What follows the non-apocalypse?

To the surprise of no one with a brain, the world did not instantly change directions on 12/21/12. That doesn’t mean the old order isn’t falling apart.
It just means most of us are unprepared for what will replace it.

The Archdruid Report has a thoughtful post today, as usual.

The one thing next to nobody wants to talk about is the one thing that distinguished the largely successful environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s from the largely futile environmental movement since that time, which is that activists in the earlier movement were willing to start the ball rolling by making the necessary changes in their own lives first. The difficulty, of course, is that making these changes is precisely what many of today’s green activists are desperately trying to avoid. That’s understandable, since transitioning to a lifestyle that’s actually sustainable involves giving up many of the comforts, perks, and privileges central to the psychology and identity of people in modern industrial societies.

Those of my readers who would like to see this last bit of irony focused to incandescence need only get some comfortably middle class eco-liberal to start waxing lyrical about life in the sustainable world of the future, when we’ll all have to get by on a small fraction of our current resource base. This is rarely difficult; I field such comments quite often, sketching out a rose-colored contrast between today’s comfortable but unsatisfying lifestyles and the more meaningful and fulfilling existence that will be ours in a future of honest hard work in harmony with nature. Wait until your target is in full spate, and then point out that he could embrace that more meaningful and fulfilling lifestyle right now by the simple expedient of discarding the comforts and privileges that stand in the way. You’ll get to watch backpedaling on a heroic scale, accompanied by a flurry of excuses meant to justify your target’s continued dependence on the very comforts and privileges he was belittling a few moments before.

Why are we not doing what we know needs to be done?

…what they lack, by and large, is the courage to act on that knowledge.

Somebody mention New Years Resolutions?

8 comments to What follows the non-apocalypse?

  • Read it again after your prompt here Steeleweed. Would have linked it to Facebook from here…, but we don’t seem to have that option any longer?

    The Quillayute Cowboy

  • nihil obstet

    I bet the Archdruid is a big fan of Michael Jackson’s The Man in the Mirror, too. It’s a trite feelgood “I’m powerful and important” assertion that’s right in line with this post. I enjoy and feel I learn something from many of his posts, but not this one. It’s Puritanical and self-righteous.

    Look at the first paragraph you quoted. I don’t know who the Archdruid has been hanging out with all his life, but I don’t see much difference in the personal decisions made by liberals in the 60s and 70s compared to now. If anything, I see more change now — more commitment to bicycling, purchase of hybrid cars, lower thermostat settings, and the other things he carries on about. In fact, his comment section is pretty funny, with everyone chiming in about the little changes that they’ve made.

    He thinks that “the one thing that distinguished the largely successful environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s from the largely futile environmental movement since that time, . . . is that activists in the earlier movement were willing to start the ball rolling by making the necessary changes in their own lives first.” That’s bullshit. I’d say the one thing is the difference between the Great Society Congress composed of men who accepted the New Deal beliefs about how we need to act together and the neoliberal corrupt Congress that we have now. To some extent, the aims of the movements are different as well. It’s easier to get a movement together to stop your river from catching on fire than it is for each individual to figure out how to get to her job without driving her car. But even that fails to explain why people have been unable to stop fracking in their vicinity even when they can set fire to the water coming out of their faucets. That’s explained by the concentration and corruption of power.

    Blaming individuals is a recipe for a failing political movement. The individual can never do enough, so she’s caught between guilt and helplessness. He’s liable to self-righteousness, which I certainly see in the Archdruid’s post. Her energy is sucked into increasingly eccentric personal audits rather than effective political action.

    Getting individuals to adopt less resource-intensive lives should focus on its benefits, on the advantages of a less materialistic life. “Clean your plate because there are children starving in China” won’t do it.

    • John Michael Greer (her?) has consistently expounded three ideas: the lifestyle most of us take for granted is unsustainable and ultimately doomed to expire; the expiration of that lifestyle is already well under way; changing to a sustainable lifestyle is possible and will be more difficult and traumatic the longer we delay making the change. I believe one of Dimiti Orlov’s quotes, very much in synch with Greer’s thinking, was roughly along the lines of “Learn to be poor now, while it’s still affordable and relatively painless, because sooner later we’re all going to be poor”. By ‘poor’, of course, he meant a much more basic (and sustainable) lifestyle without all the goodies we take for granted as necessities but which have no real value and will eventually vanish.

      Another major argument he makes is that it is possible to make a difference by starting small, with our own changes and that approach is in fact the only way it can ultimately work. There’s an old saying that it was a brave man who ate the first oyster. Similarly it was a kook who originally took his copy of the Whole Earth Catalog and built totally off the grid in 1970 and has been living a much more satisfying life for the last 40 years than his consumption-oriented high-school classmates. I’ve known a couple of these folks pretty well. Their numbers are slowly growing and IMHO their growth rate will accelerate in the coming decades.

      • nihil obstet

        “Their numbers are slowly growing and IMHO their growth rate will accelerate in the coming decades.” Yes, that’s my experience as well, which is one of the reasons I reacted so negatively to the Archdruid’s depiction of people who are concerned about the environment.

        • I think his point was that many neo-greens are patting themselves on the back for half-measures which won’t prove sufficient in the end. Driving a Prius is not the same as biking or walking; patronizing the local Farmers Market is not the same as growing your own; adding solar panels to your McMansion is not the same as cutting your power needs by 80%.
          If you think about it, his suggestion to “turn down the thermostat a few degrees and wear a sweater” is a rather tongue-in-cheek statement: that would be the tip of the iceberg to the changes needed for a lifestyle to be truly sustainable.

          He also remarked on the lack of real meaning in so many consumption-driven lives and I’ll admit he got to me there. I’ve spent 50 years doing very high-tech stuff, much of it at the bleeding edge of my profession. It was challenging work and I got considerable satisfaction out of doing difficult things and doing them damn well, as well as anyone in the world, in fact. But when all is said and done, all the bits and bytes I manipulated so expertly all those years are meaningless compared to building a house that could shelter my family for the next 3 or 4 generations; establishing a mini-farm that will feed my family and several more; mastering skills to construct and maintain the tools and necessities of daily living; building a lifestyle with enough depth and resilience to withstand unexpected acts of Nature; provide the time and ambiance to enjoy and create art and beauty.

          I am reminded of an old boss who used to joke with his waitresses, “You make the living, baby. I’ll make the living worthwhile!” We are so busy making a living and buying into the media-induced lifestyle that we forget how to make living worthwhile. We have been taught – and believe in – what is essentially an inhuman (in the sense of anti-human) way of life. Greer not only suggests we should get back to basics; he says we will soon have no choice.

          • nihil obstet

            I must lack a sense of humor — I missed the “tongue-in-cheek” aspect of the multiple preachy paragraphs about actually accomplishing something, no matter how small, by turning down the thermostat, as opposed to working on a sustainable economy movement. I guess that’s a real knee-slapper that I just sailed over.

            I agree that people in McMansions should move into smaller houses, but I suspect that’s moral snippiness on my part. One of the problems I have with many “the Apocalypse is coming” messages is a lack of dealing with what may or may not be done. I think we can probably heat houses as big as we want from solar energy — Germany seems to be doing it, and they get about as much sunlight as Alaska. So why object to solar panels on a big house for any reason other than Puritanism — spurn comfort because it’s good for your soul? On the other hand, I don’t think a sustainable replacement for jet fuel is on the horizon, but I rarely see any push towards radically reducing air travel.

            Patronizing the Farmers Market is indeed not the same as growing my own. To grow my own, I need suitable land, and I’d need to use the treated water that comes through my pipes from the municipal water plant. It would make environmental sense to grow my own only if I moved out of town. But wait! city life is far less resource using than is country life. And of course, both may all be threatened if we don’t stop the depletion and contamination of our acquifers.

            I don’t think the Apocalypse will take us back to Stone Age roving bands. We will continue to have societies at some level of complexity, and therefore we need organized, political responses, not just individual self-denial for self-denial’s sake. Unless it makes you feel good, which is certainly a justification.

  • @NO: Urban farming is possible and happening all over the world. and there is also no reason the post-WWII migration to the cities cannot be reversed to reinvigorate the smaller communities, which offer much more opportunity for building a more sustainable life.

    Neither I nor JMG are predicting a post-apocalypse Stone Age. JMG specifically discussed that in many of his posts on why Apocalyptic predictions get so much traction with so many people. For some reason, people seem to have this all-or-nothing outlook: it’s either our current lifestyle forever (with incremental improvements) or it’s the Mad Max world (which they can only imagine because Hollywood showed them how).

    If you are really interested in developing a sensible lifestyle, a good place to start might be Resilient Communities or one of the dozens of sites documenting what people all over the world are doing with eco-friendly, people-friendly construction, energy-harvesting and downsized living.

    As the new year approaches, take a new look around, with eyes and mind open.

    • nihil obstet

      Oh, thank you for the opportunity to quote Terry Pratchett to usher in the New Year:

      The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.

      ― Terry Pratchett, Diggers

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