Many people ask, “What can I do?” Individually we can educate ourselves and prepare ourselves to cope with future instabilities in the climate and the supply of gasoline and central services. Remember, preparedness is disaster & terrorism insurance.
Katrina gave us a glimpse of what we might expect when society reels under the load of a huge disaster, or simply degrades due to (in the words of James Howard Kunstler) the “long slow emergency” of life after Peak Oil. In these events, there will be safety in numbers, living among people you can trust, in localized sustainable communities built upon the principles of Permaculture. While the world is still functioning reasonably well, is the best time to start developing your skills and links with other like-minded people. Location will be important if/when the world situation takes a turn for the worse. You may use this web site as a good starting point. My goal is to make it a useful tool for networking, education, and activism.
Reducing consumption, recycling and the use of renewable energy sources are all positive steps toward reaching a sustainable future. Individually, none of us will save the world, but collectively we can decide that we (the people) wish to make a sustainable future the number one priority of business and government. There is a huge momentum that tends to keep the world on the same track of “Business as Usual”. Currently, it would be political suicide for an American leader in today’s world to make the difficult decisions to halt our momentum sliding towards global collapse, but this doesn’t mean we can’t change this course. We can change the world, but it takes massive numbers of people to make changes on the scale of the end of slavery or the institution of women’s rights. Hitler could never have been stopped if it was number ten on the priority list. Stopping Hitler was a matter of survival. Changing the way we do business in our world is also a matter of survival.
Here are a few avenues to explore—individually and collectively—to promote change:
• Conservation. Conscientiously conserving, recycling, and reusing resources and products will help to slow the process of planetary degradation. There is a sort of consumption “food chain,” in which some savings have far more positive impact than others. Consuming fewer goods and improving up-front process efficiencies have the most impact. Reusing goods has a middle impact. Recycling is a relatively easy and painless thing to do, requiring minimal changes in our consumer-oriented lifestyle, and it is usually better than throwing away. However, recycling has the least positive impact of the three options, since it is at the tail end of the consumption “food chain,” and it takes additional energy and resources to recycle.
• Collective action. Individually, none of us will save the world, but collectively we can decide that we (the people) wish to make a sustainable future the number one priority of business and government. We can change the world, but it takes massive numbers of people to make changes on the scale of the end of slavery or the institution of women’s rights. Hitler would have conquered the world if stopping him had been number ten on the priority list. Stopping Hitler was a matter of survival. Changing the way we do business is also a matter of survival.
• Buy local. In the United States, the average item of food traveled 1,518 miles in 1998, and this number has been increasing about 10 percent per decade. Buying local produce and goods keeps your dollars in your local communities, and saves the energy wasted by shipping goods around the world.
• Planet-friendly diet. Health and environmental impacts from the agribusiness production of meat range from massive destruction of rainforests for cattle grazing to methane pollution and the consumption of huge amounts of pesticides, oil, fertilizer, water, vegetable protein, and topsoil. Fisheries are collapsing across the planet due to annual catches that far exceed the sustainabile rate, combined with destructive practices, such as the use of huge driftnets. Eating less meat and wild fish helps the planet.
“Raising the livestock needed to produce the 276 million tons of meat consumed in 2006 was responsible for almost a fifth of total greenhouse gas emissions.”—The Worldwatch Institute, Vital Signs 2007–2008
• Political action. We can join forces with others to promote recycling, clean air, and water and the preservation of woodlands, wetlands, and forests. We can push for tax reforms and regulations that support planet-friendly practices and eliminate subsidies for businesses that “spend” our natural resources or otherwise hurt the environment. Individually we make a statement by doing business only with planet-friendly companies and voting for candidates with a good environmental record.
• Restructure business. Implementing analysis tools, such as The Natural Step, and evaluating products and manufacturing systems from the point of view of cradle to cradle (as opposed to our current cradle-to-grave throw-away products) is critical for changing the way we do business and starting down the road to sustainability.
• Replace your light bulbs. By replacing a single 75-watt incandescent light bulb with an 18-watt compact fluorescent bulb, you will save about $37.06 in combined utility and bulb costs over the lifetime of one fluorescent bulb. These energy-efficient bulbs produce the same quantity and quality of light as a regular 75-watt bulb and last about 13 times as long. Over the life of one compact fluorescent, you will save yourself the hassle of buying and replacing 13 incandescent bulbs. The energy savings from a single bulb will accomplish one of the following: (A) Spare the Earth more than 1,500 pounds of carbon dioxide and about 20 pounds of sulfur dioxide spewing from the stack of a coal-fired power plant. (B) Avoid the production in a nuclear plant of half a curie of high-level radioactive waste (which is a lot) and two-fifths of a ton of TNT-equivalent of plutonium. (C) Keep an oil-fired power plant from burning 1.25 barrels of oil—enough to run a family car for a thousand miles or to run Honda’s new hybrid car from Los Angeles to New York and on to Miami before it needed more gas.
• Choose a fuel-efficient car. For most people, the type of car they drive will have the single greatest impact on their contribution to global greenhouse gases. Hybrids, biodiesel-capable diesels, and super-efficient gasoline-burning cars make a huge difference in your carbon footprint. Simply adopting European mileage standards would eliminate all of America’s current need to import oil from OPEC countries. In just a few short years, most Brazilians have switched to flex-fuel vehicles that are capable of running on ethanol, gasoline, or a combination of both, and gasoline-only vehicles have dropped dramatically in resale value.
• Ride a bicycle, take a bus/train, or carpool. Each gallon of gasoline burned releases 19.6 pounds of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Reducing your consumption of gasoline significantly reduces your impact on the planet.
• Reduce heating and air conditioning. About 25 percent of greenhouse gases come from energy used to heat and cool buildings. Energy-conserving design typically reduces building loads by 90 percent or more. Insulating your house, upgrading appliances to energy-efficient models, and installing energy-efficient windows can make a huge reduction on your monthly energy bill. Wearing sweaters in the winter and light clothing in the summer will make a big difference too.
• Install renewable energy systems in your home or business. Modern solar and wind energy systems have come down in cost and are much easier to operate and maintain than they used to be. In windy locations, a small wind turbine could provide most or all of the energy that your home needs. New roof-integrated solar panels provide cost-effective long-term reliable energy with no moving parts to wear out. Solar hot water systems will usually pay for themselves in a year or two through the energy savings on your monthly utility bill.
• Personal independence and self-sufficiency. Developing self-sufficient living skills helps us prepare for the uncertainties of the future.
• Self-sufficient communities. There is a growing movement to build communities based on principles of self-sufficiency, ecological design, sustainability, and cooperation.
For a list of suggested “Big Picture” actions for changing the way we do business in our world in order to avoid ecological and economic collapse, see my article, “Making the Shift to Sustainability“.
With all my being, I know that humankind cannot continue behaving as if the world was an infinite reservoir of natural resources that we may do with as we wish, consumed in ever-increasing amounts by an ever-increasing population. One of the things that defines humanity is the dual powers of creativity and free will. We have the power to choose wisely or foolishly, but choose we must. To choose to do nothing is still making a choice.
We may choose a planetary future from two paths traveling in opposite directions. We may choose to accept our responsibility in the co-creation of ourselves along with planet Earth—the source of everything around us and everything that we have come to be over the millennia. This type of responsibility requires a fully conscious and compassionate awareness of the consequences of our actions for the long-term health of both the Earth and humankind.
On the other hand, like lemmings rushing to the ocean, we can proceed toward famines, collapsing ecosystems, wars, and plagues. This is the path of business as usual, waiting for science and technology to come up with solutions, and ultimately suffering the consequences of the collapse of natural systems that took countless millennia to evolve.
Throughout human history, great changes have followed actions that began at a grassroots level before blossoming into large-scale movements. Individuals, households, and communities changed their attitudes and behaviors and made sacrifices. The choice is ours. For our own sakes and those of our children to the seventh generation and beyond, we must choose a path with a future that we can all look forward to. In the words of Robert Muller, a high-ranking official with the United Nations:
“Nothing but happiness is good enough for the genial and proud human race on planet Earth. Maximum peace, beauty, and happiness and not maximum economic welfare must be the objectives of the coming World Renaissance. The beauty of flowers is due to the care of the gardener. The beauty of the world will depend on the care of its gardeners. Let us therefore all become living gardeners of the world.”
—Robert Mueller, Assistant to the Secretary General of the United Nation