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Getting Over the Cash and Carry Mentality

Sharon Astyk, Casaubon’s Book
If there is one great truth in American society it is this: you can buy your way out of almost anything. Other than a few things that will land you in jail even if you are rich (and let us be honest, there are no absolutes here – even if not universal, it is *possible* to buy your way out of almost anything), we tend to look for solutions that involve buying things.

…And so on and so on – to every problem there is a purchaseable solution, available to them that can afford it. And some of it is true – living a low technology life, for example, requires some new tools, and those tools cost money. I own some of them, and I covet others, I have shelves full of books about the problem and the solutions, and I haven’t missed the irony that those books take out trees and use energy in printing. I certainly have profited in the past from people buying the vegetables I grew, and I am writing a book that will take out some more trees, so I’m not innocent here. I don’t think anyone is. But while we will always need to buy some things, the notion that we can purchase our way out of the problem keeps us from perceiving the real, root trouble we are in.

The thing about peak oil and climate change is that consumption is the problem, not the solution. Say it out loud. WHAT I BUY WARMS THE PLANET. MY SHOPPING DEPLETES WHAT FUTURE PEOPLE WILL HAVE. BUYING STUFF HURTS PEOPLE.
(4 March 2007)

My Dot-Green Future Is Finally Arriving

Bruce Sterling, Washington Post
The New Eco-Capitalism
I was standing among a crowd of radical Serbs in front of the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade last week when it dawned on me: As a futurist, things are really going my way! It’s 2007, and the old world has backfired so comprehensively that a new era is truly at hand. I actually knew this would happen. I guess, for a prophet, this is what victory feels like!

…there is an absolute explosion of trendy green design Web logs, of which mine,, was one of the first.

They’re all about creating irresistible consumer demand for cool objects that will yield a global atmosphere upgrade. It’s the Net vs. the 20th-century fossil order in a fight that the cybergreens are winning. Why? Because they’re not about spiritual potential, human decency, small is beautiful, peace, justice or anything else unattainable. The cybergreens are about stuff people want, such as health, sex, glamour, hot products, awesome bandwidth, tech innovation and tons of money.

We’re gonna glam, spend and consume our way into planetary survival.
(4 March 2007)

Activist hopes Missoula can break free from petroleum’s yoke

Keila Szpaller, Missoulian
A political activist and Missoula newcomer has drawn up a proposal to wean 12 communities, including the Garden City, off oil.

…Peggy Miller is moving forward anyway. Earlier this year, she brought the proposal to the Missoula City Council. Last week, she took it to Albuquerque, N.M. She even sent a copy to former vice president Al Gore.

…As she sees it, this generation confronts two monstrous problems: Oil is running out, and the Earth is warming.

…Miller’s plan is a draft, but it is anything but timid.

It includes setting up wind and solar locations for electricity. Miller wants Missoula to capture methane and use biomass pellets to heat homes. She wants buildings superinsulated. She wants hydrogen filling stations built so people can drive hydrogen-powered cars. She wants more food grown locally, too.

The costs of the project are astronomical – estimated at anywhere from $1 billion to

$2.8 billion for one city. Miller expects the costs would be offset later on because the U.S. would need to buy less oil. At any rate, money would go toward infrastructure, development rights for agriculture and subsidies for hydrogen vehicles, among other things.

She wants to see 11 other cities on board, too, and she suggests places she thinks would work well. Albuquerque is one – and last week government officials there were receptive, she said. Denver, Nashville, Spokane and Austin are possibilities, too. All have universities that could help manage data.

…The proposal to get Missoula and 11 other cities off oil is available at

From the main page, go to “High Ground Communities Report.” The document outlines the problems of oil depletion, global warming and how cities can be a vehicle for change.
(4 March 2007)

My Purim-Spiel

Sharon Astyk, Casaubon’s Blog
…Peter Parker said it too, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The thing is, I think most of us have no idea how powerful we are, and thus, how responsible we are. Virtually all Americans command power and wealth unimaginable to most of the people in the world. We have, as James Kunstler has pointed out, the equivalent of 200 slaves working for us – but instead of human slaves, we have energy slaves that wash our clothes, wash our dishes, make the clothes, carry us about. Virtually all Americans are wealthier than 90% of the world’s population. Most of us have more education – even if we graduated only from highschool – than a majority of the world’s population. It doesn’t feel that way, when you are in debt and struggling economically, but most middle-class Americans are richer and more priveleged than Kings in most of history.

Because we do not see ourselves as powerful and rich – we view ourselves mostly in comparison to our neighbors who are similarly powerful and rich, and we are all caught up (me too) in our struggles, we do not tend to think that *we* are the people who have great responsibility in the world. Other people are powerful, not us. Other people can change things, not us. We are merely getting along, we do not have time, we do not have energy, we do not have money enough to spare.

But if we do not, who on earth has the time and the money, the energy and the power to change the world? Who will you ask to do it for you? Someone poorer and weaker and less priveleged? Someone who has had less good fortune?

…Whether you believe in G-d or good fortune, the randomness of everything or some sort of intentionality, perhaps if we are very lucky, it is because we are supposed to, or perhaps simply morally obligated to, use what power we have transformatively. Perhaps we are meant to lead, no matter how little we like the work, how frightened we are of the consequences, or how comfortable we are ensconced in the dominant culture.

We are like Esther. We are afraid of what it would mean to reveal ourselves, to stand forth from the culture and demand that it change. We are comfortable in our palaces, and happy with our embroidered robes. And we, like Esther, are tempted only to act if we can forsee happy consequences for ourselves. But as Mordechai rightly points out, sometimes what happens to us isn’t really the point – sometimes what matters is that we, in our power, have done, as they say, the right thing, without counting the cost to ourselves. It takes courage. And that is not in over-great supply. But I suspect there is more of it out there than we like to admit, even to ourselves.