Environmental Thoughts Part 2

“We’re on a runaway train and we desperately want to apply the brakes, but the people running the train – and most of the passengers – keep calling for more speed.

I see no way to stop the train.” – John Beckett

While writing the my first post, I realized there was a lot more to say. In many ways, there always will be. There are VOLUMES written about this stuff for a reason, and as such this post will only scratch the surface of such things.

Beckett continues in his discussion, of which I will once again use as a framework.

Point the first; We don’t know what the post-oil, post-climate change world will look like.

This is an important one. I am a sci-fi reader and writer, and that is what all those stories are. Honestly, we don’t know what the world will look like. Will it be a dystopian future like in Neuromancer or Fallout? Will it be a socialist utopia like in Star Trek?

1984? Firefly? Pick your possible future world. Beckett asks if the 23rd century will look like the 19th?

The fact is that we just don’t know, and that brings with another host of difficulties. What world should be start setting the foundations for? Surely, we don’t even agree on what form the future should take, and preparing for an unknown is difficult at best.

Still Beckett makes a few points worth considering.

Point the second; Look at systems and individuals.

“Conservatives like to blame all the ills of society on individuals making bad choices.  Liberals tend to blame systems: the structures and expectations that constrain choices, particularly for those living at the margins of society.”

This is an important point in my opinion. Many others have made these points better than I can (See Gods & Radicals, Ecopagan.com, ect.) Part of our current “green economy” (using this with reservation, as it has problems), the individuals are expected to shoulder the burden of “sustainability.” Recycle, buy CFLs, install solar panels, be efficient, and so on. Let me say that individuals choices have some influence, but they are not they whole story. Large scale industry, commercial and industrial systems are just, if not more, destructive. It is not individuals building massive open pit mines, or dumping toxic waste in rivers. These are systemic issues. Along with individual responsibility, the system needs to be rethought, and rebuilt.

How do we do that? That is the real question. I’ll be the first to say I’m not a radical. I don’t think the entire system needs to be burnt and rebuilt. Perhaps that is the craftsman in me. When something breaks, you don’t throw the whole thing out. You don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Sure, the way we do things is awful, terrible and environmentally destructive. That being said, surely there are some things we’ve done right? I say, let’s fix what needs to be fixed, and replace what is broken. It’s a big systemic machine, I know. But surely every cog isn’t bad? I’ll say more on this in a bit.

Point the third; Preference for community.

“We have an evolutionary urge to look out for our own well-being and comfort, but contemporary Western society takes that urge to ridiculous extremes.  The myth of the rugged individualist has exacerbated our abuse of Nature.  If I think I have to be completely self-reliant, I need huge amounts of stuff and money to feel secure.  If I know I can rely on my community, I can feel secure with far less, knowing that if I stumble others will pick me up.  Strong communities mean we don’t need as much stuff.”

Here is a point I thinks where he hits the nail on the head. And as an animist, I believe that those communities include non-human beings as well. Those beings need to be considered in any world that is to come. Also, those connections and networks matter. It is important to remember that all things are connected, to some degree or another.

Point the fourth; Reverence for Nature/Veneration of the Ancestors

“When we honor our ancestors, we acknowledge that much of the good we enjoy is because of the foundations they laid. And we’re reminded that we have an obligation to leave a good world for future generations.  Ancestor devotion helps us think about the impact of our actions beyond our immediate self-interest.”

“Humans have always made use of the bounty of Nature.  That will not (and ultimately, cannot) change.  But if we truly believed Nature is sacred, would we create strip mines?  Would we even consider trying to extract oil from tar sands?  And more directly, would we modify our environment to the point we drive other humans from their homes and other species to extinction?”

I combined two of Beckett’s points here, because I think that they are two sides of the same coin. It is important to remember that some foundations have already been laid by our forebearers, and I include all peoples (human and non-human) when I say this. In no small way, we are connected to the entire tree of life on this planet. The first lifeforms are counted amongst our ancestors as much as our human families. Sure, we are just one small branch on that tree, but the connection is there none the less. This ties back into the preference for community.

While some foundations have already been laid, it can be said not all of them were good. Some foundations will inevitably need to be upturned and rebuilt. Others can be built upon.

Point the Last; A living example.

“People will figure out how to live without oil in a hostile climate – necessity is the mother of invention.  But figuring out how to live well in an era where the material standard of living is in constant decline?  That’s a much harder task.  As people are looking around for ideas and suggestions, what can we show them?  Not what we can tell them, but what we can show them by our living examples.”

I think Beckett’s final point is a good one. We will adapt, we will endure. Whatever the future may look like, we will figure out a way to make it work.

There are more coming posts on this, where I explore some of my own ideas on these topics.

Thanks for reading!



About Nicholas Haney

I am a writer, author, hunter, craftsman, and student of anthropology/archaeology. View all posts by Nicholas Haney

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