caused. A change in mindset is needed as well, and to remember that greater efficiency isn’t always better. In some cases, greater efficiency just means faster resources extraction and greater environmental harm.
Another point that can be made, is what can be done on the local, individual level? My practices include recycling and picking up trash as I hike and travel. I also try to be mindful of where my food comes from, and hunting and fishing for a natural source of meat. I am also in the process of learning about edible natural foods, so that foraging can also add to my local supply of food. These are some small things that could add up to a lot of change at the collective level. But individual solutions are not enough. They ignore governments and big corporations which are some of the worst offenders.
As such, we also need to move towards a more equal, and fair distribution of resources. This is a global problem, that will need global solutions. Some of these solutions will be political, some will be technical, and others will be cultural. We will need all three, changes in body (technical), mind (political) and spirit (cultural).
Honestly, we must look beyond ourselves to find the answers to this problem. Beyond America, which is one of the big offenders on the international stage. Environmental decay is a global problem. As such, I would consider the following steps. Change would happen on the local level, as well as on the global stage.
As such, a change in sociopolitical landscape would also be required.
1) Supporting a more unified world, and a more fairly regulated global economic system. One that works for the common good of all people, and not just a select few.
2) The UN is a good foundation for such work, but has a long way to go. See their Declaration of Human Rights, and Declaration of Rights for Indigenous Peoples.
3) The UN would also need teeth, at least more than it has. Not just the power to make “declarations” or “statements”, but also the ability to enforce them. Nations, states and local governments (including indigenous people and non-human persons) should retain the right of sovereignty and self-determination to the highest possible degree, but also that a global standard for a truly sustainable future for all needs to be implemented.
4) Which implies that the unilateral ability to rebuke such global standards would need to be revoked. Veto power for America and other “top countries” in the Security Council would need to be stripped or reformed.
5) Ecopagan.com has a statement up, and this can be used as a guide for global and local change for our small communities. Our goals and needs could be used as a foundation to enact both local and global change.
Yes, I realize some of the implications, but I am only one man. Such thoughts would need to be debated, discussed, and implemented to the good of all people. Such an undertaking would be a collaborative effort, and many others would need to be involved. The need for allies, and social networks would be imperative, and essential for any practical solutions.
Yes, I also realize that some amount of socialism would be needed. It is not perfect, but neither is capitalism. The two systems could be implemented to a degree that allows economies and business to thrive, but at the same time puts people over profits. We have models we can look to, especially the Nordic countries. All people, including the environment, and those of the non-human variety. A healthy ecosystem would also be more important than profits. A holistic approach needs to be implemented.
We must work outside the system as well as inside, and balanced approach of measured dismantling and strategic reform to get away from the destructive system we have made.
Petitions and voting are great, but these are not the only methods of change. In fact, I am a bit cynical about these things in wake of the wolf hunts here in Michigan. People petitioned, people voted, I among them, and still we were ignored. That is also part of the problem.
Also, capitalism is fickle. Once we reach Peak Oil (if we have not already), perhaps the economy with shift another way. The capitalists will follow the profit, and should oil be no longer profitable, society will shift along with it. Henry Ford’s early cars use to run on ethanol, but moved to petroleum because it was cheaper. What would happen if some other source became cheaper, and more profitable? The pendulum would swing once more. Capitalism is a big part of the problem, I admit. But dismantling that beast is a momentous undertaking.
Still, we can’t trust greed and profit alone to guide us, and so I return to my previous points. As a fiction writer and a sci-fi buff, I want to live in a world were we reach for the stars. Honestly, I think flying on the Enterprise would be pretty sweet. But to realize that dream, a new path, a new future is needed.
“We possess the power, if it should start to fall apart, to mend divides to change the world, to reach the farthest star.
If we should stay silent, if fear should win our hearts, our light will have long diminished before it reaches the farthest star”
– VNV Nation, “Farthest Star”
Now let’s get to work.