When I consider the litany of challenges facing us in the next 20+ years I see a few common threads. Of course there is the growing realization that Fossil Fuel is at the root of many of our ills – from Global Warming to Globalization with all its economic and social issues. But what is equally concerning to me is the paradigm shift that all that cheap energy has done to our thinking. Since the rise of Coal and Oil, the mantra that “Bigger is Better” and sayings like “Economies of Scale” have become completely ingrained in our collective psyche. Why produce your own energy, when it is so much more “efficient” to get it from a giant coal plant? Why work in the town you live in when it is so much “cheaper” to commute 20 miles each way? Why eat food in season if you don’t have to? Hell, why would you even consider growing it yourself when it is so much less expensive to just go out and buy it?
As recently as 2 generations ago, these questions would have sounded as ludicrous as I a truly believe they are …if we de-centralize our thinking. Only the false accounting of this Global Era allow it to seem reasonable to buy salad greens trucked in from 2000 miles away or December strawberries from 7500. While these actions are certainly awful from a Health of the Earth point of view, what I am most concerned with now is how our having lived with them for 50 years has damaged our thinking and thusly our ability to pull ourselves out of this mess.
My Grandfathers were farmers and entrepreneurs. That is nothing special – the majority of men 80 years ago were still rural and living off the fruits of their minds and energies; they had to be innovative and efficient to survive. Also, compared to us, they lived remarkably less cash dependent lives that were, by necessity, much more localized. I want to be very clear that I am not some luddite revisionist pining for a complete reversion to some Glorious Past, there was also a litany of problems from discrimination and prejudice brought about by overly localizedand undereducated lives, to physical and health hardships that can now be avoided.
Rather, I am focused on the loss of that feeling of self confidence that used to be such a trait of “being American”. If my Grandfather (who fittingly also happens to be my namesake) encountered a problem on his farm, or in his business, he dealt with it: he made a new gate hinge, added a flat bed to his Ford truck, or grew enough oats to tide his horses through the winter. When electricity arrived at the farm, he learned how to wire his house and barn and how to use electric pumps for the well. Why? He would have been dumb-founded that you even asked! Why? Because doing things yourself was how things got done. For the majority of our history we failed or thrived due to our degree of Self Reliance.
So much of our society – even some of those individuals that are coming to grips with the issues we are facing- has become accustomed to “them” providing for us. Sure, we have big issues, but [insert one or more:] Technology, The Market, Industry, Innovation, or Obama will find a solution. But look around your life right now. Seriously – literally look around the room you are in and think for a bit. How much food is in your home if the grocery store wasn’t there? Right now I have about a week at most. How much heat can your home produce on its own? In January my Natural Gas heated home would be uninhabitable within 24 hours of the grid shutting off as the pipes would freeze and burst. How would you make money without your commute intensive job? I have taken large steps to augment that and can still only cover 20% of my gross annual expenses. We are ALL in a pickle right now due to the Centralized Thinking that has permitted us to place so much of our lives into the hands of others.
But that is what it is and continuing to dwell on it after you have come to grips with it isn’t really productive, and I write this blog to help myself and others become more productive. So here is my point, the solutions to the challenges we face will not be solved by Big, Centralized Solutions. We cannot move blithely forward thinking that solar or hydrogen will allow the continuation of business as usual. We will need to turn the “economies of scale” on their head – to begin to understand that there are definitely economies of scale – that smaller is better. It is better for lots of people to make a little food; it is better for lots of homes to produce a little energy. And it is certainly better for lots of people to take a stand to become a little more Self Reliant. Nature thrives on redundancy -on having thousands of different organisms doing essentially the same thing. We have erred greatly in not heading that lesson.
So maybe there are Big Solutions – and I believe in the depth of my soul that the true Big Solution is that enough people need to change their thinking to understand that smaller really is better. Smaller brings accountability back into our lives, so that when we turn on our lights we have to live with the repercussions of the energy it takes to light our lives and cannot live in blissful ignorance of the severed mountains of West Virginia because we had to grow and cut the willows to power our gasifier or pay one of our neighbors to do so. Nor when we open the toy on Christmas morning can we avoid the living conditions of those who built it- because the toy factory is in the town down the river and Aunt Molly works there. Smaller can also bring back other aspects of our lives. Growing and preparing food with family is an amazing experience. The confidence and pride earned by child who spends their Sunday morning making the pancake batter herself, using strawberries that she picked in the yard the day before is so much greater than the child who sits and watches cartoons or goes to McDonald’s.
When I was born, I was named after my grandfather. When I grow up, I hope to become as capable as he was at providing an enduring legacy to his ancestors- his farm is still a bountiful “Land of Milk and Honey”. I firmly believe that there are solutions to the challenges of our generation. I also am convinced that if we do it right, we can fulfill the dream of all parent’s: that our children will live a better, more fulfilling life than we do. One of the first steps to making that future a reality is in de-centralizing our thinking; believing that Small is Possible and that we –each of us!- has the power to Be the Change we wish to see in the world.
Be the Change.