Momentum is scaring the crap out of me.
Sustainability has been on my mind for a number of years. I teach in two wonderful sustainability MBA programs at Antioch University NE and Marlboro College Graduate School. I have had and continue to have wonderful students. They are passionate, invested, knowledgeable, hopeful, and they attack their studies with a dedication that is thrilling to see for an instructor like me.
With these wonderful students, the conversations are many and diverse about the coming “long emergency” as James Kunstler calls it. Their youth brings an exciting, possibility laden angle while I often find myself stuck in a very pessimistic and cynical place, sadly.
With up front apologies to James for my inaccuracies, the “long emergency” is a state in the future, not too distant to understand him, when the severe over consumption of the earth’s resources, the abuses of nature’s ecosystems, the perversities of many of our man made systems (financial markets and industrial agriculture for example), the grotesque living environment we have created (suburbia, urban renewal projects), and social ills we have created (demonstrated frighteningly by reality TV) catch up with us forcing a return to a much simpler way of life.
Whenever I have been confronted by anything complex in my life, my brain takes in tons of data about the current state of things and then begins to create a vision of what I think the future state will look like. James’ writings are in that pile of data along with many others in localization movements, re-crafting urban environment movements, general sustainability writings, slow money folks, corporate sustainability writings, and on and on.
This vision then becomes a target future state upon which I bounce all new information so that my future state notion can be understood, adjusted, and, hopefully, continuously improved to move ever closer to what might actually happen.
My early future state vision development left with me with a very Kunstlerian vision of the future. It had less trauma (without the complete loss of electricity and nuclear events) and was focused more on small and local (even in an urban environment).
Check out the video for a peak at James’ vision.
Post oil has to come.
Over the many years of my big company career, I thought little about this and actually played my part as a cog in the big picture decline related to social norms collapsing, the dominance of the automobile, the holy grail of big company efficiency and effectiveness, among other things. The notion of post oil hit me when, while reading the business press about globalization, I realized that the huge populations of China, India, Brazil, and others all wanted to live just like Americans. The implications, considering the American’s consumption rate of the earth’s resources, one being oil, finally caused me to realize that there is no way this can work.
We can look at Cuba to see just what post oil looks like. When the USSR collapsed, there was an almost immediate post oil condition in that country. They survived with lots of hard work and some very different notions of agriculture and other things.
Where was my head before this awareness? I always looked at my information sources and saw hundreds of years of reserves and pushed it out as something that need not be worried about at the moment.
The twister in my head comes from my current readings of the business press and the momentum I see represented there. This momentum is a reflection of the years of my own perspective.
While a pretty small contingent, it seems, talk about post oil, most of what I read is about new discoveries and new technologies that will release more difficult to extract oil with economic efficiency.
I read about surges in renewable energy development, battery technology, nuclear energy, and even some discussion of “energy independence”. All this in the face of the fact that only eight percent of our electricity currently comes from renewable sources.
Reading Forbes, Fortune, Business Week, Fast Company, and others all I see is upbeat articles about how to get back to strong growth, how to invest to get rich, and advertisements for every kind of luxury good imaginable.
Publications like Fast Company go on about the next Facebook or Google (companies that produce nothing and just whirl data/information around. They seem to be trying their damnedest to recreate the Internet bubble and, more specifically, to get rich quick.
I actually read an article about how the growth in global population is just fine because of the brilliance of and continued development in the industrial food system. No mention of how that system is destroying the very land it uses, polluting everything around it, utilizing infertile seeds for market control, and producing essentially toxic, mutant, low nutrient food.
Sure, there are articles about the troubles in Greece and the PIIGS, articles about the fact that there are still a lot of very toxic securities out there but then there is the big explanation of how the IMF and other “interveners” will get the fix done.
There is a lot of momentum here.
As I now live my life in a small city in New Hampshire and go to visit my boys in New York City, I am struck by the evidence in my new home of a very slow economy. New York, on the other hand, always has those millions of folks buying the next $10M apartment, dining in big dollar restaurants, buying clothes strictly based on artificially created fashion whims, worshipping Snookie and Lady Gaga, and doing things that now seem to me to be so end of the empire in nature.
So many folks seem to be operating with the “how can I get mine” approach. Grab it while you can. Get into the one per cent as soon as possible.
So what is the young sustainability student to do? Get involved in local movements? Try to figure out how to make the local farm business model actually viable? Join a non-profit? Work for a Solyndra and grab some government largesse? Go for the Chief Sustainability Officer job in a major corporation and do some good while blowing a lot of smoke?
I believe that it was Michael Lewis years ago in his “Liars Poker” book that talked about the Wall Street folks perspective that every transaction has a winner and a fool.
Is the poor farmer who is getting by, feeding their family, feeding neighbors, and enriching the earth the fool while the cashed out Solyndra executive is the winner?
Seems an easy choice, but is it?